Inter Press ServiceDemocracy – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 21 Jul 2018 00:49:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 The Industrialization of Cybercrimehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/the-industrialization-of-cybercrime/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-industrialization-of-cybercrime http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/the-industrialization-of-cybercrime/#respond Wed, 18 Jul 2018 12:17:16 +0000 Tamas Gaidosch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156762 Tamas Gaidosch, a senior financial sector expert in the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, is a cybersecurity professional with more than 20 years’ experience, including probing banking systems to find cyber weaknesses. He formerly led the Information Technology Supervision Department at the Central Bank of Hungary.

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Tamas Gaidosch, a senior financial sector expert in the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, is a cybersecurity professional with more than 20 years’ experience, including probing banking systems to find cyber weaknesses. He formerly led the Information Technology Supervision Department at the Central Bank of Hungary.

By Tamas Gaidosch
WASHINGTON DC, Jul 18 2018 (IPS)

Cybercrime is now a mature industry operating on principles much like those of legitimate businesses in pursuit of profit. Combating the proliferation of cybercrime means disrupting a business model that employs easy-to-use tools to generate high profits with low risk.

Long gone are the legendary lone-wolf hackers of the late 1980s, when showing off level 99 computer wizard skills was the main reason to get into other people’s computers.

The shift to profit making, starting in the 1990s, has gradually taken over the hacking scene to create today’s cybercrime industry, with all the attributes of normal businesses, including markets, exchanges, specialist operators, outsourcing service providers, integrated supply chains, and so on.

Several nation-states have used the same technology to develop highly effective cyber weaponry for intelligence gathering, industrial espionage, and disrupting adversaries’ vulnerable infrastructures.

Cybercrime has proliferated even though the supply of highly skilled specialists has not kept pace with the increasing technical sophistication needed to pull off profitable hacks with impunity. Advanced tooling and automation have filled the gap.

Hacking tools have evolved spectacularly over the past two decades. In the 1990s, so-called penetration testing to find vulnerabilities in a computer system was all the rage in the profession.

Most tools available at that time were simple, often custom built, and using them required considerable knowledge in programming, networking protocols, operating system internals, and various other deeply technical subjects. As a result, only a few professionals could find exploitable weaknesses and take advantage of them.

As tools got better and easier to use, less skilled, but motivated, young people—mockingly called “script kiddies”—started to use them with relative success. Today, to launch a phishing operation—that is, the fraudulent practice of sending email that appears to be from a reputable sender to trick people into revealing confidential information—requires only a basic understanding of the concepts, willingness, and some cash. Hacking has become easy to do (see chart).

Cyber risk is notoriously difficult to quantify. Loss data are scarce and unreliable, in part because there is little incentive to report cyber losses, especially if the incident does not make headlines or there is no cyber insurance coverage. The rapidly evolving nature of the threats makes historical data less relevant in predicting future losses.

Scenario-based modeling, working out the costs of a well-defined incident affecting certain economies, produces estimates in the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars. Lloyd’s of London estimates losses of $53.05 billion for a cloud service outage lasting 2½ to 3 days affecting the advanced economies.

An IMF modeling exercise put the base-case average aggregated annual loss at $97 billion, with the worst-case scenario in the range of $250 billion.

Crime in the physical world—with the intent of making money—is generally motivated simply by profit potentially much higher than for legal business, which criminals view as compensation for the high risk.

In the world of cybercrime, similar or even higher profits are possible with much less risk: less chance of being caught and successfully prosecuted and almost no risk of being shot at. Phishing profitability is estimated in the high hundreds or even over a thousand percentage points.

We can only speculate on the profits made possible by intellectual property theft carried out by the most sophisticated cyber threat actors. The basics, however, are similar: effective tooling and an exceptional risk/reward ratio make a compelling case and ultimately explain the sharp increase in and industrialization of cybercrime.

Cybercrime gives rise to systemic risk in several industries. While different industries are affected differently, the most exposed is probably the financial sector. A relatively new threat is posed by destruction-motivated attackers.

When seeking to destabilize the financial system, they look at the most promising targets. Financial market infrastructure is the most vulnerable because of its pivotal role in global financial markets.

Given the financial sector’s dependence on a relatively small set of technical systems, knock-on effects from defaults or delays due to successful attacks can be widespread, with potentially systemic effects.

And given the inherent interconnection of financial sector participants, a successful disruption to the payment, clearing, or settlement systems—or stealing confidential information—would result in widespread spillovers and threaten financial stability.

Fortunately, to date, we have not experienced a cyberattack with systemic consequences. However, policymakers and financial regulators are increasingly wary, given recent incidents that took out ATM networks and attacks against online banking systems, central banks, and payment systems.

The financial sector has been dependent on information technology for decades and has a history of maintaining strong IT control environments mandated by regulation. While the financial sector may be most at risk of cyberattack, such attacks also carry a higher risk for cyber criminals, in part because of greater attention from law enforcement (just like old-fashioned bank robberies).

The financial sector also does a better job of supporting law enforcement—for example, by keeping extensive records that are valuable in forensic investigations. Deeper budgets can often lead to effective cybersecurity solutions. (A recent notable exception is Equifax, whose hack was arguably a consequence of a cyber regulatory regime that was not proportional to its risk.)

The situation is different in health care. Except in the wealthiest nations, the health care sector typically does not have the resources necessary for effective cyber defense. This is evident, for example, in ransomware attacks this year that targeted computer systems at the electronic health record company Allscripts and two regional hospitals in the United States.

Although also heavily regulated and under strict data protection rules, health care has not relied nearly as much on IT as the financial sector has, and consequently has not developed a similar culture of strict IT controls. This too makes the health care sector more susceptible to cyber breaches.

What is most worrisome about this weakness is that, unlike in the financial sector, lives can be lost if, for example, attackers hit computerized life-support systems.

Utilities, especially the power and communication grids, are often cited as the next sectors where large-scale cyberattacks can have severe consequences. In this case, however, the main concern is disruption or infiltration of systems by rival states, either directly or through proxy organizations.

As famously exemplified by the massive 2007 attack against Estonia’s Internet infrastructure—which took down online financial services, media, and government agencies—the more advanced and Internet-based an economy, the more devastating cyberattacks can be. Estonia is among the most digitalized societies in the world.

If critical infrastructure—say, a power grid—or telecommunication and transportation networks are affected, or an attack prevents governments from collecting taxes or providing critical services, major disruptions with systemic economic implications could ensue and potentially pose a public health or security hazard.

In such instances, the aggregate risk to the global economy could exceed the sum of individuals’ risks, because of the global nature of IT networks and platforms, the national nature of response structures, ineffective international cooperation, or even the presence of nation-states among the attackers.

International cooperation in combating and prosecuting cybercrime lags well behind the global nature of the threat. The best way to tackle cybercrime is to attack its business model, which relies on the exceptional risk/reward ratio associated with ineffective prosecution. In this context, the business risk of cybercrime must be raised significantly, but this is possible only with better international cooperation.

Cybercrime operations can span several jurisdictions, which makes them harder to take down and prosecute. Some jurisdictions are slow, ineffective, or simply uncooperative in tackling cybercrime. Stronger cooperation would make tracking down suspects and charging them faster and more effective.

In the financial sector, regulators have developed specific assessment standards, set enforceable expectations and benchmarks, and encouraged information sharing and collaboration among firms and regulators. Bank regulators conduct IT examinations that factor cybersecurity preparedness into stress testing, resolution planning, and safety and soundness supervision.

Some require simulated cyberattacks designed specifically for each firm, drawing on government and private sector intelligence and expertise, to determine resilience against an attack. Companies have also increased investment in cybersecurity and are incorporating cybersecurity preparedness into risk management. In addition, some have sought to transfer some risk via cyber insurance.

The current cybersecurity landscape remains disparate and decentralized, with risks handled mainly as local idiosyncratic problems. There are some cooperation mechanisms, and governments and regulators are stepping up their efforts, but the choice of cybersecurity is largely determined by corporate need—“each to its own.”

This must change to bring about generally enhanced cyber risk resilience. Strong preventive measures are needed both at the regulatory and technology levels and across industries.

Among the most important of these is adherence to minimum cybersecurity standards, enforced in a coordinated way by regulators. Stepped-up cybersecurity awareness training will help defend against the basic technical weaknesses and user errors that are the source of most breaches.

Cyberattacks and cybersecurity breaches seem inevitable, so we also need to focus on how fast we detect breaches, how effectively we respond, and how soon we get operations back on track.

The link to the original article follows: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/fandd/2018/06/global-cybercrime-industry-and-financial-sector/gaidosch.htm?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

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Excerpt:

Tamas Gaidosch, a senior financial sector expert in the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, is a cybersecurity professional with more than 20 years’ experience, including probing banking systems to find cyber weaknesses. He formerly led the Information Technology Supervision Department at the Central Bank of Hungary.

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Social Media – the New Testing Ground for Sri Lanka’s Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/social-media-new-testing-ground-sri-lankas-freedom/#comments Wed, 18 Jul 2018 11:49:40 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156753 Journalists and media activists have cautioned against Sri Lanka’s newfound press freedom as the country heads to the polls in 2020. Separate incidents of hate-speech against a Muslim minority—and the subsequent shutdown of social media platforms—and the harassment of reporters critical of the country’s opposition have led some to believe that the changes in media […]

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Sri Lanka's media has been under pressure for most of the past decade and only gained some breathing space since the 2015 presidential election. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 18 2018 (IPS)

Journalists and media activists have cautioned against Sri Lanka’s newfound press freedom as the country heads to the polls in 2020. Separate incidents of hate-speech against a Muslim minority—and the subsequent shutdown of social media platforms—and the harassment of reporters critical of the country’s opposition have led some to believe that the changes in media independence could reverse.

In the latest world press freedom rankings by Reporters Without Borders, Sri Lanka is listed 131 out of 180 countries across the globe—a marginal improvement from its 2014 ranking of 165.

The unexpected 2015 electoral victory for current president Maithripala Sirisena, who championed greater press freedom during his campaign, was responsible for this island nation’s rise on the index.

But Shan Wijethunge, head of the Sri Lanka Press Institute, the island’s premier media training centre, is apprehensive as he takes stock of what has transpired over the last six months.

In February, the government lost the local government elections to a resurgent opposition led by ex-President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which prompted opposition supporters to increase the tempo of their anti-government campaign. Many became critical of the New York Times (NYT) and its Sri Lanka journalists who reported that Rajapaksa had allegedly received funds from Chinese state companies. In a delicately balanced national political scenario, the reporters who worked on the story were accused of working for a pro-government agenda and their independence was questioned.

“The journalists were criticised and trolled rather than [there being] any challenge on the contents of the story, because what matters right now is setting the headlines,” Wijethunge told IPS.

Family and friends of the NYT journalists in Sri Lanka said that they were shocked at the personal level of the attacks and pointed out that there had been no requests for the story to be retracted.

“They just felt so vulnerable, as if things suddenly regressed by three years. It just shows how quickly things can get bad here,” said a colleague of the harassed journalists. He requested to remain anonymous due to the fear of being targeted.

It was only less than a decade ago when the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was assassinated in 2009—just months before the country’s 26-year civil war ended. A year after Wickrematunge’s death, cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared.

However, there are signs that media freedom has improved on the island nation.

In 2016 when the respected regional magazine Himal Southasian came under increased bureaucratic pressure in Nepal, where it had been operating since 1996, the Sri Lankan capital Colombo became the obvious choice for relocation. In March, the magazine opened a new office in a Colombo suburb. Amnesty International also now has a regional office in the capital.

But many are concerned that if the upcoming 2020 presidential election proves to be a tight race, there will be heightened pressure on journalists to toe the line.

Not only that, the recent shut down of social media platforms across the country has left analysts concerned that freedom of speech in general could be targeted.

In March, parts of Sri Lanka’s Central Province experienced a wave of anti-Muslim riots that led to a weeklong shutdown of the social media platforms Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram and Viber. The government blamed the riots on hate speech against the minority Muslim community that was spread over the various platforms. After meeting with Facebook, which owns Whatsapp and Instagram, the government unblocked the platforms.

“It was a knee jerk reaction, but it is a reaction that is again possible in the future, especially when we are heading into elections,” Wijethunge said.

He feels that social media was targeted because that is where Sri Lankans tend be freest in airing their views and disseminating news.

Facebook data shows that there are between five to six million accounts of Sri Lankan origin, generating one billion posts on Facebook, Whatsapp and Instagram each month. Even politicians like president Sirisena, ex-president Rajapaksa and his son Namal Rajapaksa have been using their Facebook and Twitter profiles as integral parts of campaigning and reaching out to their constituencies.

Sanjana Hattotuwa, a senior researcher with the think-tank Centre for Policy Alternatives, has extensively researched the impact social media has on voters. His research shows that for a quarter of the country’s eligible voters, those within the age bracket of 18 to 34, social media is the primary platform of political interaction.

“Misinformation and disinformation are clearly engineered to heighten their anxieties and anger,” he said, referring to fake news content.

Hattotuwa’s research also shows that hate speech, trolling and fake news were quite visible on accounts and groups originating in Sri Lanka long before the March riots. He said these should have been tackled in a much more organised and professional manner with technology and human vetting playing an important role. He said he feared that old political games could be at play on these new forums.

“The growth of social media and the spread of internet access, in Sri Lanka, cannot be equated with a stronger democracy, and the growth of liberal government. The weaponisation of social media needs thus to be seen as the latest strategy of an older political game.”

With its growing popularity, Wijethunge feels social media is now the main vector for political news and sentiment.

Given that there is no effective countering of fake content and misinformation other than outright blocking, “it will be the testing ground where we will see all these freedoms gained in the last three and half years are really sustainable or just an illusion.” More so as the criticism of the government increases.

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United Nations Compact Must End Child Detentionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/united-nations-compact-must-end-child-detention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=united-nations-compact-must-end-child-detention http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/united-nations-compact-must-end-child-detention/#respond Sat, 07 Jul 2018 06:17:28 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156589 World leaders must commit to ending child migrant detention during United Nations negotiations next week, a human rights group said. Leaders from around the world are due to convene to discuss the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), an intergovernmental agreement on managing international migration which is in its final stage of negotiations. As images and […]

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People gathered in the United States to protest against immigrant children being taken from their families last month. The protesters called for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to be abolished. Officials estimate that up to 10,000 children are held in poor conditions in detention centres in the U.S. Credit: Fibonacci Blue

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 7 2018 (IPS)

World leaders must commit to ending child migrant detention during United Nations negotiations next week, a human rights group said.

Leaders from around the world are due to convene to discuss the Global Compact on Migration (GCM), an intergovernmental agreement on managing international migration which is in its final stage of negotiations.

As images and stories of children trapped in detention centres in the United States continue to come out, Amnesty International (AI) has called on negotiation participants to end child detention. “Many world leaders have expressed their outrage at the Trump administration’s recent horrendous treatment of children whose parents have arrived in the USA irregularly. Now is the time to channel that outrage into concrete action.”

“The appalling scenes in the U.S. have illustrated why an international commitment to ending child migration detention is so desperately needed – these negotiations could not have come at a more crucial time,” said AI’s Senior Americas Advocate Perseo Quiroz.

“Many world leaders have expressed their outrage at the Trump administration’s recent horrendous treatment of children whose parents have arrived in the U.S. irregularly. Now is the time to channel that outrage into concrete action,” he added.

As a result of the Trump administration’s family separation policy, over 2,000 children have been separated from their parents and detained since May after crossing the country’s southern border.

Officials estimate that up to 10,000 children are held in poor conditions in detention centres in the U.S.

“At the U.N. next week there is a real opportunity for states to show they are serious about ending child migration detention for good by pushing for the strongest protections possible for all children, accompanied or otherwise,” Quiroz said.

The current draft of the GCM does mention the issue including a clause to “work to end the practice of child detention in the context of international migration” and to “use migration detention only as a last resort.”

However, AI believes the language is not strong enough as there is no circumstance in which migration-related detention of children is justified.

While U.S. president Donald Trump has signed an executive order reversing the family separation policy, he has replaced it with a policy of detaining entire families together.

This means that children, along with their parents, can be detained for a prolonged and indefinite period of time.

“Now is not the time to look away,” said Brian Root and Rachel Schmidt from Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Family separation and detention policies are symptoms are a much larger global issue: how receiving countries treat migrants, who are often fleeing unstable and/or violent situations,” they added.

Recently, Oxfam found that children as young as 12 are physically abused, detained, and illegally returned to Italy by French border guards, contrary to French and European Union laws.

Over 4,000 child migrants have passed through the Italian border town of Ventimiglia between July 2017 and April 2018. The majority are fleeing persecution and conflict in countries such as Sudan, Eritrea, and Syria and are often trying to reach relatives or friends in other European countries.

Children have reported being detained overnight in French cells without food, water, or blankets and with no access to an official guardian.

In Australia, over 200 children are in asylum-seeker detention centres including on Nauru and are often detained for months, if not years.

“The Global Compact on Migration…offers some hope, but it will not work if many countries continue to see the issue purely in terms of border control,” HRW said.

“In addition, this compact will have little effect on an American president who seems to hold contempt for the idea of international cooperation,” they continued.

Last year, the U.S. withdrew from the U.N. Global Compact on Migration, just days before  a migration conference in Mexico, citing that the document undermines the country’s sovereignty.

Though the GCM itself is also not legally binding, AI said that it is politically binding and establishes a basis for future discussions on migration.

“Recent events have shone a spotlight on the brutal realities of detaining children simply because their parents are on the move, and we hope this will compel other governments to take concrete steps to protect all children from this cruel treatment,” Quiroz said.

Starting on Jul. 9, leaders of the 193 U.N. member states will meet in New York to agree on the final text of the GCM.

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The Voice of Argentina’s Slums, Under Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/voice-argentinas-slums-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=voice-argentinas-slums-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/voice-argentinas-slums-threat/#respond Thu, 05 Jul 2018 02:23:54 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156545 Between the dimly-lit, narrow alleyways of Villa 21, only 30 minutes by bus from the centre of the Argentine capital, more than 50,000 people live in poverty. It was there that La Garganta Poderosa (which means powerful throat), the magazine that gave a voice to the “villeros” or slum-dwellers and whose members today feel threatened, […]

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One of the offices in Buenos Aires of La Poderosa, the social organisation that publishes the magazine La Garganta Poderosa and is involved in a number of activities, ranging from soup kitchens to skills training for adults and workshops for youngsters in the “villas” or slums in the capital and the rest of Argentina. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 5 2018 (IPS)

Between the dimly-lit, narrow alleyways of Villa 21, only 30 minutes by bus from the centre of the Argentine capital, more than 50,000 people live in poverty. It was there that La Garganta Poderosa (which means powerful throat), the magazine that gave a voice to the “villeros” or slum-dwellers and whose members today feel threatened, emerged in 2010.

“’Villeros’ don’t generally reach the media in Argentina. Others see us as people who don’t want to work, or as people who are dangerous. La Garganta Poderosa is the cry that comes from our soul,” says Marcos Basualdo, in one of the organisation’s offices, a narrow shop with a cement floor and unpainted walls, where the only furniture is an old metal cabinet where copies of the magazine are stored.

Basualdo, 28, says that it was after his house was destroyed by a fire in 2015 that he joined La Poderosa, the social organisation that created the magazine, which is made up of 79 neighbourhood assemblies of “villas” or shantytowns across the country.

From that time, Basualdo recalls that “people from different political parties asked me what I needed, but nobody gave me anything.”

“Then the people of La Poderosa brought me clothes, blankets, food, without asking me for anything in return. So I decided to join this self-managed organisation, which helps us help each other and helps us realize that we can,” he tells IPS.

Villa 21, the largest shantytown in Buenos Aires, is on the south side of the city, on the banks of the Riachuelo, a river polluted for at least two centuries, recently described as an “open sewer” by the Environment Ministry, which has failed to comply with a Supreme Court ruling ordering its clean-up.

Small naked cement and brick homes are piled on each other and crowded together along the narrow alleyways in the shantytowns and families have no basic services or privacy.

As you walk through the neighbourhood, you see sights that are inconceivable in other parts of the city, such as police officers carrying semi-automatic weapons at the ready.

Across the country, villas have continued to grow over the last few decades. Official and social organisation surveys show that at least three million of the 44 million people in this South American country live in slums, without access to basic services, which means approximately 10 percent of the urban population.

In this alleyway in Villa 21, a slum in the capital of Argentina, is located the house where nine-year-old Kevin Molina was hit and killed by a stray bullet in a shootout between drug gangs in 2013, and the police refused to intervene, according to reports. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

In this alleyway in Villa 21, a slum in the capital of Argentina, is located the house where nine-year-old Kevin Molina was hit and killed by a stray bullet in a shootout between drug gangs in 2013, and the police refused to intervene, according to reports. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

La Garganta Poderosa, whose editorial board is made up of “all the members of all the assemblies” of the villas, also grew, both in its monthly print edition and in its active participation in social networks and other projects, such as a book, radio programmes, videos and a film.

It has interviewed politicians such as former presidents Dilma Rousseff or Brazil and José “Pepe” Mujica of Uruguay or sports stars like Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona of Argentina, and has established itself as a cultural reference in Argentina, with its characteristic covers generally showing the main subjects of that edition with their mouths wide open as if screaming.

The writing style is more typical of spoken than written communication, using idioms and vocabulary generally heard in the villas, and the magazine’s journalism is internationally recognised and is studied as an example of alternative communication at some local universities.

The work this organisation carries out, as a means of creative and peaceful expression of a community living in a hostile environment, was even highlighted by the U.N. Special Rapporteur against Torture, Nils Melzer, who visited the villa in April.

However, recently, after the magazine denounced abuses and arbitrary detentions by security forces in Villa 21, the government accused it of being an accomplice to drug trafficking.

On Jun. 7, all media outlets were summoned by e-mail to a press conference at the Ministry of National Security, “to unmask the lies told by La Garganta Poderosa.”

 Activists from La Poderosa, on Avenida Iriarte, the main street of Villa 21 in Buenos Aires, on Jun. 1, as they leave for the courthouse to follow a trial against six police officers for alleged brutality against two teenagers from the slum. Credit: Courtesy of La Garganta Poderosa


Activists from La Poderosa, on Avenida Iriarte, the main street of Villa 21 in Buenos Aires, on Jun. 1, as they leave for the courthouse to follow a trial against six police officers for alleged brutality against two teenagers from the slum. Credit: Courtesy of La Garganta Poderosa

The next day, Minister Patricia Bullrich stated that the magazine and the social organisation that supports it are seeking to “free the neighbourhood so that it is not controlled by a state of law but by the illegal state.”

“This is a message that authorises violence against us. The minister showed images of our main leader, Nacho Levy, and since that day he has been receiving threats,” one of La Poderosa’s members told IPS, asking to remain anonymous for security reasons.

A few minutes walk from La Poderosa’s premises is the house where Kevin Molina, a nine-year-old boy, was shot in the head inside his house during a shootout between two drug gangs, in 2013.

“The neighbours called the police, but they didn’t want to get involved and said they would come and get the bodies the next day,” says the La Poderosa’s activist.

In recent weeks, the situation has become more tense.

Minister Bullrich’s accusation was a response to the repercussions from the arrest of La Garganta Poderosa photographer Roque Azcurriare and his brother-in-law. It happened on the night of May 26 and they were only released two days later.

Lucy Mercado and Marcos Basualdo, two members of La Poderosa's social organisation, pose in front of a mural in Villa 21, a slum in Buenos Aires, that pays tribute to Marielle Franco, the Brazilian politician and human rights activist who was murdered in March in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Lucy Mercado and Marcos Basualdo, two members of La Poderosa’s social organisation, pose in front of a mural in Villa 21, a slum in Buenos Aires, that pays tribute to Marielle Franco, the Brazilian politician and human rights activist who was murdered in March in Rio de Janeiro. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Using his cell-phone, Azcurriare tried to film police officers entering his house, which is located at the end of a short alleyway next to the house of Iván Navarro, a teenager who a few days earlier had testified about police brutality, during a public oral trial.

Navarro said that one night in September 2016, he and his friend Ezequiel were detained without cause in a street in the villa. He said the police beat them, threatened to kill them, stripped them naked, tried to force them to jump into the Riachuelo, and finally ordered them to run for their lives.

In connection with this case, which has been covered and supported by La Poderosa, six police officers are currently being held in pretrial detention awaiting a sentence expected in the next few weeks.

“Ivan Navarro was arrested because he was wearing a nice sports jacket. That’s how things are here in the villa. When someone is wearing brand-name sneakers, the police never think they bought them with their wages, but just assume that they’re stolen,” says Lucy Mercado, a 40-year-old woman born in Ciudad del Este, on the Triple Border between Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina, who has lived in Villa 21 since she was a little girl.

“It’s no coincidence that this is happening now. In April we had filed six complaints of torture by the police. And this very important oral trial. Never in the history of our organisation have we achieved anything like this,” another La Poderosa activist told IPS, who also asked not to be identified.

Azcurriare’s arrest gave more visibility in Argentina to the trial of the six police officers, to the point that on Jun. 1 there was a march from Villa 21 to the courthouse, in which hundreds of members of human rights organisations participated.

“We will no longer stay silent because it is not a question of harassing a charismatic reporter, but of systematically clamping down on all villa-dwellers,” La Garganta Poderosa stated on its social network accounts.

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Church and Conflict in South Sudanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/church-conflict-south-sudan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=church-conflict-south-sudan http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/church-conflict-south-sudan/#respond Tue, 03 Jul 2018 08:53:06 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156517 Throughout fifty years of struggles, South Sudan’s different churches have remained one of the country’s few stable institutions, and in their workings toward peace, have displayed a level of inter-religious cooperation rarely seen in the world.  Priests and pastors from numerous denominations brought humanitarian relief to civilians during South Sudan’s long wars for independence — […]

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South Sudanese Christians celebrate Christmas mass at El Fasher church in North Darfur. South Sudan's different churches have remained one of the country's few stable institutions. Credit: UN Photo/Olivier Chassot

By James Jeffrey
JUBA, Jul 3 2018 (IPS)

Throughout fifty years of struggles, South Sudan’s different churches have remained one of the country’s few stable institutions, and in their workings toward peace, have displayed a level of inter-religious cooperation rarely seen in the world. 

Priests and pastors from numerous denominations brought humanitarian relief to civilians during South Sudan’s long wars for independence — often considered a fight for religious freedom for the mostly Christian south — from the hard-line Islamist government to the north in Khartoum, Sudan.

Amid destruction and failed politics, church leaders emerged as the only players left standing with any credibility and national recognition, enabling them to effectively lobby the international community to support the southern cause while also brokering peace between communities torn apart by war and ethnic strife.

However, they have been less able to influence politicians and generals in South Sudan’s latest civil war raging since 2013, which began just two years after gaining independence from Sudan. Last week, South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir and rebels, led by his former vice president Riek Machar, signed a peace agreement to bring about a ceasefire. But Reuters reported that fighting broke out again on Sunday, killing 18 civilians. “The blood of the tribe has become thicker than the blood of the Christ," Episcopal Bishop Enock Tombe.

“The new outbreak of war caught the Church unprepared,” says John Ashworth, referring to the five-year civil war. Ashworth has worked in South Sudan, including advising its churches, for more than 30 years. “While the Church played a major role in protecting people and mobilising humanitarian support, and in mediating local peace and reconciliation processes, it took quite a while to rebuild the capacity to implement national level initiatives.”

Although Islam has dominated the region for centuries, Christian roots in Sudan and South Sudan go back to the 5th century. Missionaries were active in the 1800s, mainly from the Anglican, Presbyterian, Catholic and Coptic churches.

Though there are conflicting reports about South Sudan’s exact religious composition, Christianity is the dominant religion, with a 2012 Pew Research Centre report estimating that around 60 percent are Christian, 33 percent followers of African traditional religions, six percent Muslim and the rest unaffiliated.

In the face of shared adversity, South Sudan’s Christian churches embraced an ecumenical approach to establish the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC), which spearheaded the churches’ joint efforts that proved heavily influential in the 2005 peace deal that ended Africa’s longest-running civil war.

The SSCC continued its involvement in the process that led to the January 2011 referendum on independence, in which an overwhelming majority of South Sudanese voted to secede and become Africa’s first new country since Eritrea split from Ethiopia in 1993. South Sudan formally gained independence from Sudan on Jul. 9, 2011.

But all those achievements began to unravel in 2013 when government troops began massacring ethnic Nuer in the capital, Juba. Afterwards, the national army, called the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), split along ethnic lines during a violent uprising, pitting ethnic Dinka loyal to Kiir against Nuer led by Macher.

Both sides committed atrocities, while the narrative of fighting for religious freedom was manipulated for political advantage. The SPLA has painted themselves as Christian liberators — atrocities notwithstanding — their propaganda referring to the churchgoing Kiir as the “Joshua” who took South Sudan to the promised land of independence.

“The blood of the tribe has become thicker than the blood of the Christ,” Episcopal Bishop Enock Tombe remarked in 2014.

But the church has been caught up in the divisive fallout too. 

“The current war has divided people along ethnic lines — the church is not immune to these divisions,” says Carol Berger, an anthropologist who specialises in South Sudan.

In a speech in April, South Sudan’s vice president James Wani Igga accused priests of promoting violence.

“While individual clergy may have their own political sympathies, and while pastors on the ground continue to empathise with their local flock, the churches as bodies have remained united in calling and for an end to the killing, a peaceful resolution through dialogue, peace and reconciliation — in some cases at great personal risk,” Ashworth says.

Some have accused the church of inaction during the latest civil war. Ashworth suggests that after the 2005 peace agreement the SSCC “took a breather to rebuild and repair,” with the 2013 outbreak of war catching them unprepared and less capable. Subsequently it has taken church leaders longer than expected to rebuild capacity, but now the SSCC is taking action to make up for lost ground.

It has begun by choosing a new Secretary General, says Philip Winter, a South Sudan specialist who has long been engaged in its peace processes. He notes how the SSCC was called upon by the warring parties negotiating in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, to help them get over their differences — something the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) failed to do as a mediator.

Following the talks in Ethiopia in June, both warring sides signed a peace agreement in Khartoum, Sudan’s capital, a week later.

“The SSCC recognised that is was perhaps not as effective as the most recent conflict required,” Winter says. “So they are once more playing an important, if discreet, role.” 

The SSCC’s renewed impetus includes implementing a national Action Plan for Peace (APP), which recognises the need for a long-term peace process to resolve not only the current conflict but also the unresolved effects of previous conflicts which are contributing causes of the current conflict. The SSCC says the APP may continue for 10 or 20 years.

At this stage of the plan, the SSCC hopes to see a visit to the country by Pope Francis, the head of the Catholic Church. Earlier this year a delegation of Christian leaders from South Sudan met the Pope and urged him to visit.

“We gave the situation of the Church in South Sudan, that the people are hungry for peace, and they expect the Pope to visit them,” the Bishop Emeritus of Tori, Paride Taban, a member of the delegation, told media after meeting the Pope. “He [the Pope] encourages us not to fear. We are not alone, he is with us, and he will surely come.”

The bishop spoke at the Rome headquarters of Sant’Egidio, a peace and humanitarian group that is trying to help peace efforts in South Sudan. The group played a crucial role in the 2015 papal visit to another war-torn country, the Central African Republic, and was instrumental in the signing of the Mozambique peace accords in 1992. 

The Pope previously postponed a planned 2017 South Sudan trip with Justin Welby, the head of the Anglican Church. Most media assumed that decision was based on the country being too dangerous to visit. But Welby told media the visit was postponed to ensure it would have the maximum impact in helping to establish peace. However, with the current, tentative ceasefire, the pope may visit to consolidate peace.

“You’re playing a heavyweight card and you have to get the timing right,” he said. “You don’t waste a card like that on anything that is not going to work.”

Others, however, remain deeply sceptical of how the Pope could visit.

“I see no way that the Pope could visit South Sudan,” says Berger. “The capital of Juba is a sad and troubled place these days. People have left for their villages, or neighbouring countries. Shops and hotels have closed. The town is heavily militarised and there is hunger everywhere.”

Whether the Pope would have a lasting impact, if he comes, remains to be seen. But current events indicate why the SSCC think it worth his trying, as the world’s youngest state remains afflicted by war and famine, and mired in an almost constant state of humanitarian crisis.     

“More exhortations to the antagonists to stop fighting are largely a waste of breath,” Winter says.

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Democratic regression: The “English” turnhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/democratic-regression-english-turn/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=democratic-regression-english-turn http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/democratic-regression-english-turn/#respond Sat, 30 Jun 2018 11:46:24 +0000 Imtiaz A Hussain http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156494 Gideon Rose made an astute observation in editing the May/June 2018 Foreign Affairs cover story on the current “democratic regression”. “We have seen this movie before,” he quoted a Latin friend of his on the concurrent predicament, “just never in English.” That may be the missing element behind this “regression”: populism may be a popular […]

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By Imtiaz A Hussain
Jun 30 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Gideon Rose made an astute observation in editing the May/June 2018 Foreign Affairs cover story on the current “democratic regression”. “We have seen this movie before,” he quoted a Latin friend of his on the concurrent predicament, “just never in English.” That may be the missing element behind this “regression”: populism may be a popular explanation, since it brings to the fore many of the disturbing developments within mature democratic countries; stalled economic growth in these same countries also finds immense currency as a democracy detractor; historically-bent scholars never miss the beat to push the cliché that what goes up (for example, whatever led Francis Fukuyama to proclaim an “end of history” in the early 1990s), must eventually not only come down, but also begin climbing again. And so the story goes.

Yet rarely is the Anglo-Saxon anchor put under the spotlight these days. Even a cursory glance suggests, with a tweak here or a calibration there, democracy may still remain the fairest damsel among governmental types, if, and this is a big if, it is not pitched in a sine qua non mode.

Samuel P Huntington’s “wave” explanations get us to centre-stage. His first “wave” did not happen in England and the United States by chance from the early 19th Century, nor could it have soared high enough to be noticed anywhere else, give or take fickle France. How the 16th Century enclosure movement evicted tenant farmers and peasants, privatised the commons, and converted society into a cash-economy playground paved the long and tortuous journey towards the individualism democracy demands. Even then it took the entire 19th Century, not to mention the opening quarter of the 20th Century, to build the one-person, one-vote hallmark democratic feature.

Across the Atlantic a “born-free” country (that is, devoid of vested interests, since they promote parochial over national or global interests), was led down a different pathway. Dominated by only a handful of Anglo-Saxons fleeing monarchical abuses in England during the 17th and 18th centuries, the United States was virtually guaranteed nothing but a democratic future. Yet, this did not come automatically. As in Britain, a liberal market demanded a government from outside the prevalent box. Though the US Constitution enshrined democracy by 1787, the country still had to wait until 1964 before all adults could claim the one-person, one-vote privilege.

Both cases depict an ominously protracted journey to a representative government, demanding voluntarily engagements of its proponents/practitioners in exchange for returning as much more back to that society. This blended perfectly well with private enterprise, but it is the innovative capacity of private enterprise that permits democracy to replenish itself until perpetuity. Only by halting the process, or letting impediments intervene can democracy be disrupted. That, unfortunately, must be what has happened to produce infectious populism. Donald J Trump on yonder side of the Atlantic, and the Brexit vote, not to mention Dutch, French, German, Hungarian, and Italian electoral threats on this, portray today perhaps the sickest face of “English” democracy.

British colonies were expected to spearhead democracy. Frankly and fairly, Britain did whatever it could within its capacities; and that was a lot more than those other European countries boasting empires, whether it be Belgium in the African heartland, France across North Africa and Indo-China, Germany in Africa’s south, Italy in Abyssinia, Portugal in Brazil, or Spain across the rest of Latin America. By softening its noblesse oblige imperial approach, “English” democracy had the chance to prevail wherever the British Empire existed were it not for the coincidental emergence of the United States as not only the world leader, but also Cold War participant, after World War II. “English” democracy was hijacked, but only across the friendliest Atlantic waters.

Though still not perfectly democratic by that time (women had only just got the right to vote), the United States continued, for more than a century, to cultivate key institutions (like regular elections, stable parties, and foresighted leadership), just as Britain had done. This is the one area where Rose’s Foreign Affairs reference to “English” matters: the inability or unwillingness to permit new-born countries that same time-frame to sow and reap those very fundamental institutions. Britain may not have been behind the global steering-wheel, but in retrospect it can still boast producing one of the finest democracy-in-transition experiments among former colonies: India (even as the world’s largest democracy today faces one monumental democratic threat: religious fundamentalism).

If “blaming by default” is a lesser evil than “blaming by deliberation”, then the United States must take full responsibility for truncating what it preached: authentic democracy, not one as a tacky alternative to communism, nor as the appropriate outlet for foreign aid and investment. Beginning its world leadership on the wrong foot was enough to prevent fledgling countries from building new institutions upon democratic pillars and principles: instead of promoting the principles of its own Founding Fathers, the United States imposed a sine qua non condition that they reject communism first. A tragedy of errors followed, with dictator opponents of communism (from the Shah of Iran to Ferdinand Marcos, with an Ayub Khan here and Augusto Pinochet there, and gullible tyrants everywhere), quashing their country’s maiden democratic flag-bearers (be they Muhammed Mosaddegh, Benigno Simeon “Ninoy” Aquino, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, or Salvador Allende Gossens). No more fatal a blow could have been inflicted upon democracy and its future than that. No wonder the third and fourth democratic “waves” from the 1980s and late 1990s fell short of delivering: the critical institutions were just not there to absorb the soaring expectations; and it was pathetic to expect them to grow overnight under military command, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, in the 21st Century, as they had done under starkly different circumstances in post-World War II Germany and Japan.

Though this “Third World” or “Fourth World” malaise may not be that far from the heart of the current “democratic regression”, which is the Atlantic seaboard, it did feed western populism after the Cold War atmosphere permitted another opportunity for democratisation: their low-waged or import-substitution policy approaches that were encouraged during the Cold War to prevent communist penetration (as across Latin America), now threatened western economies, particularly driving university-educated students into abysmal unemployment.

It may be far too late to turn back the clock (and the policy approaches) to retrieve democracy; but amid the less liberal democracy sprouting, we should be looking where the sun rises to capture the new democratic contours. They will not be picture perfect until they experience their centuries of institution-building trials and errors, as with the “English”; but that might still be a better alternative to the monarchical/dictatorial impulses that gave birth to democracy in the first place several centuries ago.

Dr Imtiaz A Hussain is the head of Global Studies & Governance Program at Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB).

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Trump is Here to Stay and Change the Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/trump-stay-change-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-stay-change-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/trump-stay-change-world/#respond Mon, 18 Jun 2018 15:05:37 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156274 Donald John Trump, 45th and current president of the United States, has been seen in many illustrious circles as an anomaly that cannot last. Well, it is time to look at reality. If we put on the glasses of people who have seen their level of income reduced and are afraid of the future, Trump […]

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By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jun 18 2018 (IPS)

Donald John Trump, 45th and current president of the United States, has been seen in many illustrious circles as an anomaly that cannot last. Well, it is time to look at reality.

If we put on the glasses of people who have seen their level of income reduced and are afraid of the future, Trump is here to stay, and he is a result and not a cause.

Roberto Savio

In his year and a half of government, Trump has not lost one of his battles. He has changed the political discourse worldwide, established new standards of ethics in politics, a new meaning of democracy, and his electoral basis has not been shrinking at all.

His critics are the media (which a large majority of Americans dislike), the elite (which is hated) and professionals (who are considered to be profiting at the expense of the lower section of the middle class).

There is now a strong divide with the rural world, the de-industrialised parts of the United States, miners with their mine closed, etc. In addition, white Americans feel increasingly threatened by immigrants, minorities, corporations and industries which have been using the government to their advantage. At every election their number shrinks by two percent.

Let us not forget that Trump was elected by the vote of the majority of white woman, in a country which is the bedrock of feminism.

I know that this could create some irate reactions. The United States is home to some of the best universities in the world, the most brilliant researchers as shown by the number of Nobel prizes awarded , very good orchestras, libraries, museums, a vibrant civil society, and so on. But the sad reality is that those elites count, at best, for no more than 20 percent of the population.

In 80 percent of cases, TV news is the only source of information on international affairs. Newspapers are usually only local, with exception of a few (Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, in all less than ten), and have a readership of 35 percent of the population.

You have only to travel in the US hinterland to observe two striking facts: it is very rare to meet somebody who knows geography and history even minimally, and everybody is convinced that the United States has been helping the entire world for which nobody is grateful.

An investigation by the New York Times found out that Americans were convinced that their country has been giving at least 15 percent of its budget for support and philanthropy. In fact, in recent decades the real figure has been below 0.75 percent. At the same time, it has a number of institutes of international studies of the highest level with brilliant analysts, plus a large number of international NGOs. But only 34 percent of the member of the Senate, and 38 percent of members of the House of Representatives have a passport…

The country is divided into two worlds. Of course, the same happen in every country, and in Africa or Asia the division between elite and low-level population is even more extreme. But the United States is an affluent country, where for more than two centuries efforts have been made on the fronts of education and integration in a country which has also been called the “melting pot”, and where it is widely believed that it is the best – if not the only – democracy in the world.

Trump, therefore, has an easy and captive electorate, made up of strong believers, and we cannot understand why, if we do not go over the history of American politics, which is in fact parallel to the political history of Europe. The calls for a lengthy analysis which is what is missing in today’s media, and in which recent US politics can be divided (very roughly) into three historical cycles.

The first, from 1945 to 1981), saw the political class convinced that the priority was to avoid a new world war. For this, institutions for peace and cooperation had to be built, and individuals were to be happy with their status and destiny.

Internationally, that meant the creation of the United Nation, multilateralism as a way to negotiate on the basis of participation and consensus, and international cooperation as a way to help poor countries develop and reduce inequalities. Domestically, this was to be done by giving priority to labour over capital. Strong trade unions were created and in 1979 income from labour accounted for 70 percent of total income. A similar trend was also the seen in Europe.

The second cycle ran from 1981 to 2009, the year Barack Obama was named president. On behalf of the corporate world, Ronald Reagan had launched the neoliberal wave. He started by shutting down the trade union of air traffic controllers, and went on to dismantle much of the welfare and social net built over the previous four decades, eliminating regulations, giving free circulation to capital, creating unrestricted free trade, and so on.

That led to delocalisation of factories, the decline of trade unions and their ability to negotiate, and a very painful reduction of the labour share of wealth, which fell from 70 percent in 1979 to 63 percent in 2014, and has continued to decline ever since.

Unprecedented inequalities have become normal and accepted. Today, an employee at Live Nation Entertainment, an events promotion and ticketing company, who earns an average of 24, 000 dollars would need 2,893 years to earn the 70.6 million dollars that its CEO, Michael Rapino, earned last year.

Reagan had a counterpart in Europe, Margaret Thatcher, who dismantled trade unions, ridiculed the concept of community and common goods and aims (“… there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families …” ), partly followed by Gerard Schroeder in Germany. Globalisation became the undisputed new political vision, far from the rigid ideologies which had created communism and fascism, and were responsible for the Second World War. The market would solve all problems, and governments should keep their hands off.

Reagan was followed by Bush Sr., George H. W. Bush. who somewhat moderated Reagan’s policies. While he started the war with Iraq, he did not go on to invade the entire country. And he was followed by a Democrat, Bill Clinton, who did not challenge neoliberal globalisation but tried to ride it, showing that the left (in American terms) could be more efficient than the right. To give just one example, it was Clinton who completed deregulation of banks by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act which separated savings and investment banking. That led to the transfer of billions of dollars from savings to investments, or speculation, with the result that today banks consider customer activity less lucrative than investments, and finance has become a sector that is totally separate from the production of goods and services. There are now 40 times more financial transactions in one day than output from industry and services, and finance is the only sector of human activity without any international control body.

Markets are now more important than the vote of citizens given that, in many cases, it is they that decide the viability of a government. Furthermore, this has become a sector with no ethics: since the financial crisis of 2008, banks have paid a whopping amount of 321 billion dollars in penalties for illegal activities.

Clinton’s conviction that the left could be successful also had its counterpart in Europe, like Reagan had Thatcher. It was Tony Blair, who constructed a theoretical design for explaining the submission of the left to neoliberal globalisation: this was the so-called Third Way which was, in fact, was a centrist position that tried to reconcile centre-right economic and centre-left social policies.

However, it became clear that neoliberal globalisation was in fact lifting only a few boats and that capital without regulation was becoming a threat. Social injustices continued to increase and legions of people in the rural area felt that towns were syphoning off all revenues and that the elite was ignoring them, and unemployed workers and the impoverished middle class no longer felt old loyalties to the left, which was now considered representative of the elite and professionals.

In the United States the Democratic Party, which also held a neoliberal view with Clinton, began to change its agenda from an economic approach to one of human rights, defending minorities, Afro-Americans and immigrants, and advocating their inclusion in the system.

The fight was no longer between corporations and trade unions, and Obama was the result of that fight, the champion of human rights also as an instrument of international affairs. In fact, while he had a brilliant agenda on human rights, he did very little on the social and economic front, beside the law on national health. But his alliance of minorities and progressive whites was a personal baggage, who could not pass on to an emblematic figure of the establishment like Hillary Clinton.

That led to a new situation in American politics. Those on the left began to see defence of their identity (and their past) as the new fight, now that the traditional division between left and right had waned. Religious identity, national identity, fight against the system and those who are different, become political action.

It should be stressed that the same process happened in Europe, albeit in a totally different cultural and social situation. Those left out deserted the traditional political system to vote for those who were against the system, and promised radical changes to restore the glories of the past.

Their message was necessary nationalist, because they denounced all international systems as merely supporting the elites who were the beneficiaries. It was also necessarily to find a scapegoat, like the Jews in the thirties. Immigrants were perfect because they aroused fear and a perceived loss of traditional identity, a threat in a period of large unemployment.

The new political message from the newcomers was to empower those left out, those who felt fear, those who had lost any trust in the political class, and promise to give them back their sovereignty, reject intruders and take power away from the traditional elites, the professionals of politics, to bring in real people.

Since the end of the financial crisis in 2008 – which brought about even further deterioration of the social and economic situation) – those parties known as populist parties started to grow and they now practically dominate the political panorama.

In the United States, the Republicans of the Tea Party, radical right-wing legislators, were able to change the Republican party, pushing out those called compassionate conservatives because they had social concern. In Europe, the media were startled to see workers voting for Marine Le Pen in France, but the left had lost any legitimacy as representative of the lower incomes; technological change led to the disappearance of social identities, like workers.

In a period of crisis, there was no capability for redistribution. The left had now found itself in the middle of a crisis of identity and it will not emerge from it soon.

Let us now come to today. In November 2016, to universal amazement, (and his own) Trump was elected president of the United States, and just four months later, in March 2017, Brexit came as a rude awakening for Europe. The resentful and fearful went to the polls to get Great Britain out of Europe. The fact that the campaign was plagued by falsehood – recognised by the winners after the referendum – was irrelevant. Who was against Brexit? The financial system, the international corporations, the big towns like London, university professors: in other words, the system. That was enough.

Here, I have deliberately lumped together the United States and Europe (the European Union) to show that globalisation has had a global impact. A United States, which had been the creator and guarantor of the international system, started to withdraw from it under Reagan when he felt that it was becoming a straitjacket for the United States.

This started the decline of the United Nations: on American initiative, trade was taken away from the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was created. Globalisation has two engines, trade and finance, and both are now out of the United Nations, which has become an institution for health, education, children, woman and other non-productive sectors, according to the market. It is no coincidence that Trump is now fighting against the globalisation that United States invented, and one of its main enemies is the WTO.

An old maxim is that people get the government they deserve. But we should also be aware that they are being pushed by a new alliance: the alternative right alliance. In all countries it has the same aim: destroy what exists. This network is fed at the same time by Russia and the United States. American alt-right ideologues like Steve Bannon are addressing European audiences to foster the end of the European Union, with clear support from the White House. The populists in power, like Viktor Orban in Hungary or Matteo Salvini in Italy (as well those not in power, like Le Pen) all consider Trump and Vladimir Putin as their points of references. Such alliances are new, and they will become very dangerous.

And now we come to Mr. Trump. After what has been said above, it is clear why he should be considered a symptom and not a cause, while his personality is obviously playing an additional important role. It should be noted that he has not lost any important battle since he came to power. He has been able to take over the Republican party completely, and it is now de facto the Trump Party.

In the primaries for the November 2017 elections (for all House of Representative seats and 50 percent of those of the Senate), he intervened to support candidates he liked, and their opponents always lost. In South Carolina, conservative Katie Arrington, who won against a much stronger opponent, Mark Sanford, declared in her acceptance speech: our party is the Trump party.

Trump knows exactly what his voters think, and he always acts in a way that strengthens his support, regardless of what he does. He is a known sexist, and is now involved in a scandal with a porno star? He has moved the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and he now has the support of the evangelists, a very large and puritan Protestant group which is an important source of votes. (Interestingly, Guatemala and Paraguay which decided to move their embassies to Jerusalem are also run by evangelists.)

Trump has refused to disclose his incomes and taxes, and he has not formally separated himself from his companies. In the United States, this is usually is enough to force people to resign.

He has removed from his cabinet all the representatives of finance and industry he had put in on his arrival (in order to be accepted by the establishment) and replaced them with right-wing hawks, highly efficient and not morons, from National Security Advisor John Bolton to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He has managed to obtain Gina Hastel, a notorious torturer, as director of the CIA with the votes of Democrats.

He has turned his back on a highly structured treaty with Iran (and other four major countries) to forge a totally unclear agreement with North Korea, which creates problems with Japan, an American ally by definition. He has decided to side with Israel and Saudi Arabia against Iran, because that move has the support of a large American sector.

In addition to narcissism, what moves Trump are not values but money. He has quarreled with all historical allies of the United States and he is now engaging in a tariff war with them, while starting one with China, simply on the basis of money. However while erratic, Trump is not unpredictable. All that he has done, he announced during his electoral campaign.

Trump believes he is accountable to no one, and has created a direct relationship with his electors, bypassing the media. According to The Washington Post’s Fact Checker blog, which keeps track of Trump’s many misstatements, untruths and outright lies, he exceeded 3,000 untrue or misleading statements in his first 466 days – on average, 6.5 untruths a day. Nobody cares. Very few are able to judge.

When a president of United States announces that he is abandoning the treaty with Iran, because they are the main financier of ISIS and Al Qaida, the lack of public reaction is a good measure of the total ignorance of most Americans.

Americans have no idea that Islam is divided between Sunni and Shiite, and that the terrorists are Sunni and based on an extreme interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism, or Salafism. Iranians, who are not Arabs, are Shiite, and are considered apostate by the Sunni extremists; Iran has lost thousands of men in the fight against ISIS.

This ignorance helps Trump win Republican voters, no matter what.

The fact that Trump knows exactly what his voters feel and think feeds his narcissism. After his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, at a press conference he said of previous US presidents: “I don’t think they’ve ever had the confidence, frankly, in a president that they have right now for getting things done and having the ability to get things done”.

He does not tolerate any criticism or dissent, as his staff well knows. The result is that he is surrounded by yes men, like no president before. His assistant for trade, Peter Navarro, has declared that there should be a special place in hell for foreign leaders who disagree with Trump.

According to the large majority of economists, the tariff war that he has now started now with US allies plus China will bring growth down all over the world, but nobody reacts in the United States. It is all irrelevant to his voters. He now has a 92 percent rate of confidence, the highest since the United States has existed.

Considering all he has done in less than two years against the existing order leads us to consider that the real danger is that he will be re-elected, and leave office only in 2024. By then, the changes in ethics and style will have become really irreversible.

With many candidates in various countries looking to him as a political example, he will certainly be able to change the world in which we have grown and which, albeit with many faults, has been able to bring about growth and peace.

It is true that the traditional political system needs a radical update, and it does appear able to do so. Meanwhile, it is difficult to foresee how a world based on nationalism and xenophobia – with a strong increase in military spending worldwide, and many other global problems from climate change to no policy for migration, and a global debt that has reached 225 percent of GNP in ten years – will be able to live without conflicts,

What we do know is that the world which emerged from the Second World War, based on the idea of peace and development, the world which is in our constitutions, will disappear.

Democracy, can be a perfect tool for the legitimacy of a dictator. This is what is happening in the various Russias, Turkeys, Hungarys or Polands. A strongman wins the elections, then starts to make changes to the constitution in order to have more power. The next step is to place cronies in institutional positions, reduce the independence of the judiciary, control the media, and so on. That is then followed by acting in name of the majority, against minorities.

This is not new in history. Hitler and Mussolini were at first elected, and today many “men of providence” are lining up.

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Ethiopia to Return Land in Bid for Peace with Eritreahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/ethiopia-return-land-bid-peace-eritrea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ethiopia-return-land-bid-peace-eritrea http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/ethiopia-return-land-bid-peace-eritrea/#respond Mon, 18 Jun 2018 00:01:37 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156260 The utterly inconsequential-looking Ethiopian border town of Badme is where war broke out in 1998 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, lasting two years and devastating both countries.  Ever since the the town has remained, in spite of its ramshackle, unassuming appearance, an iconic symbol for both countries, primarily because despite the internationally brokered Algiers Peace Accord […]

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A group of Eritrean men, women and children who have just been dropped off dusty and tired at the entry point in the small town of Adinbried, about 50km southeast of Badme, having crossed the border during the preceding night. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

A group of Eritrean men, women and children who have just been dropped off dusty and tired at the entry point in the small town of Adinbried, about 50km southeast of Badme, having crossed the border during the preceding night. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
BADME, Ethiopia, Jun 18 2018 (IPS)

The utterly inconsequential-looking Ethiopian border town of Badme is where war broke out in 1998 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, lasting two years and devastating both countries. 

Ever since the the town has remained, in spite of its ramshackle, unassuming appearance, an iconic symbol for both countries, primarily because despite the internationally brokered Algiers Peace Accord that followed the 2000 ceasefire, and led to a ruling that Badme return to Eritrea, Ethiopia defiantly stayed put in the town.“The country [Ethiopia] is undergoing a seismic change—the likes of which it has never seen in such a short time span." --Yves Marie Stranger

Hence Badme festered as a source of rancour during years that turned into decades, with the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments coming to loathe each other, while all along the border the countries remained at loggerheads, each military eyeing the other warily.

But all of a sudden at the start of June, Ethiopia announced its readiness to fully comply and implement the Algiers Peace Accord, one of a number of unprecedented reformist actions this year, and which show no sign of slowing down since the April election of a new prime minister who has pledged to take Ethiopia in a new and more democratic and hopeful direction.

The Ethiopian government also announced it would accept the outcome of a 2002 border commission ruling, which awarded disputed territories collectively known as the Yirga Triangle, at the tip of which sits Badme, to Eritrea.

“Ethiopia’s change of heart towards Eritrea is genuine, and is directly tied to the momentous changes taking place domestically,” Awol Allo, a lecturer in law at Keele University in law and frequent commentator on Ethiopia, wrote in an opinion piece for Al Jazeera. “Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has reconfigured the Ethiopian political landscape and its strategic direction, moving with incredible speed to drive changes aimed at widening the political space and narrowing the social divisions and antagonisms within the country.”

This has included the prime minister linking the political, social and economic transformation in Ethiopia to regional dynamics, especially Eritrea, with which Ethiopia once had particular close economic, cultural and social ties—Eritrea was part of Ethiopia until gaining independence in 1991.

“Every Ethiopian should realise that it is expected of us to be a responsible government that ensures stability in our region, one that takes the initiative to connect the brotherly peoples of both countries and expands trains, buses, and economic ties between Asmara [the Eritrean capital] and Addis Ababa,” Abiy announced.

The rift between Eritrea and Ethiopia has had significant regional fallout. Both countries have engaged in hostile activities against each other, including proxy wars in the likes of neighbouring Somalia, thereby destabilising an already volatile region.

The rugged landscape of Tigray, Ethiopia’s most northern region, stretches away to the north and into Eritrea. Once Eritrea was Ethiopia’s most northern region until gaining independence in 1991. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

The rugged landscape of Tigray, Ethiopia’s most northern region, stretches away to the north and into Eritrea. Once Eritrea was Ethiopia’s most northern region until gaining independence in 1991. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Meanwhile, Eritrea continued to come off worse against Ethiopia’s stronger regional sway and diplomatic clout, becoming increasingly isolated, and subjected to international sanctions.

As a result, life became increasingly miserable for Eritreans—hence the unending exodus of Eritrean refugees into Ethiopia—as their government used the border war with Ethiopia and the subsequent perceived existential threats and belligerencies against Eritrea as an excuse for the state becoming increasingly repressive and militarised, with its leader Isaias Afewerki tightening his ironclad rule.

But the Eritrean government’s narrative has had the rug pulled out from under it.

“The Eritrean regime seems confused, unprepared and clueless about how it should respond to Ethiopia’s peace offer,” Abraham Zere, executive director of PEN Eritrea, part of a global network of writers in over 100 countries across the globe who campaign to promote literature and defend freedom of expression, wrote in another Al Jazeera opinion piece. “Ethiopia’s call for normalization and peace puts President Afewerki in a very difficult position, as it undermines his current strategy of blaming Ethiopia for his repressive rule.”

So far the response from the Eritrean government has been conspicuous by its absence. Eritrea’s Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel when pressed to comment on the issue on Twitter replied elliptically: “Our position is crystal clear and has been so for 16 years.”

Previously, the Eritrean government has consistently demanded full compliance by Ethiopia with the EEBC’s decision and unilateral withdrawal of all troops from the disputed territories before any chance of normalizing relations—a demand that fails to take account of the EEBC’s terms and the  complex situation on the ground.

“The insistence on unilateral withdrawal as a condition for normalising relations is not tenable, not least because Badme was under Ethiopia rule before the EEBC’s ruling and continues to be under the effective control of the Ethiopian government,” Awol says. “The two countries must come together in good faith to hammer out a number of details including the fate of the population there.”

It’s unlikely to be easy. Already in Badme and in other of the disputed territories, both Eritreans and Ethiopians are protesting Abiy’s decision to implement the commission’s arbitrarily drawn border that would divide communities between the two countries.

“We have no issues over reconciling with our Eritrean brothers. But we will not leave Badme,” Teklit Girmay, a local government official, told Reuters. “We do not want peace by giving away this land after all the sacrifice.”

“It took us four days traveling from Asmara,” a 31-year-man said of the trek from the Eritrean capital, about 80km north of the border, holding all the money he has left: 13 Eritrean nakfa (80 cents). “We travelled for 10 hours each night, sleeping in the desert during the day.” Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

“It took us four days traveling from Asmara,” a 31-year-man said of the trek from the Eritrean capital, about 80km north of the border, holding all the money he has left: 13 Eritrean nakfa (80 cents). “We travelled for 10 hours each night, sleeping in the desert during the day.” Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Furthermore, across Tigray, Ethiopia’s most northern region that straddles the border, there are reports of increasing anger and protests about the announcement, while the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front regional party that has dominated Ethiopian politics since its founders spearheaded the 1991 revolution that brought the current government to power has issued a veiled warning to Abiy.

“The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front will not take part in any process that harms the interests of the people of Tigray,” it said in a statement, demanding that any withdrawal be linked to additional concessions from Eritrea.

Tigray’s proximity to Eritrea and the previous war means its people are acutely sensitive to the potential ramifications, which is further complicated by how people on both sides of the border share the same language – Tigrinya – as well as Orthodox religion and cultural traditions: a closeness that can also heighten resentment.

In 1998 Eritrea invaded Badme before pushing south to occupy the rest of Ethiopia’s Yirga Triangle, claiming it was historically Eritrean land. Ethiopia eventually regained the land but the fighting cost both countries thousands of lives and billions of dollars desperately needed elsewhere in such poor and financially strapped countries.

At the time of the EEBC’s ruling on Badme, the Ethiopian government felt the Ethiopian public wouldn’t tolerate the concession of a now iconic town responsible for so many lost Ethiopian lives—hence it and the rest of the Yirga Triangle remained jutting defiantly into Eritrea, both figuratively and literally.

“Although Badme was a mere pretext to start a conflict fuelled by much deeper political problems, it has since been etched into the imagination of many Ethiopians and Eritreans and has taken on a deeper meaning,” Awol says. “The name Badme condenses within itself a series of fundamental political and economic anxieties and hegemonic aspirations, acting as a byword for brutality, anguish, guilt, shame, fear and pride.”

In addition to potential internal resistance from the Ethiopian government’s TPLF old guard, coupled with potential intransigence from the Asmara regime, the reaction of the international community could also play a significant role.

“The international community, particularly the West, has ignored the dispute for too long,” Awol says. “Now that there is a newfound optimism for peace, the international community must seize the opportunity and act proactively and pre-emptively before local and regional dynamics change.”

Ethiopia is at a potentially exciting crossroads—though nothing is assured, and may well hang in the balance, one that the international community can influence due to Ethiopia’s increasing integration in the global system.

“The country is undergoing a seismic change—the likes of which it has never seen in such a short time span,” says Yves Marie Stranger, editor of “Ethiopia: Through Writers’ Eyes,” and a long-time Ethiophile. “Ethiopia, a land of barter and subsistence farming, a land where very little money changed hands until recently,  now depends on world oil prices,  wheat imports and  the dollar rate—just as much as on the next rainy season. In other words, Ethiopia’s unorthodox economics must now worship in the global church.”

Depending on what happens next, the repercussions for Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the wider Horn of Africa region, could be enormous.

“If Ethiopia does follow through with its stated intention, it’s doubtful that Eritreans would accept any further fear mongering from the Aferwerki administration regarding Addis Ababa’s actions and intentions,” Abraham says. “If Aferwerki attempts to dismiss or undermine this long-awaited gesture from its neighbour, the population may openly turn against the regime.”

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From Fake News to a Fake Deathhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/fake-news-fake-death/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fake-news-fake-death http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/fake-news-fake-death/#respond Thu, 14 Jun 2018 00:01:38 +0000 Ed Holt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156225 When news broke on May 29th that journalist Arkady Babchenko had been murdered in Ukraine, serious questions about the safety of journalists in the country were raised. When news broke less than 24-hours later that Babchenko’s murder had been staged by the Ukrainian security service, serious questions about the credibility of journalists in the country […]

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Arkady Babchenko. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Ed Holt
KIEV, Jun 14 2018 (IPS)

When news broke on May 29th that journalist Arkady Babchenko had been murdered in Ukraine, serious questions about the safety of journalists in the country were raised.

When news broke less than 24-hours later that Babchenko’s murder had been staged by the Ukrainian security service, serious questions about the credibility of journalists in the country were raised."Now we know we should check everything the authorities say not twice, but three or four times." --Anna Babinec

Now, say global press freedom advocates, efforts to keep journalists in Ukraine and other parts of the world safe have only been hampered by the deception.

Johann Bihr, Head of the East European and Central Asian Desk at Reporters Without Borders (RSF), told IPS: “This discredits journalists and hampers efforts to effectively protect them.

“The global impact of this story means that it will have an effect in other countries. Whenever something similar happens, doubts will be raised.”

Babchenko, a former Russian soldier who had fought in Chechnya, had been a vociferous critic of the Kremlin for years. He fled Russia last year fearing for his life and eventually moved to Kiev where he had been working for the Tatar TV channel ATR.

When reports of his death first emerged, there was immediate speculation of Russian involvement – a theory Ukrainian authorities swiftly confirmed.

In the hours after the killing was reported, Moscow denied any involvement and, after Babchenko appeared alive, claimed it was evidence of Kiev’s anti-Russian propaganda.

But as soon as Babchenko appeared at a press conference held by the Ukrainian security services (SBU) the day after his apparent death, revealing he had been co-operating with the SBU in an operation to expose people apparently planning to kill him, press freedom watchdogs were outraged.

In a statement, Philippe Leruth, President of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), described it as a “complete circus” and told the Ukrainian authorities it was “intolerable to lie to journalists around the world and to mislead millions of citizens”.

RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said there “could be no grounds for faking a journalist’s death”. He said staging the killing “would not help the cause of press freedom,” adding in a tweet: “It is pathetic and regrettable that the Ukrainian police have played with the truth, whatever their motive…for the stunt.”

And the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) warned it could potentially “undermine public trust in journalists and to mute outrage when they are killed”.

The SBU, and Babchenko, have continued to defend the operation. In posts on Facebook, Babchenko said he did not care about criticism questioning the journalistic ethics of what he and the SBU had done, saying he was grateful that the operation had saved his life.

But groups like RSF, CPJ and IFJ say while they are relieved Babchenko is alive, they question whether the mass deception, and subsequent damage to journalists’ and the Ukrainian authorities’ credibility, was worth it.

“We are glad that Babchenko is alive and are in no doubt that the threats he had been facing were real. However, what we are waiting for is the Ukrainian government to present hard evidence that this was worth it and it has really led to some results. So far, they have failed to do so,” Bihr told IPS.

Ukraine has a poor record on journalist safety. Journalists regularly face harassment and physical attacks as well as ‘doxing’ – the publication of their personal information.

Seven journalists have been killed in the last four years in Ukraine, the most recent being Belarusian-born Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet who died in a car bomb assassination in July 2016.

The investigation into his murder has stalled amid claims of a lack of effort from investigators and Ukrainian involvement in the killing.

After Babchenko’s staged murder, Larysa Sargan, spokesperson for Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, drew up a list on her Facebook page of journalists she claimed had been “traitorous” for criticising the operation.

In the wake of the faked murder, while all local journalists have been quick to stress their relief that Babchenko is alive, their opinions on the merits of the operation differ.

Some have praised it as the best way to save a threatened journalist’s life and expose a Russian plot, but many others have been critical of it and some have linked it back to what they say are serious shortcomings among institutions of power towards journalists‘ safety and freedom of speech.

Olga Rudenko, deputy editor-in-chief at the Kyiv Post newspaper, told RFE/RL: “Ukrainian journalists feel even less safe than they used to. To make it a safer place for journalists, the authorities need to investigate crimes against journalists.

“The whole plot to kill Babchenko, if we presume there was one, was only possible in the first place because so many earlier murders and attacks on journalists remain un-investigated, making for an atmosphere of impunity. Who’d sign up to kill a high-profile journalist if they knew all previous killers had been found and punished?”

Anna Babinec, co-founder of the investigative journalism agency Slidstvo.Info, said the incident had, for many journalists, stripped them of what trust they had left in Ukrainian authorities.

She told IPS: “Many journalists who lacked trust in the Ukrainian government before now have absolutely no trust in it.

“As an investigative journalist, working the whole night at the scene of the ‘crime’ was a great test of my skills. Now we know we should check everything the authorities say not twice, but three or four times. We need to check not only if the police are doing their work properly, but whether they are lying about crimes.”

She added: “As a journalist and human being I’m happy that my colleague is alive, but there are still a lot of questions that the security service and Arkady [need to answer] about this special operation.”

This distrust has deepened in the days since the operation with the SBU reluctant to give further details and both the alleged killer and man who hired him claiming to have been working with the SBU all along.

The leak of a reported ‘hit list’ of 47 people, supposedly discovered by the SBU during the operation, has added to the confusion.

The list, which includes journalists and political activists, contains the names of many critics of the Ukrainian authorities, among others, but, pointedly, does not include Babchenko.

Some local journalists believe it is genuine, but others doubt its veracity. Speaking to RFE/RL, three journalists on the list said they had been contacted by the SBU and shown a list with their names on. They said what they had been shown was similar to the list leaked in Ukrainian media, but had a different order of names and, in some cases, spellings.

One of the journalists said they had been questioned by the SBU about their political opinions.

Whether the SBU will give any further details on the operation and show it was, as the RSF said ‘worth it’, anytime soon is uncertain.

But the fact that local and global media were misled by authorities, with the willing help of a journalist, means this is likely to be a boon for those looking to repress free speech or spread propaganda as it leads to questions about the skills and credibility of those who are supposed to be presenting unbiased facts, critics say.

Russian journalist Tanya Felgenhauer told British daily newspaper The Independent: “This story has been a victory of the post-factual world and it makes our jobs even more difficult.

“One of the only advantages we have over social media and state media is accuracy and fact-checking. Here, our fact-checking model wasn’t sufficient, and our credibility has suffered badly.”

The RSF’s Bihr told IPS: “It provides help for organisations who sow doubt and spread misinformation, who blur the lines between truth and fiction. It provides fuel for repressive governments and propaganda media working to hamper freedom of speech.”

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Kenya Can End the Moral Indignity of Child Labourhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/kenya-can-end-moral-indignity-child-labour/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenya-can-end-moral-indignity-child-labour http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/kenya-can-end-moral-indignity-child-labour/#respond Tue, 12 Jun 2018 13:20:44 +0000 Jacqueline Mogeni and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156175 Jacqueline Mogeni is the CEO at Kenya’s Council of Governors and Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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12 June is the World Day Against Child Labour. In the world's poorest countries, around one in four children are engaged in work that is potentially harmful to their health

Although child abuse and exploitation is prohibited by the Kenyan constitution, some children are still engaged in manual labour. XINHUA PHOTO: SAM NDIRANGU

By Jacqueline Mogeni and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 12 2018 (IPS)

On 12 June every year is the World Day Against Child Labour. In the world’s poorest countries, around one in four children are engaged in work that is potentially harmful to their health.

Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest proportion of child labourers (29 per cent of children aged 5 to 17 years) and is considered detrimental to their health and development.

Many children not yet in their teens, are sent out to work in farms, as sand harvesters, street hawkers, domestic workers, drug peddling and most piteously, as sex workers and child soldiers.

Of all child labourers in these and similar industries around the world, half are in Africa, indicating that the continent’s conscience must urgently be pricked into action.

Jacqueline Mogeni

Kenya has made some commendable moves towards eliminating child labour, primarily through the National Policy on the Elimination of Child Labour, and most recently the Computer and Cybercrime Bill with its provisions on child sexual exploitation. And worth mentioning is the Children’s Act which domesticated most international and continental conventions to enhance child rights and protection.

Kenya has ratified most key international conventions concerning child labour including Minimum Age, Worst Forms of Child Labour, Optional Protocol on Armed Conflict, Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in Persons.

The country must now also ratify the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.

Among the steps that will reduce the number of children ending up as workers is the policy on compulsory secondary education. Currently, only the primary level schooling is mandatory, which leaves an almost five-year gap between completion and the minimum working age of 18 years.

Officially, primary and secondary schools are prohibited from charging tuition fees, but unofficial school levies, books and uniforms still make it difficult for families to send their children to school. Partly because of that, transition to secondary school is at about 60%, leaving many children prone to exploitation.

While engaging children has been considered as more income, new analysis by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) indicates child labour is economically unjustified.

Siddharth Chatterjee

Sending such children out to work rather than to school means they miss out on education and the skills that might have landed them better jobs in the future. It means we are not investing in human capital, but rather ensuring the youth will remain mired in low-skilled jobs, thus jeopardising any hopes for reaping a demographic dividend. Efforts to empower, educate and employ young people will have a cascading effect on the rest of society.

Estimates indicate that in sub-Saharan Africa, the last few years have witnessed a rise in child labour, where other major regions recorded declines. It is conceivable that the retrogression was driven largely by economic slow-down, but clearly, child labour is likely a cause rather than cure for poverty for families and for entire nations. “Child labor perpetuates poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, population growth, and other social problems”, says Nobel Laureate, Kailash Satyarthi.

A particularly obdurate form of child labour is early marriage, with statistics indicating that one in five girls under 15 years is married, invariably to a much older man. The cycle of abuse sets off immediately, with most of these ‘child brides’ being overworked in the home; often made to walk many kilometres to fetch water, sweep the house, prepare meals and give birth to many children while their peers are in school.

Childbirth is a deadly hit-or-miss proposition for them. Young mothers are four times likelier than those over 20 to die in pregnancy or childbirth, even without considering other perils such as fistula that are hazards for child mothers.

Even where such births are uneventful, it means that such children will most likely never go back to school, dashing any hopes of decent employment in future.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by world leaders in 2015, include a renewed global commitment to ending child labour.

With its current momentum including moves to clamp down on exploitation of children and increasing secondary school transition rates, Kenya can be a model for Africa in the global commitment.

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Jacqueline Mogeni is the CEO at Kenya’s Council of Governors and Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator to Kenya.

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How Democracies Die and Economies Growhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/democracies-die-economies-grow/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=democracies-die-economies-grow http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/democracies-die-economies-grow/#respond Mon, 11 Jun 2018 20:21:18 +0000 Wahiduddin Mahmud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156155 There are two prominent themes of contemporary development discourses, both lacking a consensus, as reflected in academic research and in their popular versions in bestseller books. One of these is about finding the reasons for the decline of democracies since the late 1980s and the early 1990s when the erstwhile military rule and dictatorships gave […]

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By Wahiduddin Mahmud
Jun 11 2018 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

There are two prominent themes of contemporary development discourses, both lacking a consensus, as reflected in academic research and in their popular versions in bestseller books. One of these is about finding the reasons for the decline of democracies since the late 1980s and the early 1990s when the erstwhile military rule and dictatorships gave way to democratically elected regimes in many developing countries. A representative book on this is Competitive Authoritarianism: Hybrid Regimes After the Cold War by Steven Levitsky and Lucan A Way. Levitsky has also recently co-authored another bestseller, How Democracies Die, with his Harvard University colleague Daniel Ziblatt. The second theme is about how the quality of governance could explain why some countries economically prosper and others do not. On this, one of the best-known books is Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, co-authored by two well-known political economy experts, Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. The two themes, though interrelated, are quite distinct, and much confusion is created by not recognising these as such.

At the time of the so-called new wave of democratisation across the developing countries, it was believed that these countries would pass through an initial transition phase for building and consolidating their democratic institutions. In reality, only a few followed this path of gradual deepening of democracy; Indonesia or Botswana are often cited as examples. Some others degenerated into unstable and fragile states and returned to authoritarianism or worse. But in most cases, the transition phase did not lead to more democracy, but resulted in a new kind of stable hybrid regimes—authoritarianism mixed with democratic institutions in various degrees.

The initial democratic aspirations in most of the countries did not materialise for various reasons. In some cases, such as in South Africa, Singapore or the erstwhile Malaysia under Mahathir’s rule, the dominance and popularity of a single party left little room for multi-party democratic competition. Sometimes, charismatic leaders like Hugo Chavez of Venezuela who themselves did not believe in democracy but enjoyed popular support, came to power through genuinely contested elections. More often, however, democracy was gradually weakened at the hands of democratically elected leaders faced with fading popularity.

In the latter case, democracy is diminished slowly, in barely visible steps, unlike in an abrupt fashion of a military coup. The nominally democratic institutions remain in place and these steps are taken “legally”, in the sense that these are approved by the legislature and accepted by the courts; yet democracy is subverted by more subtle means, by gradually eroding the credibility of state institutions including higher judiciary, capturing the business bodies, bullying the media, curtailing the space for civic activism, and rewriting the rules of politics to tilt the playing fields against the opponents. A former president of Kenya, Daniel arap Moi, once famously remarked: Politics is not a football game that you need a level playing field. Ironically, thus, democracy may ultimately die at the hands of those leaders who got elected with a popular mandate to strengthen democracy.

When it comes to the economic performance of these hybrid regimes, it will depend on how they are advantaged or disadvantaged by the democratic and authoritarian characteristics that they simultaneously embody. We now know that developing countries can achieve high economic performance both under democracy—as in India—and under authoritarian regimes—as in contemporary China and the erstwhile East Asian countries. The common element shared between these contrasting governance systems seems to be “accountability”, which lies behind the more proximate preconditions for good economic management such as efficiency and the primacy of public good over private gains through rent-seeking.

The way accountability in policymaking is ensured in a well-functioning democracy is too well-known to need elaboration, but the issue is more complex in the case of the successful authoritarian regimes. In the case of the erstwhile authoritarian regimes in East Asia, the key to ensuring accountability lay in their quality of economic bureaucracies which were “technically insulated” from patronage politics and whose policies were subject to performance-based scrutiny. In China, the governance reforms introduced in the wake of economic liberalisation have put in place a hierarchical system of strict accountability within the communist party’s bureaucracy regarding achieving economic targets. As one commentator on China has aptly brought out the contrast in the structure of performance incentives under democratic and authoritarian regimes: in democracy, politics is interesting while bureaucracy is boring; in China, the reverse is true.

The new breed of authoritarian democracies may try to deliberately pursue an approach of “technical insulation” of economic policymaking, as Malaysia did under Mahathir’s previous regime; but these regimes generally lack the kind of governance effectiveness or party cohesion that is needed for mimicking the purely authoritarian mechanisms of accountability. At the same time, the regimes have the advantage of having some of the democratic accountability mechanisms. Even poorly functioning democratic institutions can help. How?

So long as the ruling regimes face periodic well-participated elections, they are aware of the risk that even flawed or rigged elections may be lost; this may happen if the extent of corruption in high places and the excesses of patronage politics cross certain thresholds of public tolerance. The voice of the opposition party even in a weakly functioning parliament of elected representatives may sensitise public opinion against excesses committed by the ruling regime. In case of rigged elections and non-functional parliaments, the watchdog bodies and the judiciary can act as a fallback, even when the integrity of these state institutions is compromised to an extent. Beyond these institutional mechanisms of accountability, the media and civic activism can be another fallback. And lastly, the ruling regime knows that its survival ultimately lies in its legitimacy in the eye of the common people, unless it increasingly resorts to coercive measures to stay in power. In a hybrid regime, that legitimacy can be maintained only by compensating the democratic deficits by delivering visible, rapid economic progress.

Herein lies a potential for both a virtuous and a vicious cycle in the new hybrid authoritarian democracies. Strengthening the democratic institutions of accountability may contribute to creating an environment for better economic performance that may in turn enhance the legitimacy of the regime, thus creating incentives for the regime to further loosen its authoritarian grip on those institutions. The opposite is a downward spiral of lesser accountability leading to poorer economic performance and even further curtailing of the democratic accountability mechanisms in the face of declining regime legitimacy. Only countries with exceptionally strong growth drivers that can withstand poor economic governance can escape such a vicious cycle, at least for some time.

At one point or another, many of the new democracies may thus find themselves to have arrived at such a crossroads. Whether a country will choose the right direction at such a time will depend on a range of factors like the prevailing norms of political behaviour, aspirations of the people, and the vision and statesmanship of the political leadership. These factors are mostly country-specific, so that academic generalisations based on stylised facts are not of much help in making predictions.

Wahiduddin Mahmudis a former professor of economics at the University of Dhaka and is currently on the Board of Global Development Network.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Greece: SDGs a Way to End Economic Crisis?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/greece-sdgs-way-end-economic-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=greece-sdgs-way-end-economic-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/greece-sdgs-way-end-economic-crisis/#respond Fri, 08 Jun 2018 16:50:43 +0000 Maged Srour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156119 Seven years after being on the verge of a financial collapse, Greece is now seeing better times. Its economic accounts have clearly improved but what is not under the spotlight is how the Greek people are still paying for the effects of the crisis. During these past years, the country has achieved some partial gains. […]

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Greece is now seeing better times: its economic accounts have clearly improved but the Greek people are still paying for the effects of the crisis

A Greek flag waving in the locality of Oia, Greece. Credit: Matt Artz on Unsplash

By Maged Srour
ROME, Jun 8 2018 (IPS)

Seven years after being on the verge of a financial collapse, Greece is now seeing better times. Its economic accounts have clearly improved but what is not under the spotlight is how the Greek people are still paying for the effects of the crisis.

During these past years, the country has achieved some partial gains. It is the first time, since 2011, that economic accounts of Greece are so encouraging that the country is looking with some optimism to the month of August 2018 when the last phase of European aid will be over definitely.

The purchasing power of the people has fallen by approximately 29% and unemployment has reached 23% for adult workers and, a stunning 40% for young people

The surplus during the first nine months of 2017 was 2.2% higher related to the 1.75% imposed by the European Union. The GDP growth was 1.9% in 2017 and estimates show it will reach 2.5% in 2018.

Among the most significant levers of the Greek recovery is the increase of its exports. In particular, the production and sale of liqueurs, as well as the car industry are both stimulating growth. Tourism remains a pillar of the Greek economy. In 2017, it was 17% higher than the year before.

However, despite these positive signs, the reality on the ground is bitter sweet. The purchasing power of the people has fallen by approximately 29% and unemployment has reached 23% for adult workers and, a stunning 40% for young people. Greece might not risk that default that was feared a few years ago but the ordinary people are facing tough challenges even to meet some basic needs such as covering rents and paying bills.

The people in general are far from being out of the crisis. However, while living this situation of high unemployment and uncertainty about their future, the Greeks have started, during these past few years, to turn back to the land in order to earn money.

Agriculture is the main sector that has not suffered in a substantial way and, has been constantly showing (relatively) positive signs. According to the Panhellenic Confederation of Unions of Agricultural Cooperatives, during the first years of the crisis, between 2008 and 2010, agriculture created 32,000 new jobs and the majority of these jobs were taken up by Greek nationals.

Those who owned a plot of land, in some cases inherited, on a small island or in the countryside, decided to leave the dramatic situation in Athens and return to their lands to work on ecotourism or farming.

Greece is now seeing better times: its economic accounts have clearly improved but the Greek people are still paying for the effects of the crisis

Credit: Vesela Vaclavikova on Unsplash

Additionally, many young people started to show interest in the faculties of agriculture, as applications for such courses tripled in the past few years. However, among those who decided to abandon the urban areas to live and work in the rural ones, the majority are aged between 40 and 60 years old. The majority of these people had lost their jobs just before retirement, waiting to receive their pension.

According to the Food Sustainability Index (FSI) 2017, which was developed in collaboration between the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) and the Economist Intelligence Unit with the objective to “promote knowledge on food sustainability”, Greece earned a positive score in sustainable agriculture.

The FSI ranks 34 countries according to their food system sustainability. It aims to highlight issues across three pillars: food loss and waste, sustainable agriculture and nutritional challenges. Despite having only a mid-level score for food loss and waste, and minimal scores for the policy response to food loss, “Greece earned a high score for sustainable agriculture, with a strong performance for the air category (GHG emissions), and for sub-indicators such as diversification of agricultural system, land ownership and sustainability of water withdrawal serving to bring up the score in the land and water categories”.

When considered in conjunction with the water scarcity situation of the country, this high score in the agricultural sector gains an additional prize. Indeed, according to the FSI, the average number of months of freshwater scarcity in Greece is six and despite that, the country has been able to maintain a high level of performance in the sector.

Not surprisingly, Greece has recently showed interest in sharing its high expertise and level of innovations in agro-technology with Qatar in a bid to develop and support the tiny Gulf country’s agriculture sector and self-sufficiency initiatives.

Greece’s third bailout is due to expire in August 2018 and the Hellenic country aims to return to a path of growth after years of crisis and uncertainty. During the Fourth Agricultural Business Summit, which took place in Larissa on May 3, 2018, organized by The Economist under the auspices of the Greek Ministry of Rural Development and Food, experts and policymakers gathered to discuss the priorities and challenges that need to be resolved as of 2018 and beyond in the field of agriculture in relation to business.

The analysts discussed if Greece could play a leading role in South-East Europe and whether the Greek Agribusiness sector will be able to transform uncertainty into stability, competitiveness and growth.

It is hard to forecast with accuracy the outcome of the next following months and years but, the fact that the Greek establishment (academia, businesses, policymakers, etc.) is showing its willingness to act and implement a concrete roadmap to end the crisis through the SDG Agenda, means that the country strongly believes in Agenda 2030which is the driving force to start growing again.

In addition, a study, published by SEV Business Council for Sustainable Development and conducted by the Climate Change and Sustainability Services Practice of Ernst & Young in Greece highlighted “to identify the current status in Greece, regarding the level of awareness, readiness and willingness of Greek companies towards integrating the SDGs in their strategy”. One of the key findings of the study brings some optimism for the future of Greece.

For example, regarding awareness and readiness on SDGs among Greek companies, the study revealed that “senior executives, regardless of company size, have a high level of knowledge of sustainable development issues related to the Goals. The engagement and awareness of middle management executives on sustainable development issues related to the Goals constitute a crucial factor for their successful implementation”.

Beginning in August 2018, the economic system of Greece will once again have to walk on its own legs. Many analysts believe that the commitment of Greek authorities in the past few years in planning and implementing a sustainable agenda will help Athens to develop in the next future without the support of the EU and IMF.

By the end of 2018, we will undoubtedly have the first answers to this dilemma and the 2019 elections will also tell us if the Greek people view the government’s efforts of the past few years as the best it could do and achieve.

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Human Rights Must Be on the Table During U.S.-North Korea Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/human-rights-must-table-u-s-north-korea-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-must-table-u-s-north-korea-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/human-rights-must-table-u-s-north-korea-talks/#comments Fri, 08 Jun 2018 06:54:46 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156112 Human rights issues must be included in next week’s United States-North Korea summit in order to create a “sustainable agreement”, said a UN expert. In an effort towards denuclearization, U.S. President Trump is set to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. In anticipation of the summit, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights […]

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Donald J. Trump, President of the United States of America, addresses the Assembly’s annual general debate. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 8 2018 (IPS)

Human rights issues must be included in next week’s United States-North Korea summit in order to create a “sustainable agreement”, said a UN expert.

In an effort towards denuclearization, U.S. President Trump is set to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

In anticipation of the summit, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) Tomás Ojea Quintana called for human rights issues to be a topic of discussion.

“At some point, whether [in] the next summit or other summits to come or meetings, it is very important that human rights are raised,” Quintana said.

“I am not of the opinion that a human rights dialogue will undermine the opening and the talks on denuclearization at all,” he added.

Instead, DPRK’s participation in a discussion on human rights will give them “credibility” and “show that they want to become a normal state.”

While they have signed and ratified several human rights treaties, North Korea remains one of the most repressive, authoritarian states in the world

A 2014 UN report found systematic, gross human rights violations committed by the government including forced labor, enslavement, torture, and imprisonment.

It is estimated that up to 120,000 people are detained in political prison camps in the East Asian nation, often referred to as the “world’s biggest open prison.”

“My call is for an amnesty, a general amnesty that includes these prisoners, and it is a concrete call,” Quintana said.

The UN Commission of Inquiry also found the “inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

Approximately two in five North Koreans are undernourished and more than 70 percent of the population rely on food aid.

Most North Koreans also lack access to basic services such as healthcare or sanitation.

Diarrhea and pneumonia are the two main causes of death for children under five, the report said.

It wouldn’t be the first time that President Trump has taken a strong stance on North Korea.

“No one has shown more contempt for other nations and for the wellbeing of their own people than the depraved regime in North Korea,” Trump said during his first speech to the General Assembly in 2017.

“It is time for all nations to work together to isolate the Kim regime until it ceases its hostile behavior,” he added.

In an open letter, more than 300 nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) from around the world have also called on North Korea to reform its regime and hope the upcoming meeting will urge human rights improvements as part of any agreement.

“North Korea’s increased dialogue with other countries is a positive step, but before the world gets too excited they should remember that Kim Jong Un still presides over perhaps the most repressive system in the world,” said Human Rights Watch’s Asia Director Brad Adams.

“As the UN Security Council has recognized, human rights abuses in North Korea and threats to international peace and security are intrinsically connected, so any security discussion needs to include human rights,” he continued.

Human Rights Watch is among the human rights organizations that signed the letter.

Among the letter’s calls to actions, organizations urged Kim Jong Un to act on UN human rights recommendations, increase engagement with the international human rights system, end abuses in detention and prisons, and to accept international humanitarian aid for needy communities.

“If [Kim Jong Un] really wants to end North Korea’s international isolation, he should take strong and quick action to show the North Korean people and the world that he is committed to ending decades of rights abuses,” Adams said.

Quintana echoed similar sentiments, noting that human rights issues were sidelined over two decades ago when the U.S. and the DPRK signed an agreement to freeze Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and again during recent six-party talks.

“Those processes, although they were well-intentioned, were not successful,” he said.

“For this new process to be successful, my humble opinion as a human rights rapporteur is that the human rights dialogue should be included because it is part of the discussion. Human rights and security and peace are interlinked, definitely, and this is the situation where we can prove that,” Quintana continued.

Otherwise, any denuclearization agreement would send the “wrong message” and prevent the two parties from building a “sustainable agreement.”

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Afghan Electorate: Basic Needs Must be met Before Political Progress can be Ensuredhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/afghan-electorate-basic-needs-must-met-political-progress-can-ensured/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghan-electorate-basic-needs-must-met-political-progress-can-ensured http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/afghan-electorate-basic-needs-must-met-political-progress-can-ensured/#respond Thu, 07 Jun 2018 05:56:55 +0000 Will Carter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156097 Will Carter is Head of Programme, Norwegian Refugee Council, Afghanistan

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Despite the poor situation regarding food security and displacement, the upcoming elections in Afghanistan provide the populace with a sense of hope.

A family struggles through a dusty environment in Afghanistan. Credit: Fraidoon Poya / UNAMA

By Will Carter
KABUL, Afghanistan, Jun 7 2018 (IPS)

After four decades of perpetual conflict, Afghanistan rolls into two consecutive election years – parliamentary this year, presidential the next. But the country and its people are going through even tougher times than usual with continued displacement and a looming hunger crisis.

Since the last elections in 2014, hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees and migrants have been deported or are returning, not out of hopefulness for a country reborn, but of desperation in a hostile and unwelcoming climate abroad. Increasing numbers of refugees are displaced again after they return.

In addition, over a million Afghans have fled their homes within the country due to worsening armed conflict creating record levels of internal displacement. Left with no opportunities for a safe life, many deportees attempt to make their journeys abroad again and so the vicious circle continues.

Now the full effects of a drought coinciding with the political deadlock of elections are threatening an already exhausted population. Hunger is now hitting the country hard. The drought has already affected two out of three provinces in Afghanistan, with displaced families in the North and West regions particularly at risk.

Food insecurity levels have always been high in this country whose main agricultural output is opium, and where food production struggles to break even. But successive ‘prolonged dry spells’ over the past years are now forcing communities to their knees – thousands of families selling off their assets in ‘distress sales’ are now camped in urban centres.

In a survey released by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) in January, one in two displaced Afghans said they could not adequately feed their families and were often skipping meals. This is an increase from one in three in 2012.

In hard-to-reach Badghis province in the northwest of the country, the most food insecure province in the country, over half of the recently displaced had no food stocks, and the rest had less food than to last them for a full week. 86 per cent of these displaced households had below borderline food consumption scores, with three quarters borrowing food, two thirds going into mounting debts, and a third eating smaller portions and fewer meals. One in four had restricted their own eating so that small children could eat. Over two million people risk becoming food insecure in the coming months.

Taking a step back, the landlocked country seems like a series of potent man-made and natural disasters stacked atop one another, altogether creating one of the most complex, protracted, largest emergencies on earth.

In spite of this, political and donor commitments to the country are now wavering, if not withering. Compared to five years ago, perhaps the peak of the military stabilisation period, there are now five times more internally displaced Afghans, but only half the humanitarian budgets.

NRC’s own emergency response mechanism in Afghanistan has been halved due to funding shortfalls earlier this year, specifically reducing our capacities in the North and West regions of the country.

Given the current desperate situation, it seems Afghans do not have much choice in the matter of the upcoming elections. The question of whether or not now is a good time stands as a rhetorical one.

Are Afghans hopeful of the years ahead? This one is not a rhetorical question. The odds are obviously stacked against them, but opinion polls (such as The Asia Foundation) reveal something else.

A sense of hope.

If Afghans still have hope amidst continued violence, swirling forced displacement and hunger, ahead of approaching elections, then so too must world leaders, donor countries and humanitarians.

We cannot give up, give in, abandon, or go silent.

The global public must force politicians to make good on their commitments to Afghanistan. Donors must step up their support to aid work. Humanitarians must be held accountable to not shrink but to help hungry and displaced, but yet hopeful Afghan boys and girls despite the darker, more dangerous context.

If Afghans’ hopes are dashed yet again – even they will eventually stop hoping. And that is a recipe for disaster – hope will be replaced by depression, anger, and an overwhelming need to escape. We cannot afford this, and Afghans deserve better than conflict, hunger, and forced displacement.

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Excerpt:

Will Carter is Head of Programme, Norwegian Refugee Council, Afghanistan

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President Al-Sisi Pursues Repressive Track with New Wave of Arrestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/president-al-sisi-pursues-repressive-track-new-wave-arrests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=president-al-sisi-pursues-repressive-track-new-wave-arrests http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/president-al-sisi-pursues-repressive-track-new-wave-arrests/#respond Wed, 06 Jun 2018 14:24:47 +0000 Eduard Cousin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156086 Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who was re-elected in March, continues the repression of regime opponents. Critics view the situation as increasingly dangerous. “There is no logic anymore,” says one. “The injustice increases… the regime becomes more violent. I’ll take a much-needed break from politics… There is nothing more to say,” tweeted regime critic Hazem […]

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President Al-Sisi pursues repressive track with new wave of arrests

Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, President of the Arab Republic of Egypt, addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s seventy-second session. Credit: UN Photo/Cia Pak

By Eduard Cousin
CAIRO, Jun 6 2018 (IPS)

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who was re-elected in March, continues the repression of regime opponents. Critics view the situation as increasingly dangerous. “There is no logic anymore,” says one.

“The injustice increases… the regime becomes more violent. I’ll take a much-needed break from politics… There is nothing more to say,” tweeted regime critic Hazem Abdelaziz on 18 May, after a number of prominent activists had been arrested over the span of a few days.

Less than a week after this tweet, police raided the Abdelaziz’s house in Cairo, arresting him on accusations of ‘spreading false news’ and  ‘joining a banned organisation’.

 

Blogger, actor and lawyer

In 2014 Abdelaziz still worked for the presidential campaign of President Al-Sisi, but later described this as his “biggest mistake” and became a strong critic of the regime, in particular concerning the limitation of freedoms and repression of opposition groups.

He was the sixth prominent activist arrested in May – after satirical actor Shady Abu Zeid, former opposition leader Shady Al-Ghazaly Harb, leftist lawyer Haitham Mohamedeen, women rights defender Amal Fathy, and blogger Wael Abbas – all on grounds of spreading false news and joining a banned or terrorist organisation, which typically is a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Arrests of activists, opposition members or otherwise critical voices are not something new in Egypt, but such a large number of arrested prominent figures in a short time span is exceptional and worrying

An Egyptian PhD student at the University of Washington, Walid al-Shobaky, befell the same fate. He did research on the judicial system in Egypt, and disappeared on 23 May. Four days later he resurfaced in a Cairo prison, and the prosecution ordered his detention on the same accusations of false news and terrorism links.

 

Logic lost

Arrests of activists, opposition members or otherwise critical voices are not something new in Egypt, but such a large number of arrested prominent figures in a short time span is exceptional and worrying. “The situation becomes more difficult, more dangerous,” said Azza Solimon, women’s rights defender and lawyer for the arrested actor Shady Abu Zeid. “There’s no logic anymore.”

Abu Zeid became known from a prank with the police in 2016. On the five-year anniversary of the 25 January Revolution – the popular uprising that forced former president Hosni Mubarak to resign – he handed condoms blown up as balloons to policemen and posted a video of this online. Since, he has received threats from the police, was forced to resign from the television programme he worked for, and started to work for himself, posting humorous videos on a Youtube channel.

 

Discipline critics

Abu Zeid was ‘shocked’ after his arrest, said Solimon, who tries to visit him frequently in prison. “He didn’t understand why he was arrested now. He doesn’t talk politics in his videos, and the accusations are vague.”

He is already over a month in pre-trial detention, and it is not clear when his case will start. “All we can do now is support him,” Soliman said. “I try to help him to deal with this situation, as his lawyer and mother-figure. He may be in jail for a long time.”

Soliman, who herself has a travel ban and whose bank accounts are frozen due to her involvement in activism, believes the recent arrests are a way to ‘discipline’ people. “Any person who joined in the revolution, they want to discipline.”

 

Football fans

In other fields of society the regime leaves no room for dissent. The Ultras Ahlawy, the hard-core fan group of Cairo football club Al-Ahly, dissolved themselves in mid-May, citing the safety of their members. The Ultras White Knights, a fan group of Egypt’s second largest team Zamalek, followed suit two weeks later. The Ultras played an important role during the 2011 revolution, not shying away from a fight with the police during demonstrations.

The mobilising capacity of the Ultras is seen as a threat to the regime and police, who have tried to break up these groups for the past years. Since 2012, supporters are banned from attending stadium matches, clashes between Ultras and police have frequently led to fatalities, and dozens of members are in prison.

“The Ultras are desperate and don’t see a bright future,” said journalist and football fan Mahmoud Mostafa. “They hope for a reconciliation with the regime to get their fellow members out of prison.”

For example, in April this year 21 Ultras were arrested over inciting protests. Seven more were arrested in early May after a confrontation with the police.

A particular dramatic event took place in early 2015. At least 20 Zamalek supporters were killed in a stampede when police fired tear gas at a crowd in front of a stadium’s gate. Afterwards, not policemen but Ultras present at the scene were convicted. They would have incited riots with the police and hence been held responsible for the death of their fellow fans.

 

No space for independent voices

“The regime does not tolerate organised groups outside of its control,” Mostafa said. “The Ultras have a large audience among youth, and have [in the stadiums] an open platform to express an independent voice. That worries the state.”

Mostafa’s words reflect the underlying trend of the recent developments: the state does not want to allow a public space for citizens to express an independent voice, whether it is through social media, videos, stadiums or universities.

While the risks for Egyptians are much higher, foreign journalists are also subject to the crackdown. Two weeks ago French journalist Nina Hubinet was stopped at Cairo airport, interrogated about her previous work on Egypt, and sent back to France. She hadn’t been reporting from Egypt for five years and was only travelling to visit friends.

 

Egypt rejects EU criticism

Last week the European Union expressed its concern about the recent arrests, describing them as a ‘worrying development’. The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded the same day. “No citizen in Egypt is arrested or tried as a result of engaging in an activity in the field of human rights or for directing criticism at the Egyptian government, but for committing crimes punishable by law,” spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said in a statement.

While the Ultras have succumbed, Soliman remains resilient. “Yes I’m worried, and the arrests are becoming more, but I’m a fighter,” she said. She keeps trying to enforce her and other’s rights by law, even though sometimes it’s also too much for her. “But then I calm down, relax and hold on to the dream: Justice, equality and rule of law.”

That dream however, seems farther away than ever under the second term of President Al-Sisi.

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Nepal: Where Abortion is Treated as Homicidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/nepal-abortion-treated-homicide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nepal-abortion-treated-homicide http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/06/nepal-abortion-treated-homicide/#respond Wed, 06 Jun 2018 05:18:04 +0000 Sabin Shrestha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156078 Sabin Shrestha is Executive Director of the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), the Kathmandu-based partner of international women's group Donor Direct Action.

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A Nepali family. Credit: Mallika Aryal/IPS

By Sabin Shrestha
KATHMANDU, Nepal, Jun 6 2018 (IPS)

Less than thirty years ago the likelihood of a mother dying due to pregnancy or childbirth in Nepal was one of the highest in the world. In 1990 UNICEF estimated that the rate was 901 women or girls out of 100,000 – significantly higher than any of its neighbours.

Since then the country has been somewhat of a global success story in maternal health. By 2015 the rate had been reduced to 215 and it is hoped that it has fallen even further in the last three years.

In the 1990s over half of maternal mortality instances were due to unsafe abortions. Still illegal in most circumstances women often sought backstreet options carried out by untrained personnel. Abortion laws were strictly enforced to the point that pregnant women sometimes feared they would be charged with homicide – even if they miscarried.

I grew up in Kathmandu and have worked on this issue for more than 15 years. I’ve seen how the lives and well-being of Nepalese women and girls were being put at serious risk during a time when they needed support. Thankfully, others were in agreement.

Responding to months of lobbying and coalition-building Nepal’s Parliament passed a bill in 2002 which legalised abortion without exception for 12 weeks. Services to enable women to access reproductive health care were also scaled up in quite a short time frame. Nepal had achieved a minor miracle.

Although a conservative country in many ways the transition was relatively smooth.

But making sustained progress in this landlocked and developing nation, where most people live in a remote or rural area, was not easy. In the past legal abortions were difficult for most women to access and the financial cost in a public hospital was often more than a month’s salary, meaning that some women were either forced to continue with an unintended pregnancy – or avail of an unsafe abortion carried out by somebody without proper medical training.

In the mid 2000s an estimated 4,000 Nepalese women were still dying each year as they were being forced to undergo unsafe abortions.

Coming from a poor household in Western Nepal a young woman called Lakshmi had little hope of being able to pay for an abortion after becoming pregnant. Like many other women her realistic choice was to either get an unsafe abortion or to continue her pregnancy.

She chose the latter, but in 2007, along with our partner the Center for Reproductive Rights and my organisation the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), she brought forward what would turn out to be a landmark case.

Lakshmi maintained that Nepal’s government had failed to enforce its own law on reproductive rights and that safe and legal abortion was extremely difficult to access for most Nepalese women and girls – including herself. She argued that it was not sufficient that abortion was technically legal, but that reproductive health care was a basic constitutional right, which should be affordable and easily accessible.

In May 2009 the Supreme Court of Nepal agreed with her and called on the government to promote the availability of safe and legal abortion in Nepal, to enact a new separate act addressing the issues of women’s reproductive health rights, to ensure personal information of women who get abortions remains confidential and to inform, educate and increase awareness among the general public.

This was a major step forward, but it has only partially come to pass. Abortion services are currently available in 75 district hospitals and also in a limited number of primary health check locations. Since 2016 the Nepalese government has also provided free abortion services through Government Health institutions.

However, only 41% of women of reproductive age know that abortion is legal, it is still seen as a social taboo – and even when they do avail of it it is still treated as homicide in some cases. I know of at least 13 women who are serving prison sentences, including Meera, a young woman from Biratnagar, who is currently serving a seven year sentence for infanticide after she had a miscarriage in 2015.

The government has failed to make it possible for women to be able to afford to pay for abortions, a significant number still do not know that abortion is legal, information on contraception is still not properly communicated, and midwives and other medical personnel have yet to be properly trained on reproductive health and rights.

Out of the 323,100 abortions which took place in Nepal in 2014 only 137,000 were safe and legal. Untrained health workers are still carrying out the majority of abortions here.

Following the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal that killed over 9,000 people up to 90% of birthing centers in the 14 most affected districts were either seriously damaged or destroyed. During this time abortion was next to impossible to access. Three years on not all have been re-built, meaning that the challenges already faced by pregnant women have been exacerbated.
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However, things may finally be about to change for the better. A new bill on reproductive rights has been recently approved in principle by the Office of Prime Minister and Ministers Council, which will respond to the concerns highlighted by our Supreme Court nine years ago and will separate reproductive rights as a distinct legal issue. It will ensure that women have much better access to information on their rights and that a fund is set up for women who cannot access free abortions, carried out by only qualified health personnel.

We are hopeful that the government will formally enact this into law in the coming months, which will also finally make it impossible to convict a woman of homicide if she has an abortion or suffers a miscarriage. This would provide a context for securing the release of those who are still in prison for very unfair reasons and transform the futures of millions of Nepalese women and girls.

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Excerpt:

Sabin Shrestha is Executive Director of the Forum for Women, Law and Development (FWLD), the Kathmandu-based partner of international women's group Donor Direct Action.

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Why Israel Dropped Out of the Security Council Race: Not Enough Voteshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/israel-dropped-security-council-race-not-enough-votes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-dropped-security-council-race-not-enough-votes http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/israel-dropped-security-council-race-not-enough-votes/#comments Tue, 29 May 2018 16:32:20 +0000 Kacie Candela http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155973 Kacie Candela, PassBlue*

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On March 8, 2018, Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel and his wife, Sara, toured the “3000 Years of History: Jews in Jerusalem” exhibition at the UN in New York. Danny Danon, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, right. Israel recently dropped its campaign to run for a seat in the next term of the Security Council. The election is June 8. Credit: ESKINDER DEBEBE/UN PHOTO

By Kacie Candela
UNITED NATIONS, May 29 2018 (IPS)

From the start, it was a closely watched contest pitting Germany, Belgium and Israel against one another for their regional bloc’s two seats in the next term on the United Nations Security Council. Israel has never held a seat on the Council, and as it celebrates its 70-year membership in the UN in 2018, the country was aiming high for the June 8 election.

But it was never going to be a shoo-in for Israel. It has been a permanent member of WEOG, or the Western Europe and Others Group, since 2004, falling into this UN regional slot first as a renewable member in 2000, because its Arab neighbors refused to let it into their Asia-Pacific group.

So, when Israel announced abruptly on May 4 that it was withdrawing from the Council race, just as a debate for the contestants was being staged at the UN, the campaigning by Germany and Belgium was done.

Competing for the 10 elected seats on the Council seats is always intense, but Israel’s last-minute withdrawal leaves the overall election for the 2018-2019 term with few surprises. Only the Maldives and Indonesia, from the Asia-Pacific group, are left competing — for that region’s open seat.

The Security Council’s 10 nonpermanent members hold staggered two-year terms, which are not immediately renewable.

For the upcoming term, the African group has pre-selected South Africa; the Latin American and Caribbean group has preordained the Dominican Republic. The one seat allotted for Eastern Europe will be open next year.

The work to win a Council seat can begin years before the election. Besides events like cultural affairs (Italy, campaigning in 2016 at UN headquarters, showcased its cinema and food), freebies like felt satchels and more extravagant ventures such as a free trip for diplomats to visit a candidate’s country, the campaigns’ expenses are rarely publicized. There are virtually no rules on spending limits.

According to a report by the CBC on Canada’s candidacy for the 2021-22 Council term, countries have spent anywhere from $4 million to $85 million on campaigns.

The money goes to everything from postage stamps to travel and hospitality, but it does not include the salaries of those appointed to lead the efforts, although not all countries have a designated campaign staff, like Canada.

Israel, however, never had a slogan, website or logo. According to the General Assembly Affairs Branch of the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, it never received notification from Israel that it was a candidate.

Israel’s campaign was less focused on cultivating an image with the UN press corps and civil society and more on currying favor among countries whose votes it needed. The Israeli mission paid for three visits of groups of UN diplomats to Jerusalem over the last few months.

The delegates were predominantly from countries in Africa and Latin America and Pacific island nations. Some Eastern European countries, such as Hungary, were rumored to have supported Israel’s bid, as well as a handful of US allies, like Guatemala.

When asked a few days after its withdrawal from the race which countries had supported Israel, Ambassador Danny Danon told PassBlue that it was a “long list” but not enough to meet the two-thirds’ threshold to win the election, which is held in the UN General Assembly among all 193 member nations. Danon declined to name any of the countries on the list.

When the Israeli mission announced its decision to drop out, some ambassadors at the UN said they were not surprised. Arab countries in the UN had been actively lobbying against Israel, especially after the Great March of Return in Gaza began this spring and Israeli forces killed more than 100 protesters at the rallies. Various high-level officials said there were rumors that Danon had even hinted about Israel foregoing the race.

One irony of Israel’s decision is that Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, has repeatedly bemoaned the back-room negotiating and lack of competition in UN elections generally.

The race among Israel, Belgium and Germany had been awkward all along, notably because of Israel’s odd place in WEOG as a Middle Eastern country among Western Europeans and Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The United States is not a member of any regional group but votes in the WEOG bloc.

Israel has vied for a Council seat for more than 10 years. It announced it would run for the 2018-2019 seat in 2005, after it agreed to withdraw from Gaza. At the time, 2018-2019 was the next term for which the WEOG seats had not been claimed. Belgium announced its candidacy in 2009.

But in 2013, Germany announced it too would run, meaning Israel and Belgium would no longer be running uncontested. Germany could not have announced its intention earlier because it served on the Council from 2011-2012, and it is against UN election rules to campaign for a Council seat until a country is done with an active term. Germany has repeatedly contended it decided to run because by practice it sought a seat every eighth year.

In March 2018, reports in Israeli and American media contended that Germany’s bid violated an agreement brokered in the 1990s by Richard Holbrooke, the US ambassador to Germany from 1993-1994, to allow Israel to run unopposed for a seat after Israel became a member of WEOG.

In an interview with PassBlue in April 2018, Christoph Heusgen, Germany’s ambassador to the UN, said, “Israel is very grateful to Germany for its help getting Israel out of the Asian group and into the Western Europe and Others Group.

“We have excellent bilateral relations with Israel, but there has never been an agreement between Israel and Germany. We have been very straightforward to all our partners since we arrived at the UN in 1973. We have been a candidate for the Security Council every eight years and we have never departed from this. We want to be very clear in what we do. There was no deal with Israel that I read in some papers, and the Israeli government has never accused us of breaking any deal.”

Both East and West Germany joined the UN in 1973, but when German officials reference the country’s history on the Security Council, they usually refer to West Germany, which has served on the Council about every eight years since its first term in 1977-78. According to the United Nations Association of Germany, until German unification, the two nations took turns serving on the Council.

The May 4 announcement by Israel seemed timed to coincide with the start of the debate among the WEOG candidates. The public forum, sponsored by the New York-based World Federation of United Nations Associations, was designed to make Council elections more transparent.

WFUNA, as the group is known, held hearings for Council candidates for the first time in 2016, but last year there were no competitive slates, so no hearings were held.

Up to the minute the debate began, the organizers still did not know whether Israel would show up, but soon into the program, the Israeli press release arrived in email in-boxes, saying that “after consulting with our partners, including our good friends, the State of Israel has decided to postpone its candidacy for a seat on the Security Council.

“It was decided that we will continue to act with our allies to allow for Israel to realize its right for full participation and inclusion in decision-making processes at the U.N. This includes the Security Council as well as an emphasis on areas related to development and innovation.”

After the debate, a question-and-answer format proceeded. Kelley Currie, the US representative for the UN’s Economic and Social Affairs Council, asked about human rights being discussed more actively in the Security Council. She then gave a statement about Israel, America’s close ally.

“We respect the decision by Israel to postpone its Security Council candidacy today,” Currie said. “We note the United Nations’ poor record of inclusion of Israel in membership in UN bodies and on the Security Council throughout Israel’s nearly 70 years as a UN-member state in good standing. This is a shameful record. The United States looks forward to the day when Israel is treated like every other member state and is appropriately included in this organization.”

Heusgen responded by saying the US gave “a remark, not a question with regard to Israel.”

He continued, “We can only underline that Germany together with others in the west European and others group have seen to it that Israel has become a member of this group to be able to exercise its rights and possibility to participate in this organization.”

*PassBlue is an independent, women-led digital publication offering in-depth journalism on the US-UN relationship as well as women’s issues, human rights, peacekeeping and other urgent global matters, reported from our base in the UN press corps. Founded in 2011, PassBlue is a project of the New School’s Graduate Program in International Affairs in New York and not tied financially or otherwise to the UN; previously, it was housed at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. PassBlue is a member of the Institute for Nonprofit News.

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Excerpt:

Kacie Candela, PassBlue*

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Zimbabwe’s Long Road to Gender Parityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/zimbabwes-long-road-gender-parity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-long-road-gender-parity http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/zimbabwes-long-road-gender-parity/#respond Tue, 29 May 2018 12:12:18 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155965 Zimbabwe goes to the polls in July for the first general election since the departure of Robert Mugabe, and the jockeying over who will represent the country’s major political parties is in full throttle. Primary elections are internal processes by political parties to allow aspiring candidates to contest among themselves with the eventual winner being […]

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Women activists in Zimbabwe have long demanded a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

Women activists in Zimbabwe have long demanded a fair share of power. Credit: Mercedes Sayagues/IPS

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, May 29 2018 (IPS)

Zimbabwe goes to the polls in July for the first general election since the departure of Robert Mugabe, and the jockeying over who will represent the country’s major political parties is in full throttle.

Primary elections are internal processes by political parties to allow aspiring candidates to contest among themselves with the eventual winner being the one who will represent the party at national elections.“It’s evident that the political space, despite constitutional provisions, is overall not conducive for women and intra-party violence against women is very high." --Glanis Changarirere

As soon as the political parties announced the primaries in April this year, thousands of candidates submitted their names, with sitting parliamentarians also having to contest in what the ruling party Zanu PF said was a sign of democracy.

However, from the lists that were released by Zanu PF and the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the roster was dominated by men, with women largely staying away.

This at a time when there is a huge global drive towards realising the United Nations-driven Planet 50-50 by 2030 gender equality campaign in public office positions by year 2020.

One female Zanu PF legislator, hoping to retain her parliamentary seat, complained last month that she was being intimidated by aspiring male candidates, reporting that the men were going around telling prospective voters not to vote for a woman.

She eventually lost the election to a male candidate.

It was one of many troubling reports concerning women aspiring for public office, with political parties accused of failing to address these concerns.

Glanis Changachirere, Team Leader at the Institute for Young Women Development (IYWD), which lobbies for women’s participation in political processes, says women seeking public office are still marginalised by political parties and discouraged from participating because of widespread political violence.

“It is worrisome that as we enter the second term of the Constitutional provision for gender parity, women’s political representation is under threat,” Changachire told IPS.

“Leads from Zanu PF primary elections are indicating a regression in women’s representation. Women only constitute 8 percent of that party’s parliamentary and senatorial candidates. There are examples in some provinces where there was not a single woman elected in the primaries,” she said.

The ruling Zanu PF announced the final list of parliamentary candidates on May 3, revealing that the preliminary results where dominated by men with women who were seeking re-election failing to make the cut.

Some of the losers, who again were dominated by men, contested the results in 10 constituencies, citing among other things political violence against their supporters, forcing the party to call for a re-run.

“It’s evident that the political space, despite constitutional provisions, is overall not conducive for women and intra-party violence against women is very high,” Changarirere said.

Perhaps highlighting the extent of the odds stacked against women, Oppah Muchinguri, Zanu PF’s first ever female national chairperson, who was elevated to the post last year and sought to retain her parliamentary seat, was one of the heavy casualties in the primary elections.

Under the Zimbabwe constitution adopted in 2013, 60 uncontested seats are reserved for women in the legislature in what is termed proportional representation where political parties nominate female candidates based on the number of seats the party won in the general elections.

In the 2008 elections, only 34 women made it to the 210-member parliament, and a decade later political parties are still struggling to make up the numbers that meet their commitment to global standards.

In 2013, the number grew to 86 elected female legislators, an increase of 39 percent, according to UN Women statistics.

According to Morgan Komichi, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) national chairperson, the party has set aside 50 percent of parliamentary seats for women, but from the number of women who have expressed interest in actually contesting the primaries, Zimbabwe’s main opposition could well be lagging behind in realising its own gender balance benchmarks.

“The patriarchal and primitive thinking of women playing second fiddle roles — for example, women are expected to sing and ululate and provide care work roles in political parties — are still entrenched. No deliberate mechanisms [exist] to ensure proportional presentation of women in key leadership positions and government line-up,” Changachirere said.

However, the political opposition MDC national spokesperson Tabitha Khumalo told IPS that the MDC had ratified the Women’s Charter as set out by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development targeting 50 percent women’s representation in decision making and already has provisions to allocate gender in the party, but it was up to the women to take up the mantel.

“There is a belief that women should be handed political office. They should go out there and work for it. There are constitutional provisions to meet these standards, my question is who lobbies who to get those numbers,” Khumalo told IPS.

One-time deputy prime minister and former MDC vice president Thokozani Khuphe, who was expelled from the party in March, has since formed her own splinter political party, accusing rivals of denying her the constitutional right to lead the country’s largest  opposition political party.

Khuphe accused her rivals of sexism, saying it was clear they did not want a women to lead, vowing that a woman is also constitutionally empowered to lead Zimbabwe.

Former Deputy President Joice Mujuru, also expelled from Zanu PF, and once considered by some as former President Robert Mugabe’s successor, now leads the National People’s Party (NPP), with smaller parties led by women such as Lucia Matibenga’s People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and rallying behind Mujuru as the sole female presidential candidate for the July national elections.

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Why Would an Immigrant Support Trump?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/immigrant-support-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=immigrant-support-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/immigrant-support-trump/#comments Fri, 25 May 2018 12:17:44 +0000 Rose Delaney http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155922 Giuseppe DiMarco is 83 years old. He has recognized the U.S. as his home for over 30 years. In the aftermath of World War Two, DiMarco fled an impoverished farming town in Southern Italy in the pursuit of advancement and the promise of wealth he had never known. Whilst economic strife and extreme poverty drove […]

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Media Watchdogs Fear a Chill in Slovakiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/media-watchdogs-fear-chill-slovakia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-watchdogs-fear-chill-slovakia http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/05/media-watchdogs-fear-chill-slovakia/#respond Tue, 22 May 2018 00:03:37 +0000 Ed Holt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=155863 International media watchdogs, EU politicians, journalists and publishers have condemned Slovak police investigating the murder of a local journalist after one of his colleagues claimed she was interrogated for eight hours before being forced to hand over her telephone – potentially putting sources at risk. Czech investigative journalist Pavla Holcova had travelled from Prague to […]

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Mass protests in Slovakia in the wake of the killing of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova led to the resignation of the country's Prime Minister, Interior Minister and head of police. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

Mass protests in Slovakia in the wake of the killing of investigative journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova led to the resignation of the country's Prime Minister, Interior Minister and head of police. Credit: Ed Holt/IPS

By Ed Holt
BRATISLAVA, May 22 2018 (IPS)

International media watchdogs, EU politicians, journalists and publishers have condemned Slovak police investigating the murder of a local journalist after one of his colleagues claimed she was interrogated for eight hours before being forced to hand over her telephone – potentially putting sources at risk.

Czech investigative journalist Pavla Holcova had travelled from Prague to Bratislava on May 15th believing she was going to help Slovak police with their investigation into the murder of her former colleague, Jan Kuciak, and his fiancée, Martina Kusnirova, in February this year."It starts with a phone, then a laptop, then interview notes and what is next?...Journalism is the canary in the coal mine. If it dies in these countries, then ‘European-ness’ will have died." --Drew Sullivan

But she said after she arrived she was questioned for eight hours by officers from the Slovak National Crime Agency (NAKA) repeatedly asking about the investigative reporting network she works with, her past work and links between Slovak business people and senior politicians.

They also demanded she hand over her mobile phone so they could access data on it.

When she refused she says she was threatened with a 1,650 Euro fine and police produced a warrant to confiscate the phone. She said she agreed to give them the phone but having failed to retrieve data from it when Holcova refused to give them passwords, they took it saying they would use Europol forensic resources to get past its passwords and access the information inside.

News of the interrogation and requisition of Holcova’s phone brought widespread condemnation from groups like Reporters Without Borders, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which Holcova, and previously Kuciak, has worked with, MEPs and other groups.

Meanwhile, in Slovakia, publishing houses and dozens of editors from local newspapers and media outlets put out a joint statement demanding Holcova’s phone be returned to her immediately, reiterating the legal right to protection of journalists’ sources and calling on Slovak police to explain their conduct.

However, they say it is not just Holcova they are defending.

Beata Balogova, Editor in Chief of the Slovak daily newspaper ‘Sme’, told IPS: “This isn’t just about Pavla, it goes further than that. We need to know whether they [the police and prosecutor] think what they have done is in line with the laws of this country.”

As in some other countries in Central Europe, media watchdogs have pointed to an alarming erosion in press freedom in Slovakia in recent years with journalists facing denigration and abuse from the government and intimidation by local businessmen.

Meanwhile, many local media outlets have been bought up by oligarchs and there are serious doubts about the political independence of the country’s public broadcaster. Criminal libel prosecutions are also a permanent threat to journalists’ work.

Kuciak was shot dead by a single bullet to his chest and his fiancée by a single bullet to the head in his home east of the capital Bratislava in late February.

At the time of his death, Kuciak and Holcova had been working on a story about the links between the ‘Ndrangheta mafia and people in Smer, the senior party in the Slovak 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.

Balogova and other Slovak journalists believe that by taking Holcova’s phone, police may have been sending a signal to journalists.

“It could have been to tell journalists that they are being watched or to try and frighten them,” she said.

There has also been speculation that the police may have been trying to get information so they can move to try and cover up links between failings in the investigation and senior figures in the Slovak police and judicial system.

In their statement, Slovak publishers and editors said: “Taking into account that many suspicions which arose after the murder of Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova point directly to representatives of criminal justice institutions, the rigorous protection of sources is more important than ever, especially when there is a risk this information could be abused.”

Drew Sullivan, Editor at the OCCRP, told IPS that the police may have been acting on orders from politicians.

“Justice is still political in Slovakia,” he said. “It is possible the ruling political party, which is more concerned about the news stories which created the protests [after Kuciak’s murder and which forced the Prime Minister’s resignation] than they are with Jan’s murder, is dictating the police‘s approach.”

And Marek Vagovic, editor in chief at Slovak news site Aktuality.sk, Kuciak‘s former employer, told the Slovak daily ‘Novy cas’: “Looking at the nature and links between those in power who control the criminal justice institutions, I don’t believe this is about investigating a double pre-meditated murder.

“I fear that in taking Pavla Holcova’s mobile phone they have a different aim: tracking down her informants so they can find out what she was working on and can warn politicians, oligarchs and members of organised crime under suspicion.”

In a statement, the Special Prosecutor’s Office, which issued the warrant to take Holcova’s phone, said that Holcova had willingly given up her phone to police and that the device had been taken solely to try and find Kuciak’s killers.

It stressed that the warrant was issued to help the investigation and not to impinge on any of Holcova’s rights as a journalist.

But Slovak lawyers and constitutional experts have questioned the police’s approach, arguing that any information relating to Kuciak’s murder found on the phone would probably not be admissible as evidence if it was accessed without Holcova giving them the password to it.

Following media attention, the Special Prosecutor’s Office said on May 18th it would send the phone back to Holcova as soon as possible and that after it was taken no attempt was made to bypass its security and access its data. But it defended the police’s conduct, saying that looking to obtain data in the phone was “a necessary and logical” step in the investigation.

It also said that Holcova would be asked to attend further questioning in the future as a witness in the investigation. Holcova, though, has said she will “consider very carefully” any future meetings with Slovak investigators.

Whatever the intentions of the Slovak police were, their actions will have had an effect, although perhaps not the one they would have been expecting if they were attempting to frighten journalists.

“It may affect how sources interact with us,” explained Balogova. “Sources speak to journalists because they believe that we can and will protect their identities. But now they may be worried that journalists cannot protect their sources. So, will they still talk to us?

“But [the police’s actions] may also have the opposite effect – journalists will just be more careful now in how they communicate with people and go about their work.”

The incident made headlines abroad and was noted in the European Parliament which has been closely following the Slovak media environment since Kuciak’s murder and the subsequent mass protests which forced the Slovak Prime Minister, Interior Minister and, eventually, the head of the police force to resign.

MEPs suggested it would have further damaged the reputation of the Slovak police, which is widely perceived as endemically corrupt and at senior level linked to powerful local business figures suspected of criminal activity.

Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, said in a statement: “We thought that after the murders of Jan Kuciak and Martina Kusnirova that the Slovak government would do all it could to allow journalists to carry out their daily work and that we would see them as partners in the common fight against corruption and crime.

“Unfortunately, today we can see that, despite the Slovak government’s assurances, the opposite is happening.”

But perhaps just as importantly, the treatment of Holcova could have ramifications beyond Slovakia, potentially emboldening neighbouring governments which, critics say, are leading their own crackdowns on critical media.

Press freedom in Poland and Hungary has receded dramatically over the last few years, according to local and international media groups, with both countries’ rankings in Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index plummeting.

Governments seen as populist, increasingly authoritarian and corrupt have used legislation, taxes on independent media, takeovers, forced closures and, some believe, security service surveillance, to try and silence critical news outlets, they claim.

When asked whether he thought other governments in the region could start using similar methods following what happened to Holcova, OCCRP’s Sullivan told IPS: “Absolutely. It starts with a phone, then a laptop, then interview notes and what is next?

“There is an increasing erosion of journalism rights in the East of Europe. Hungary, Slovakia and Poland have become problematic states where independent journalism is dying.”

He added: “We’ve seen this [Slovak police treatment of Holcova] and worse in Eastern Europe, Russia and the CIS states. It is something we kind of expect from drug states, captured states and the autocracies in those regions. But we haven’t seen it with a European Union member.”

And he called on the EU to act to uphold its core values. “This is a growing splinter in the eye of Europe and the European Union needs to act decisively if it doesn’t want to lose its European values. It can’t have members denying basic values.

“If this is allowed to continue, it will lead to …. further repression of journalism. Journalism is the canary in the coal mine. If it dies in these countries, then ‘European-ness’ will have died. These are states that are fundamentally becoming undemocratic. We need media there chronicling this.”

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