Inter Press ServiceDemocracy – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 21 Nov 2017 19:26:04 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 White Elephants and the Urban Challenges of Brasiliahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/white-elephants-urban-challenges-brasilia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=white-elephants-urban-challenges-brasilia http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/white-elephants-urban-challenges-brasilia/#respond Tue, 21 Nov 2017 02:30:05 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153118 Two white elephants – a huge football stadium that draws almost no fans and an empty 16-building complex that was to be the new headquarters of the district government – reflect Brasília’s challenges as a metropolis, beyond its role as the capital of Brazil. The Administrative Centre, where the 15,000 officials of the Federal District […]

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Part of the Administrative Centre built by two private companies between 2013 and 2014, to be the new seat of the government of the Federal District, in Brasilia. The 16-building complex with 3,000 parking spaces is not being used, due to an order by the courts, which are investigating allegations of corruption. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Part of the Administrative Centre built by two private companies between 2013 and 2014, to be the new seat of the government of the Federal District, in Brasilia. The 16-building complex with 3,000 parking spaces is not being used, due to an order by the courts, which are investigating allegations of corruption. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

By Mario Osava
BRASILIA, Nov 21 2017 (IPS)

Two white elephants – a huge football stadium that draws almost no fans and an empty 16-building complex that was to be the new headquarters of the district government – reflect Brasília’s challenges as a metropolis, beyond its role as the capital of Brazil.

The Administrative Centre, where the 15,000 officials of the Federal District (DF), and from foundations and public companies, were to be based, was built in Taguatinga, one of the largest cities surrounding the “Pilot Plan”, another name for the planned city of Brasília, which was inaugurated in 1960, after it was carved out of the jungle.

“It would be good to have the government here, able to get a closer look at the areas where most of the population lives, generating more jobs and benefits for us,” Laura Morais, a young assistant at a hairdressing salon in the centre of Samambaia, a city next to Taguatinga, told IPS.
"It would be good to have the government here, able to get a closer look at the areas where most of the population lives, generating more jobs and benefits for us." -- Laura Morais

Inaugurated on Dec. 31, 2014 illegally, according to the public prosecutor’s office of the Federal District, the centre was left unused, pending the outcome of a judicial tangle yet to be unraveled.

If the idea were to materialise, “it would turn Taguatinga into a hellhole with even worse traffic jams, but it would boost the growth of Samambaia, which has a lot of free space and few businesses,” explained Paulo Pereira, the owner of an optical shop.

“It would also help to decongest Brasília. That is, it would be better for some, worse for others,” he told IPS before complaining about the corruption that has bogged down the project.

Former DF governor Agnelo Queiroz was accused of receiving in 2014 a bribe of 2.5 million Brazilian reais (over 760,000 dollars at present), shared with his deputy governor Tadeu Fellipelli, to promote the construction of the Administrative Centre.

The accusation came from executives of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which partnered with another construction firm, Via Engineering, to build the complex, in a Public-Private Partnership by which the companies would complete the work and would be subsequently remunerated with monthly fees for 22 years.

Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company, which is active in dozens of countries, reached a plea deal with the justice system to cooperate in the corruption scandal that since 2014 has led to the imprisonment of dozens of businesspersons and politicians who offered or received bribes for public contracts, especially oil companies.

Laura Morais smiles in the hairdressing salon where she works in downtown Samambaia, a satellite city of the capital of Brazil. She complains about the lack of leisure and cultural activities in the city, founded in 1989, and in others that surround the Federal District. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Laura Morais smiles in the hairdressing salon where she works in downtown Samambaia, a satellite city of the capital of Brazil. She complains about the lack of leisure and cultural activities in the city, founded in 1989, and in others that surround the Federal District. Credit: Mario Osava / IPS

Queiroz and his predecessor, José Arruda, are in prison for another corruption case, the overbilling of the works on the Mané Garrincha stadium, which was expanded to host several of the matches for the 2014 World Cup, which took place in Brazil.

With an initial budget of 210 million dollars, its cost more than doubled, requiring an additional 270 million dollars, according to investigations by the Federal Police.

Corruption has been proven in the construction of many of the 12 stadiums used in the FIFA (International Federation of Associated Football) World Cup, but the one in Brasilia was the most expensive.

Its capacity was raised to 72,788 spectators – ridiculous in a city without a strong football tradition or clubs to justify such an investment. The average attendance at local matches does not reach 2,000 fans, the local football association acknowledges.

Maintaining this gigantic stadium costs more money to the public treasury and generates permanent losses for indefinite time.

The solution would be to turn the stadium into a cultural-sports complex, with “a museum, a library, movie theaters and conference rooms, as well as a shopping center, all related to sports,” suggested José Cruz, a veteran local journalist, with decades covering sports.

“It is not something new, but would just copy what has already been done successfully in Europe,” and in Brasilia there are great sports heroes, such as runner Joaquim Cruz and the ex-Formula 1 driver Nelson Piquet, who would attract public, he told IPS.

The Mané Garrincha football stadium, one of Brasilia’s white elephants, which is currently mainly used for its parking lot, where thousands of buses park for a good part of the day, waiting to take tens of thousands of commuters back to the dormitory cities where they live. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

The Mané Garrincha football stadium, one of Brasilia’s white elephants, which is currently mainly used for its parking lot, where thousands of buses park for a good part of the day, waiting to take tens of thousands of commuters back to the dormitory cities where they live. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

But to do this it would be necessary to outsource or grant the contract to the private sector, because “the State has no structure to manage this type of initiative,” said the journalist.

For the Administrative Centre, the way out would also be seeking another use for the group of buildings between four and 15 storeys high, in an area of 178,000 square metres, in the middle of the most populous satellite cities, such as Ceilândia, Samambaia, Taguatinga and Aguas Claras, which have a combined population of 1.08 million inhabitants, according to the Federal District Planning Company (Codeplan).

A U.S. university, which intends to open a campus in Brazil, expressed interest in the facilities.

But the judicial situation prevents short-term solutions. Odebrecht claims to have invested more than 300 million dollars in the complex and aims to recover the investment through international arbitration.

For the current government of the DF, headed by socialist Rodrigo Rollemberg, it is not viable to change its headquarters at a cost of millions of dollars per month, at a time of economic crisis and fiscal limitations.

One option is to cancel the 2009 contract, in light of the illegalities that plagued the project. In addition to the allegations of corruption, the previous government of Queiroz inaugurated the Administrative Centre on the last day of its term, based on a permit that the courts threw out as fraudulent.

Buildings grow like mushrooms in Samambaia, the second-largest city surrounding Brasilia, which has grown by about 10,000 people each year, at a rate of at least four percent. On the left, the metro rails of the capital's Federal District, with a capacity much higher than that in use. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Buildings grow like mushrooms in Samambaia, the second-largest city surrounding Brasilia, which has grown by about 10,000 people each year, at a rate of at least four percent. On the left, the metro rails of the capital’s Federal District, with a capacity much higher than that in use. Credit: Mario Osava/ IPS

Queiroz and the Taguatinga local authorities responsible for the permit and named one day before it was issued, were heavily fined and banned from politics as a result of the fraud.

The scandal overshadows the problems of urban development that the Federal District faces, formed by the Pilot Plan or Brasilia, seat of the national and district government, and its satellite urban municipalities, officially called Administrative Regions.

The population of the Federal District stands at 3.04 million, according to Codeplan’s District Survey of Households, six times the number of inhabitants predicted when Brasilia was built six decades ago.

The Pilot Plan currently is home to just over 220,000 people, but offers the most and best jobs, attracting a massive influx of commuters from surrounding municipalities every morning.

Ceilandia, the largest city in the area, had a population of 459,000 inhabitants in 2015, having grown 13.6 percent in four years. In the city, 28.1 percent of the active population has a job within the Pilot Plan, while 37.3 works in the municipality itself.

Other neighboring cities have somewhat higher rates of inhabitants employed in the heart of the capital, making up the crowds of commuters that move daily to the Pilot Plan and return at night to their dormitory cities.

The thousands of buses that carry the commuters every day are parked from morning to afternoon in open spaces, such as the square in front of the Mané Garrincha Stadium, until the workers finish their shifts and return to the surrounding municipalities.

A subway, with a single 39-km line that branches off into the different municipalities, is the major mass transport project, but only mobilises about 3.5 million passengers a month, with the trains sitting idle outside rush hour.
Bringing jobs to the periphery would not be a bad idea, but transferring and centralising all the local administration to the outskirts may respond more to personal appetites than to the call for better public management, as other examples show, such as Belo Horizonte, capital of the southern state of Minas Gerais.

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Turkish Surveillance Invades Social Media Privacyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/turkish-surveillance-invades-social-media-privacy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turkish-surveillance-invades-social-media-privacy http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/turkish-surveillance-invades-social-media-privacy/#respond Mon, 20 Nov 2017 16:59:49 +0000 Esref Okumus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153100 State employees in Turkey have been forced to participate in a restriction of their own freedom of thought and expression. State authorities, as employers, have demanded that their employees report their own and their whole family's passwords to all of their social media accounts. Holding back information could lead to imprisonment.

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The Birth of a Dictatorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/the-birth-of-a-dictator/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-birth-of-a-dictator http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/the-birth-of-a-dictator/#respond Fri, 17 Nov 2017 13:26:29 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=153072 The government had an almost paranoid fear of protests. A square kilometer around the Supreme Court was barricaded and off limits to the public. In faraway provinces, roadblocks were erected to stop demonstrators. Some opposition members were under temporary house arrest. But it turned out to be unnecessary. Nobody dared to protest. The Cambodian government […]

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Police arrayed in front of the Cambodian Supreme Court. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

Police arrayed in front of the Cambodian Supreme Court. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Pascal Laureyn
PHNOM PENH, Nov 17 2017 (IPS)

The government had an almost paranoid fear of protests. A square kilometer around the Supreme Court was barricaded and off limits to the public. In faraway provinces, roadblocks were erected to stop demonstrators. Some opposition members were under temporary house arrest. But it turned out to be unnecessary. Nobody dared to protest.

The Cambodian government has launched a fierce crackdown on the opposition. For a few months now, politicians, journalist and activists have been harassed to make their work impossible. A new low point was reached on Thursday when the Supreme Court dissolved the CNRP (Cambodia National Rescue Party) ahead of the elections in 2018. Only the CNRP could have competed with the CPP (Cambodian People’s Party), which has been in power for more than three decades. Hun Sen is the world’s longest serving prime minister."Blood on the streets is not a victory for democracy. It's a return to the dark ages. We want people to stay hopeful." --Mu Sochua, vice president of the CNRP

The official dissolution of the CNRP was just a formality. The president of the Supreme Court is also a top committee member of de CPP and a longtime ally of Hun Sen. In Cambodia, justice is an auxiliary of the government – and the prime minister is pulling all the strings firmly, now more than ever.

“I could easily continue for another 10 years,” the 65-year-old Hun Sen told reporters on Thursday. Consequently, he acknowledged that he doesn’t consider an election as a consultation of the people, but as a way to varnish his dictatorial regime with a thin layer of legitimacy. The CNRP was the last democratic obstacle to his power over the country’s resources, which he needs to buy support from the elite.

Fear of reprisals

Since the government stepped up the crackdown on democracy, few Cambodians dare to speak out in public – certainly since the murder of Kem Ley, a popular journalist and a government critic. That was a turning point. Until then, Cambodians thought that their country would slowly become more democratic. But that hope was buried together with Kem Ley in his hometown Takeo.

His mother is cutting vegetables at the grave of her son. Phauk Se had done that every day since July 2016. Next to the burial site are pictures taken moments after the shooting. Kem Ley is lying between tables and chairs, a puddle of blood under this head. He was killed while he was having his morning coffee in a gas station in Phnom Penh.

The 80-year-old mother receives guest every day with soup and a friendly chat. The grave of her son has become a place of pilgrimage. The gunman is behind bars. “That’s not the real killer,” Phauk Se says in a timid voice. “If the government really wanted, they would have found the real culprit.”

Phauk Se, 80, whose son Kem Ley, a popular journalist and a government critic, was murdered in July 2016. Pascal Laureyn/IPS

Phauk Se, 80, whose son Kem Ley, a popular journalist and a government critic, was murdered in July 2016. Pascal Laureyn/IPS

No Cambodian believes that the killer acted alone. But nobody dares to express their suspicion. “Who has the real power? There is only one party who can organize such a murder,” says Kem Rithisith, the brother of Kem Ley, without naming it. “There was a second finger on the trigger, and everyone knows whose finger that was.”

Meanwhile at the market of Takeo, business is not good. Shopkeepers are lying in hammocks, waiting for customers. Mao Much Nech, a salesman of cheap jewelry, doesn’t want to say what party he supports. “That’s sensitive. But the government has lost dignity and credit because of the murder. It’s time to wake up and fight back.”

“The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer,” a woman says in her stall filled with colorful dresses. “We want change.” Most of the shopkeepers at the market use the same word to express their disappointment with the government.

Blood on the streets

The CPP knows it can’t survive a new popularity test. The CNRP almost won the elections of 2013. It made more progress with the local elections in June. It’s evident that the elections due in July 2018 are causing anxiety at the CPP headquarters. To prevent a defeat, it has started the final assault on the opposition. The CNRP is now dissolved and the party’s president Kem Sokha is in prison. Five thousand mandatories lost their jobs and half of the 55 members of parliament have fled the country.

Mu Sochua is one of them. She is preparing a vegetable soup during the phone call with this reporter. The sound of cutting, chopping and grating makes a fitting backdrop to the combative language of the vice-president of the CNRP.

“The dissolution of the CNRP is a big miscalculation of Hun Sen. The discontent will only continue to rise. Until now the CNRP has channeled this peacefully. But soon people might take their anger to the streets,” Mu says from a Moroccan kitchen. She fled Cambodia after she was tipped off about her impending arrest.

“It needs only one spark to start violent protests, like Tunisia and the Arab Spring,” the politician says while igniting a gas stove. “I’m very afraid of violence. Hun Sen will do anything to stay in power. If people would dare to protest, the tanks will be waiting. Blood on the streets is not a victory for democracy. It’s a return to the dark ages. We want people to stay hopeful.”

The exiled Mu Sochua is now traveling the world to find support for the grassroots movement for democracy in Cambodia. “The CNRP is more than a party. We don’t care about the political game. We want democracy in Cambodia, that’s our real job.”

Sanctions please

The offices of the CNRP headquarters echo hollowly. The building is quiet and almost empty. A few guards are watching a Korean soap opera. Lawmaker Kimsour Phirith may get arrested any moment, but he keeps on smiling. “I’m not afraid. I have done nothing wrong. The CPP is afraid – of losing power.”

“We are witnessing the death of democracy in Cambodia,” Kimsour says. “Hun Sen is showing his true face. He is a dictator now. We are counting on the West. Only economic sanctions can help us.”

The Cambodian economy strongly depends on tourism and the garment industry. If the factories stop producing, 700,000 workers will lose their jobs. Hun Sun would have a major crisis on his hands.

The government may think that Beijing will come to rescue. China has proved in recent years that it has the will and the money to back up Phnom Penh. “But that’s not guaranteed,” says Ou Chanrath, who lost his job as a lawmaker on Thursday. “The Chinese are still dependent on the West. The garment factories are Chinese, but the exports go to the West. When sanctions hit Cambodia, they will pack their bags.”

Human rights groups condemned the dissolution of the CNRP and asked the West to act. “The international community cannot stand idly, it must send a strong signal that this crackdown is unacceptable,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The European Union issued a critical statement in which it linked human rights with access to the European bloc’s reduced and zero tariff trade scheme. The US government decided to discontinue funding for the NEC (the Cambodian election body), in case it still bothered to organise elections.

Prime Minister Hun Sen tried to reassure the nation on Thursday evening. In his speech he said – without any hint of irony – that the government is still deeply committed to democracy. CNRP spokesperson Yim Sovann reacted by saying that “they can never remove the CNRP from the heart of the people.”

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Victims of El Salvador’s Civil War Demand Reparationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/victims-el-salvadors-civil-war-demand-reparations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=victims-el-salvadors-civil-war-demand-reparations http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/11/victims-el-salvadors-civil-war-demand-reparations/#comments Thu, 09 Nov 2017 00:55:47 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152949 Among the sea of names of victims of the Salvadoran civil war, engraved on a long black granite wall, Matilde Asencio managed to find the name of her son, Salvador. She then placed a flower and a lit candle at the foot of the segment of the wall where it read: “‘disappeared’ persons 1988”. Asencio, […]

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The coffins of six children killed by the Salvadoran army in May 1982 are carried through the cemetery by relatives, human rights activists and residents of the town of Arcatao, in El Salvador, on Sept 27, 2017. They had been missing for 35 years and their remains were found in January. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The coffins of six children killed by the Salvadoran army in May 1982 are carried through the cemetery by relatives, human rights activists and residents of the town of Arcatao, in El Salvador, on Sept 27, 2017. They had been missing for 35 years and their remains were found in January. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR/ARCATAO, Nov 9 2017 (IPS)

Among the sea of names of victims of the Salvadoran civil war, engraved on a long black granite wall, Matilde Asencio managed to find the name of her son, Salvador.

She then placed a flower and a lit candle at the foot of the segment of the wall where it read: “‘disappeared’ persons 1988”.

Asencio, 78, arrived with her husband, Macario Miranda, 87, to the Monument to Memory and Truth in San Salvador, on Nov. 1, the eve of the Day of the Dead, to pay tribute to their son Salvador Arévalo Miranda, who was captured and “disappeared” by the Salvadoran army in August 1988.

“We have been in this struggle for almost 30 years, we are old and sick, but we will not tire, we will not stop until they tell us what they did with him,” Asencio told IPS, holding a portrait of her son."Apart from the sorrow, I also feel happy that my little boy is no longer abandoned where he had been left, and that has helped me to heal wounds that were very much open." -- Calixta Melgar

The 1980-1992 civil war in this Central American country of 6.8 million people left some 75,000 people dead and 8,000 missing.

Like Asencio and Miranda, dozens of relatives visited the monument in downtown San Salvador to at least be able to place a flower in memory of their deceased and “disappeared” loved ones.

But they also went to demand justice and truth as part of a process of reparation, 25 years after the peace deal was signed.

Groups of victims, supported by human rights organisations, are promoting the creation of a Law for Comprehensive Reparations for Victims of the Armed Conflict, because the State has failed to remedy the wrongs caused, both material and emotional.

“The idea is that the civilians who suffered the war, no matter from which side, can receive reparations,” activist Sofía Hernández from the “Marianela García Villas” Committee of Relatives of Victims of Human Rights Violations told IPS.

The project proposes the creation of a Reparations Fund, a registry of victims and various measures for symbolic and material reparations.

Among these are that the beneficiaries and their descendants have preferential access to the public education system, at every level up to tertiary education, access to the social security healthcare system, and access to a free psychosocial care programme.

Also, if approved, it would grant benefits for obtaining land, housing and preferential credits, and it proposes the creation of a Bank of Genetic Profiles, in order to identify the deceased, and with that information, to be able to initiate exhumation processes.

It also proposes the creation of an initial fund from the General Budget of the Nation, of up to one million dollars, to meet the financial implications of the law.

“These people had their houses burnt down, their children were ‘disappeared’, and there have been no reparations,” said Hernández, who has suffered first-hand the ravages of war.

In March 1980, a contingent of the National Guard entered the village of San Pedro Aguascalientes, in the municipality of Verapaz in the central department of San Vicente, where she lived with her family.

“My brother-in-law was yoking oxen to go to fetch water in the cart and he was shot, along with two of my nephews, they were killed in the yard of their house,” said Hernández, also a member of the project management group.

The house of her brother Juan Francisco Hernández was set on fire, but neither he nor his family were there. But then, on May 2, he was captured and has been missing since, along with two of her nephews.

The bill has not yet been debated in the single-chamber Legislative Assembly, and right-wing parties are not likely to vote for it as they consider the initiative part of a leftist agenda.

Insufficient progress

The search for truth and justice in cases of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions is another important component of the reparations process, said the victims who spoke to IPS.

After more than three decades of not knowing the whereabouts of her son, José Mauricio Menjívar, or whether he was dead or alive, Calixta Melgar was finally able to give him a Christian burial on Sept. 22, in the municipality of Arcatao in the northern department of Chalatenango.

“Now I know where he is buried, where to go to put a flower, I feel that my grief has been relieved a bit,” Melgar told IPS, through tears.

José Mauricio, who was five years old in May 1982, was killed by soldiers in the village of El Sitio, and his body was left abandoned, along with those of five other children who suffered the same fate.

In the confusion and chaos that followed a military incursion into the area on that date, the children, three boys and three girls, were held by the military and executed in cold blood.

The remains remained buried there until January 2017, when the National Search Commission for Missing Children during the Internal Armed Conflict and the non-governmental Pro-Búsqueda Association for the Search of Disappeared Children found them and identified the victims using DNA.

For the latter, they had the support of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team and the state Salvadoran Forensic Medicine Institute.

“Apart from the sorrow, I also feel happy that my little boy is no longer abandoned where he had been left, and that has helped me to heal wounds that were very much open,” said the 57-year-old Melgar, before the funeral service in the village church.

During the Catholic religious ceremony, the six small white coffins holding the remains of the children were placed in front of the main altar.

Pro-Búsqueda has managed to solve 437 cases of missing children, 83 percent of whom have been found alive, the institution’s executive director Eduardo García told IPS.

This joint and coordinated work between Pro-Búsqueda and a government agency to solve cases of children who went missing in the war was unthinkable not too many years ago.

In this regard, García said that there has been a slight change in addressing the issue of truth, justice and reparation under the two successive governments of the leftist Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which became a political party after the peace agreement and has been in power since 2009.

“It is evident that the government is showing greater sensitivity; it has initiated processes of forgiveness and continues to maintain a National Search Commission by executive decree,” he said.

But he said more could have been done, for example, allowing access to military archives to help clarify serious human rights abuses committed during the war.

“The Armed Forces has systematically denied information that could clarify these facts, although the Commander in Chief (President Salvador Sánchez Cerén) is leftist,” he said.

Until now, only the Office of the Attorney General of the Republic has begun to timidly investigate some of the cases, arguing that it has neither the capacity nor the budget, while the Legislative Assembly does not even want to recognise Aug. 30 as the National Day of Disappeared Persons.

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Historic Resolution on Women & Peacekeeping Remains Mostly Unimplementedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/historic-resolution-women-peacekeeping-remains-mostly-unimplemented/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=historic-resolution-women-peacekeeping-remains-mostly-unimplemented http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/historic-resolution-women-peacekeeping-remains-mostly-unimplemented/#respond Mon, 30 Oct 2017 08:24:02 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152792 Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former UN Under-Secretary-General, is internationally recognized as the initiator of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 when he was President of the Security Council in March 2000

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Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former UN Under-Secretary-General, is internationally recognized as the initiator of the UN Security Council resolution 1325 when he was President of the Security Council in March 2000

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 30 2017 (IPS)

At the 26 October launch of GNWP’s (Global Network of Women Peacebuilders) manual “No Money, No NAP” on dedicated budgetary allocation to fund the implementation of the 1325 National Action Plans, Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka characterized UNSCR 1325 as the most unimplemented resolution of the UN Security Council.

Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury Former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN

Representing the UN Secretary-General, his Chef de Cabinet Maria Luiza Ribiero Viotti said at the Security Council Open Debate on Women and Peace and Security on 27 October that “…seventeen years since the passage of resolution 1325, our own implementation remains too often ad hoc. While there is a clear recognition of the relationship between gender equality, women’s participation and stability and resilience, too little is being done to operationalize this understanding.”

I agree with both of them in a big way particularly bearing in mind that adoption of 1325 opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in post-conflict architecture.

We need to understand that 1325 by itself envisages a broad-based conceptual transformation of the existing international policies and practices that make women insecure and deny their equality of participation, basically as a result of the Security Council’s support of the existing militarized inter-state security arrangements.

I am referring to the concept of security based on current strategic power structures rather than on human security which highlights the security of the people. That change itself remains very distant.

Here I would mention enthusiastically a dedicated woman, Peace and Security Program which was launched last week at New York’s prestigious Columbia University. Led by 2011 Nobel Peace Laureate dynamic Leymah Gbowee, this Program has identified all the key areas which need special attention, particularly emphasizing the human security dimension and grassroots level experiences in WPS agenda. I wish her and the Program all success!

Apart from that I find there four areas where greater progress was possible during last 17 years:
One, in real terms, National Action Plan (NAP) is the engine that would speed up the implementation of 1325. It should be also underscored that all countries are obligated as per decisions of the Security Council to prepare the NAP whether they are in a so-called conflict situation or not. So far, only 68 out of 193 UN Member States have prepared their plans – what a dismal record after 17 years.

Leymah Gbowee launches WPS Program at the Columbia University, as its Executive Director

There are no better ways to get country level commitment to implement 1325 other than the NAPs. I believe very strongly that only NAPs can hold the governments accountable. There needs to be an increased and pro-active engagement of the UN secretariat leadership to get a meaningfully bigger number of NAPs.

Two, I would say that special attention should be given to building awareness and sensitivity as well as training of the senior officials within the UN system as a whole with regard to 1325. That will create a foundational culture of recognizing women’s equality of participation as essential.

Three, another missing element is a greater, regular, genuine and participatory involvement of civil society in implementing 1325 both at national and global levels. We should not forget that when civil society is marginalized, there is little chance for 1325 to get implemented in the real sense.

Four, what role the Secretary-General should play? I believe there is a need for his genuinely active, dedicated engagement in using the moral authority of the United Nations and the high office he occupies for the effective implementation of 1325. Would it not have a strong, positive impact on countries for the implementation of 1325 if their leaders received a formal communication from the S-G suggesting a date for submission of respective NAPs?

Implementation of 1325 should be seriously taken up in the SG’s UN system-wide coordination mechanism – at the next CEB meeting. DPI needs to have an information and awareness raising strategy for 1325 – mainstreamed in its work – not as an event and anniversary oriented publicity.

UN Resident Coordinators who represent the SG and the whole UN system at the country level and UN country teams should assist all national level actors in preparation and implementation of national action plans.

In short, through implementation of 1325, we want complete and real, practical, functional, operational equality between women and men to end the cycle of all forms of extremism which continue to sabotage humanity’s quest for sustainable peace and development.

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Myanmar’s Democracy Feels Strain of Religious Fault Lineshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/myanmars-democracy-feels-strain-religious-fault-lines/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=myanmars-democracy-feels-strain-religious-fault-lines http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/myanmars-democracy-feels-strain-religious-fault-lines/#comments Wed, 25 Oct 2017 00:01:42 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152694 I try to hold on tight as my driver navigates his motorbike over a bumpy and muddy track. His helmet is decorated with a swastika and an eagle, part of an ill-inspired fashion trend called Nazi chic. It’s symbolic for a country where hate and racism seen to have become normalized. For many years the […]

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Muslims in the Thingangyun community of Yangon. They say extremist Buddhist monks sometimes try to provoke them by shouting nationalist slogans in their neighborhood. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

Muslims in the Thingangyun community of Yangon. They say extremist Buddhist monks sometimes try to provoke them by shouting nationalist slogans in their neighborhood. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Pascal Laureyn
YANGON, Oct 25 2017 (IPS)

I try to hold on tight as my driver navigates his motorbike over a bumpy and muddy track. His helmet is decorated with a swastika and an eagle, part of an ill-inspired fashion trend called Nazi chic. It’s symbolic for a country where hate and racism seen to have become normalized.

For many years the Rohingya in Rakhine State have been suffering from state-sponsored discrimination and stigmatization. Today this hostility is spreading rapidly toward other Muslims in the country."We have the choice between a harmonious country and a failed state." --Tet Swei Win, director of the Centre for Youth and Social Harmony

We’re driving towards the outskirts of Dalla, a village on the Yangon River. I chose this place randomly, to sample the relations between Buddhists and Muslims. And it seems to go well.

“We don’t like what is happening in Rakhine. But here we have no problem with Muslims. There is mutual respect,” an elderly woman tells me. Most people I talk to confirm this.

A former soldier uses harsher language. “In Rakhine, Buddhists are being slaughtered. Muslims are burning down villages, cutting people’s throats and raping women. I don’t believe anymore that there is such a thing as a good Muslim.” His wife summarizes in her own fashion: “All Muslims must die.”

Because of disinformation, rumors and propaganda, these wrong ideas have penetrated all levels of society. Many people in Myanmar believe that all Rohingya are arsonists, rapists and murderers. As a result, they think that violence against them is acceptable. The fact that the Rohingya are not the instigators but the victims of an ethnic cleansing is being denied by many.

A former soldier in the Burmese village of Dalla who says he doesnʼt like Muslims because of what is happening in Rakhine State. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

A former soldier in the Burmese village of Dalla who says he doesnʼt like Muslims because of what is happening in Rakhine State. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

A worsening situation

The hatred towards the Rohingya is well known. But less documented is the spread of this hate towards other Muslims in Myanmar.

“Since the military coup in 1962, religion has been used to set up people against each other,” says U Aye Lwin, a Muslim and one the founders of the interreligious movement ‘Religions for Peace Myanmar’. I meet him in his mosque in Yangon. The building is well cared for but modest. Nothing would encourage visitors to suspect that it houses the tomb of Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last emperor of India.

“The dictatorial regime did not have the support of the population,” U Aye Lwin tells me. “So the army manipulated the Burmese sentiments of identity and religion. They told the Buddhist majority that the Muslims are a threat to their religion and country. That’s how Islamophobia has set in.”

The democratization of Myanmar did not change this. Hopes that Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD would defend the minorities were soon dashed.

“When the NLD won the elections, it got even worse. Religion is now being used by the army to create instability. That’s how it clings to power,” the religious leader says.

The army wants to show it’s the only institution that can save Buddhist Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi is powerless, critics say, and her government has no control over the army. Moreover, she risks losing voters if she defends the Rohingya.

U Aye Lwin stands in Bahadur Shah Zafar Memorial Hall, which also functions as a mosque, in Yangon. U Aye Lwin is a Muslim and one the founders of the interreligious movement Religions for Peace Myanmar. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

U Aye Lwin stands in Bahadur Shah Zafar Memorial Hall, which also functions
as a mosque, in Yangon. U Aye Lwin is a Muslim and one the founders of the
interreligious movement Religions for Peace Myanmar. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

“Buddha is not Burmese”

Kyaw Min Yu is an expert on prisons. He spent eight years behind bars after the student revolt of 1988. After a new uprising in 2007 he served five more years in detention. He is Rohingya and Muslim.

I meet the president in the small headquarters of his Democracy and Human Rights Party in Yangon. He walks with great difficulty, a consequence of his long periods of incarceration. “I used to believe in Aung San Suu Kyi. I worked for her. I protested for her. I have spent time in jail for her. But now I have had enough of her,” he says.

“Aung San Suu Kyi has become biased. She is using a language that doesn’t suit her function as the unofficial leader of the country. She speaks only for the Buddhist Bamar, the largest ethnic group of Myanmar.”

At the NLD, nobody wanted to talk to me. But I did get Htin Lin Oo on the phone. He is the former spokesperson for the NLD. He is Buddhist and defends religious tolerance. In December 2014 he dared to criticize the monks that spread hate: “Buddha is not Burmese. Burmese extreme nationalists should therefore not adhere to Buddhism if they wish to defend their own race.”

This provocation was answered by the military regime with two years of forced labor for insulting Buddhism. The party canceled his membership, under pressure from the monks who felt insulted.

But Htin Lin Oo is still optimistic. “Problems between migrants and natives will always exist. It does not stop our democratic development. Other countries had the same problems. The US fought a civil war. They still have problems with extremists.

“Therefore, the international community should not put us under pressure. They should help us. They should stop complaining about problems with the Bengali in Rakhine,” Htin Lin Oo says.

Although he preaches peace, he does refer to Rohingya as Bengali, illegal immigrants.

A gift from heaven

The international community produces statements but does not intervene. The United Nations is still investigating the events in Rakhine and still hasn’t decided whether the Rohingya are victims of a genocide or not. But it is a textbook example of an ethnic cleansing, says Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), some 900,000 refugees are now being cared for by the Bangladesh government. Shelter is the most pressing priority, but many other critical needs must also be met, including protection, proper registration, food security, basic health services and water and basic sanitation facilities.

Speaking at an international pledging conference in Geneva this week, IOM Director General William Lacy Swing “[urged] international leaders to support the peaceful resolution of this decade long crisis in Myanmar and insist that the Myanmar authorities create conditions of safety, security and dignity in Rakhine state to one of the world’s most persecuted populations.”

On a local level, hundreds of activists are trying to avoid the contamination of violence from Rakhine State to the rest of the country. “All kinds of false rumors are being spread through social media. We are teaching people how to deal with one-sided information. It’s our way to prevent violence.”

Tet Swei Win is the director of the Centre for Youth and Social Harmony in Yangon. He takes me to Thingangyun, a predominantly Muslim district. Sometimes, extremist monks come to make mischief. “Those Buddhists come here with a hundred people to shout slogans. Then we have to react very quickly to prevent violence.”

When I step out of his little van in the contentious neighborhood, Tet Swei Win tells me not to mention to anyone that I am a journalist. That could create tensions. The peace is very fragile. He shows me the local school. According to the new manager it is full. “There is no place anymore for Muslim children. I try to fight this,” the activist tells me.

“Many people in Myanmar thought that democracy is something that falls from the sky. A gift from heaven. But they didn’t realize that democratization is a process. If you want democracy, you will have to work for it. The different religions will have to learn how to talk to each other. It could take decades before that problem is solved.”

Tet Swei Win thinks it could go either way. “We have the choice between a harmonious country and a failed state.”

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UN Day: Another Day, Another 34,000 Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/un-day-another-day-another-34000-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-day-another-day-another-34000-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/un-day-another-day-another-34000-refugees/#respond Tue, 24 Oct 2017 13:25:27 +0000 Michael Curtin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152684 Oct. 24 is not just another day on the calendar. It is United Nations Day, an excellent time to take note of one of the accomplishments the world body has achieved in its 72-year history. The global institution has made it possible for the economic and social development for people worldwide. There is, however, one […]

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Up to 800,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar to Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, as of Oct. 23, says the UN. TAMSIN NEWS AGENCY/CREATIVE COMMONS

By Michael Curtin, PassBlue*
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 24 2017 (IPS)

Oct. 24 is not just another day on the calendar. It is United Nations Day, an excellent time to take note of one of the accomplishments the world body has achieved in its 72-year history.

The global institution has made it possible for the economic and social development for people worldwide. There is, however, one issue that has garnered significant attention but regrettably has not stayed on the front page and is slipping from the public eye.

UN Day is a good moment to return the world crisis back to the forefront: the plight of refugees in every spot of the globe. For the UN agencies whose job is to make a difference in these people’s lives, the problem has never been forgotten.

After the devastation of World War II, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or UNHCR, was created in 1950 to assist Europeans who had been left homeless from the consequences of the deadliest conflict the world has ever known.

In 1951, the Refugee Convention was formed, defining what a refugee is as well as outlining the rights of displaced people. Moreover, it laid out the parameters for a country’s responsibility in protecting refugees.

The fundamental principle of nonrefoulement is the centerpiece of the Convention, stipulating the core understanding that a refugee should not be returned to his or her country of origin if he or she is facing imminent danger.

A few years later, the UN refugee agency won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1954, for helping to save so many people who had fled their homes. Since then, over the last 50 years, the UN is still working on the frontlines assisting people escaping conflict, chaos and violence.

The agency’s work was only beginning when it was confronted with the Hungarian uprising of 1956, a nationwide revolt against the Soviet-backed government. The revolt caused 200,000 refugees to leave Hungary for the bordering nation of Austria, where they sought safety from threats of death. It was the Hungarian revolt that would set the stage and shape the future of how global relief agencies would respond to such humanitarian crises.

Today, 65 million people are now categorized as refugees. That is equivalent to the population of more than seven (US state of) New Jerseys. Twenty-four people every minute must leave their homes, with 34,000 people a day leaving behind their countries to seek safer, better environments.

The Syrian conflict alone has forced five million people to move to neighboring states as the war in their country persists. Another lesser-known statistic about refugees also needs attention: 41 million people are displaced within their own national borders; these internally displaced persons are known as IDPs.

The UN refugee agency’s founding mandate and operations have become much more complicated and cumbersome in recent years as well, ever since an enormous number people started flowing from Syria and regions of Africa to find safe port, upsetting the old rule that an asylum seeker must apply for asylum in the country he or she first enters after fleeing home.

Political events in Europe in the last few years have challenged this rule and as a result, people wanting to resettle or seek asylum outside their country are now stuck longer in refugee status in the nations where they land, adding to tensions in European and other countries and inciting nationalist fervor.

The last several months have witnessed a flood of new refugees — Rohingya Muslims — packing up from Myanmar to trudge through mud and other horrific conditions to reach neighboring Bangladesh to escape the central government’s campaign of systematic torture and violence.

Human-rights groups and the UN say the terror campaign equates to ethnic cleansing. Up to 800,000 Rohingya have now been counted as relocating to Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, as the number keeps rising.

One of the UN’s humanitarian-aid partners, Oxfam, is calling for more money to support the massive influx of Rohingyas in Bangladesh, with special attention to women and girls. They face not only violence at home but also as they travel and after they arrive in the overcrowded Bangladeshi camps.

The UN relief agency, in fact, is fighting displacement battles on several fronts, including in Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan and northern Nigeria, all of which taxes its resources. It is important to note that the international community must continue to provide the proper funding so organizations like the refugee agency can keep up its lifesaving work.

Unfortunately, many countries have decided that individuals who flee countries because of political violence or to seek a humane way of life are not welcome. We must support the UN refugee agency as it remains the go-to organization responding to refugee crises.

*(Brought to IPS readers courtesy of PassBlue, online independent coverage of the UN, a project of the Ralph Bunche Institute, City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center)

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Rohingya Crisis Stokes Fears of Myanmar’s Muslimshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/rohingya-crisis-stokes-fears-myanmars-muslims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-crisis-stokes-fears-myanmars-muslims http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/rohingya-crisis-stokes-fears-myanmars-muslims/#respond Tue, 24 Oct 2017 13:07:07 +0000 Pascal Laureyn http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152677 In a quiet street, the sound of children’s voices can be heard from an open window. They are reciting verses of the Koran in unison. The small Islamic school lays hidden in a walled neighborhood where only Muslims live. This is an island of tranquility in Mandalay, the second-largest city of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Calm […]

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The entrance to the gated community of Joon, Myanmar. With tensions between Muslims and Buddhists rising, the gates are closed at night. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

The entrance to the gated community of Joon, Myanmar. With tensions between Muslims and Buddhists rising, the gates are closed at night. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

By Pascal Laureyn
YANGON, Oct 24 2017 (IPS)

In a quiet street, the sound of children’s voices can be heard from an open window. They are reciting verses of the Koran in unison. The small Islamic school lays hidden in a walled neighborhood where only Muslims live. This is an island of tranquility in Mandalay, the second-largest city of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar.

Calm seems to be the norm in the narrow streets leading to the Joon Mosque. But since a few years ago, the gates of this community have been locked at night. After centuries of peaceful coexistence, tensions between Muslims and Buddhists are building. Residents of the neighborhood don’t feel at ease anymore."Our shopkeepers are sometimes being harassed by monks. But when we call the police, they never show up." --U Wai Li Tin Aung

“Sometimes Buddhist monks try to intimidate us by shouting religious slogans. They call us ‘kalar’, an insulting word for Muslims,” says U Wai Li Tin Aung, secretary of the Joon Mosque, the biggest in Mandalay.

He thinks that the tensions are being provoked by the conflict in Rakhine State, in the west of Myanmar. There, the Rohingya – a Muslim minority group – is being persecuted and murdered by the military and by militias. Since August almost 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh. The UN has labelled it ethnic cleansing.

Simmering tensions

The propaganda of the government and hostility of Buddhist nationalists are not exclusively reserved for the Rohingya in Rakhine. According to some Burmese, all Muslims are terrorists who want to take over the country. Since the gradual democratization of Myanmar, the authoritarian controls on media have disappeared, giving extremist ideas a free and unfiltered forum. In large parts of society, racism has become normalized. Many fear violence against Muslims has become acceptable.

U Wai Li Tin Aung is worried. “The government does nothing. Our shopkeepers are sometimes being harassed by monks. But when we call the police, they never show up. Laws are only in favor of Burmese Buddhists.”

It used to be different. The Muslim area around the Joon Mosque has a respectable history. Mindon Min, the penultimate king of Burma, gave this neighborhood to the Muslims in 1863. The monarch had founded the new capital in Mandalay and his administration was run mainly by Muslims. But that recognition seems to be forgotten, and now the inhabitants are victims of discrimination.

U Wai Li Tin Aung, secretary of the Joon Mosque, the biggest in Mandalay, Myanmar, stands on the entrance steps with two of his children. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

U Wai Li Tin Aung, secretary of the Joon Mosque, the biggest in Mandalay, Myanmar, stands on the entrance steps with two of his children. Credit: Pascal Laureyn/IPS

Pathe Aye Maung shows his identity card and the one of his son. Both are officially registered as Muslims. The ID card of the father says that he is a member of the Panthee, a recognized ethnic group in Myanmar. But the son is registered as an ‘Indian’, which means he is considered an illegal foreigner. “When my son went to complain about this, he was put in jail,” Maung says.

This is a problem that the Rohingya know all too well. They have been living in Rakhine for centuries, but they have been discriminated against since independence in 1948. The media and the government never use the word Rohingya. Naming them correctly would be interpreted as a recognition of their historical rights. Instead, most Burmese people consider them Bengali: illegal immigrants who should return home.

A large group of Buddhists feel that their culture and religion is being threatened by ‘foreigners’. They are afraid of so-called Islamification. They fear that Myanmar will evolve the same way as Indonesia, a Buddhist country that later became Islamic. So for many, all Muslims are viewed with suspicion. Some religious leaders have tried to turn these anxieties into violence against Muslims.

“We don’t let ourselves be provoked,” says secretary U Wai Li Tin Aung. “Whatever the extremist monks say, we stay calm and keep the peace. We have learned that from our religion. We don’t use violence.”

But that does not always work. In 2014 riots erupted in Mandalay, the bastion of Burmese Buddhist culture. The violence was ignited by false rumors of the rape of a Buddhist woman by a Muslim. Nationalist monks had spread these rumors with lightning-fast speed through social media. In the resulting street fighting, a Buddhist and a Muslim were killed.

During those tumultuous days, the police raided the Joon Mosque. They seized sticks, rods and marbles hidden in the prayer room. The secretary stresses that they were only to be used in case of an attack on the mosque. “Everybody was scared at that time. We couldn’t expect any protection from the army or the police.”

A political conflict

The violence placed Muslims and Buddhists in a polarized position, with simmering religious tensions and identity politics. And critics say the army and consecutive governments have used it to divert the attention away from their faltering policies.

The conflict with the ‘foreign jihadis’ signals to Myanmar’s citizens that the army is the only trustworthy protector of the country. It is a way to tighten the military’s grip on the economy, even after the rise of Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD party. For the Muslims, the much-lauded democratization has not delivered much yet. For the first time in the history of independent Myanmar, there is no Muslim presence in parliament anymore.

Still, not everyone agrees with the extremists, and most Buddhists still get along nicely with their Muslim neighbors.

One Buddhist fruit vendor strolls through the Muslim neighborhood with her merchandise on her head. “It’s a pity that there’s a conflict going on. I have been coming here for years and I never had problems. Why should there be problems now? That’s bad for business.”

Meanwhile, the international donor community announced pledges on October 23 for more than 344 million dollars to address the mounting humanitarian crisis of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The pledging conference in Geneva was co-organised by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and with Kuwait and the European Union as co-hosts. They noted that the ongoing exodus is the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.

“Today’s pledges from the international community will help rebuild Rohingya refugees’ lives. Without these vital funds, humanitarians would not be able to continue providing protection and life-saving aid to one of the most vulnerable groups in the world. While we are thankful, I hope that the end of this conference does not mean the end of new funding commitments. We have not reached our target and each percentage point we are under means thousands without food, healthcare and shelter,” said William Lacy Swing, IOM Director General.

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The United Nations Is Needed More than Ever Before to Promote Peace and Justice Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/united-nations-needed-ever-promote-peace-justice-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=united-nations-needed-ever-promote-peace-justice-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/united-nations-needed-ever-promote-peace-justice-worldwide/#respond Tue, 24 Oct 2017 06:28:50 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152662 United Nations Day – 24 October 2017

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United Nations Day – 24 October 2017

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim
GENEVA, Oct 24 2017 (IPS)

In commemoration of the 2017 United Nations Day, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim called for enhancing the role of the United Nations to address issues related to the promotion of peace and security as a platform for collaboration and the advancement of human rights.

Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

In observation of United Nations Day and its 72nd anniversary, we strongly commend the vision of the United Nations to establish the Sustainable Development Goals and the Millennium Development Goals – that aim to promote peace and justice in every corner of the world,” underlined Dr. Al Qassim.

The achievements of the United Nations since its establishment in promoting a future in the mutual interest of all peoples have been remarkable,” added Dr. Al Qassim.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman praised the efforts of the United Nations in bringing numerous issues of relevance to social and human development at the forefront of international decision-making. He noted, however that the realization of human rights and peaceful relations between states continues to be areas of great concern.

He warned against the politicization of human rights stating that, “the protection and promotion of human rights is often more influenced by political interests than by human rights policy. States are more likely to be swayed by political interests at odds with a value-driven human rights system.

Politicization of human rights and the selective application of relevant international legal norms gives rise to distrust. The credibility of the United Nations and in particular of the Human Rights Council depends on the resolve to apply international law and human rights standards uniformly and not to be influenced by political interests to apply laws à la carte in support of a particular special interest.” stated Dr. Al Qassim.

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman likewise added that recent statements being declared at the podium of the United Nations General Assembly calling for the destruction of states only contributes to a political climate of instability, fear and warmongering.

The purpose of the United Nations is to promote international co-operation and to achieve international peace and security. Beating the drums of war impedes the ability of the United Nations to act as a platform and a neutral broker for solving disputes among its member States. All disputes must be resolved within the framework set forth in the Charter of the United Nations calling for the promotion of peaceful relations and refraining from acts of aggression and the settling of disputes through military means,” stated Dr. Al Qassim.

To enhance the role of the United Nations in dealing with such issues, he stated “the United Nations needs to strengthen its efforts to accelerate disarmament, enhance peacebuilding and contribute to preventive diplomacy and mediation through dialogue, conflict prevention and dispute settlement.

The United Nations is needed more than ever before to promote peace and justice worldwide,” ended Dr. Al Qassim.

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Let’s Harness the Egalitarian Spirit of Sport for Global Cohesionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/lets-harness-egalitarian-spirit-sport-global-cohesion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lets-harness-egalitarian-spirit-sport-global-cohesion http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/lets-harness-egalitarian-spirit-sport-global-cohesion/#respond Tue, 24 Oct 2017 06:19:25 +0000 Ann Therese Ndong Jatta and Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152658 Ann Therese Ndong Jatta is Director UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa.
Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator in Kenya.

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Football match to raise awareness on environmental issues in Watamu, Kenya jointly organized by UNESCO, UN Environment and UN Information Center. Credit: @UNESCO

By Ann Therese Ndong Jatta and Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 24 2017 (IPS)

24 October has been celebrated as United Nations Day since 1948.

In his message to the world the UN Secretary General, Mr Antonio Guterres remarked, “When we achieve human rights and human dignity for all people – they will build a peaceful, sustainable and just world”.

Sport has proven to be a cost-effective and flexible tool in promoting peace and development objectives

Consider this. On assuming the presidency, one political masterstroke by the late Nelson Mandela was his use of sports to foster the country’s healing process. As hosts of the 2010 World Cup, white and black fans stood and cheered the country’s team together, forgetting past antagonisms.

Mandela said, “Sport can create hope where there was once only despair. It is more powerful than governments in breaking down racial barriers. Sport has power to change the world.”

Sport eliminates barriers and stereotypes in a way few other human endeavors do, rendering innocuous differences in gender, religion, and cultures, and uplifting the importance of team work, discipline and rules of the game for a team to score and win. It is the ideal opportunity to teach team-building, peace and appreciation of the other person’s qualities and abilities.

A team implies a group of people linked to a common purpose. Though human beings learn and work together various professional and personal settings, sports and games strengthen human ties most, endearing most effectively the pain or joy of losing or winning.

That team spirit and a belief in promoting peace, justice, happiness for the whole of humanity are what define us at the United Nations. That is what drives what we do to attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

The values of sports are universal. Olympism is a philosophy that combines the qualities of body, mind and spirit. Blending sports with culture and education, Olympism seeks to create a way of life based on the joy found in effort, the educational values of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.

This is especially relevant today in a world where values are increasingly under threat, with wars, violent extremism, especially gender-based violence and civil conflicts becoming the order of the day.

Research has provided evidence of the benefits and outcomes of physical education and sports in schools, for both children and for educational systems, which include children’s physical, lifestyle, affective, social and cognitive development.

According to data from the Education for all Global Monitoring Report 2015, the number of children enrolled in primary schools in Sub-Saharan Africa rose by 75 % to 144 million between 1999 and 2012, and this is attributed partly to the abolition of school fees in countries like Ethiopia, Ghana and Kenya, as well as to an increase in the number of teachers.

This is a population that is a potentially powerful force for cohesion if all these schools have compulsory physical education class.

At UNESCO, Values Education contributes to the development of self-confidence, healthy lifestyle choices, life skills, and an understanding of rules and rights. Values-based education is at the heart of the Kenya Curriculum Reform, supported jointly by UNESCO and UNICEF.

Sport is often seen as of secondary importance to the traditional or ‘legacy’ subjects. However, sensitizing young people to the universal values of sport, such as fairness, inclusion, equality and respect, can equip them with the knowledge and skills needed for the SDG 4 on ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

In East Africa, UNESCO together with members of the UN family is working tirelessly to build a culture of peace, human rights, gender equality and to tackle the social and human dimensions of climate change among other initiatives seeking social transformations for human dignity. Towards these values, we work with youth through sports and cultural activities to unleash their potential and make their dreams possible to achieve.

As enablers of youth growth and development, sport and social actions can lead to raising of awareness of other topics, like gender, domestic violence, drug abuse, breaking stereotypes, religion, race and identity.

Our imagination is the only limit to what sports can achieve for humanity. In a remarkable feat, during the 2016 Rio Olympics Games, a team of Refugees, comprising of 10 members from Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Syria, used sports to break the cycle of poverty, hopelessness and to give courage to millions of people around the world about the power of will, discipline, excellence, solidarity and hard work. Through Sport, the team became the heroes, powerful and inspirational stories of triumph over adversity.

As we celebrate UN day today, our shoulders are squared for the task of giving our youth the tools they need to live happy, fulfilled lives, thus cascade their inner and outer healthy state of beings to a greater human and global cause.

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Peace and stability must be restored in the Middle East and North Africa so as to alleviate povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/peace-stability-must-restored-middle-east-north-africa-alleviate-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=peace-stability-must-restored-middle-east-north-africa-alleviate-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/peace-stability-must-restored-middle-east-north-africa-alleviate-poverty/#respond Tue, 17 Oct 2017 09:26:26 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152540 On the occasion of the 2017 International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim observed that the unprecedented rise of violence and insecurity in the Arab region combined, breed poverty and societal decline. He noted […]

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By Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim
GENEVA, Oct 17 2017 (IPS)

On the occasion of the 2017 International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue H. E. Dr. Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim observed that the unprecedented rise of violence and insecurity in the Arab region combined, breed poverty and societal decline.

Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim

He noted that the Middle East and the North Africa region was once at the forefront of progress to alleviate poverty and hunger – in line with the provisions set forth in Millennium Development Goal 1 – but noted, however, that a multitude of factors have contributed to a reversal of progress undermining the alleviation of poverty as stipulated in Sustainable Development Goal 1 to end poverty in all its forms everywhere by 2030.

In this context, he stated that “the spread of conflict and violence have left a social and political vacuum that has been filled by violent and extremist groups. The persistence of political and social unrest in the Arab region have become the main drivers of poverty. Approximately 2/3 of the population in Syria are now living below the poverty line. In Yemen, more than 50% of the population live in extreme poverty, whereas this malaise now affects around 1/3 of Libya’s population. Insecurity driven poverty and fragile societies – gripped by violence and conflict – have thrown Arab countries into chronic poverty and societal decline.”

He further added that “the failure of diplomacy to create peace and stability in countries affected by conflict and violence has triggered a massive movement of people escaping insecurity and sectarian violence. Refugees, migrants and internally displaced persons in the region experience extreme poverty in a way unbeknownst to them hitherto. They have lost livelihood opportunities and have inadequate access to basic services. Forcibly displaced people remain stuck in limbo as they are either unwanted or forced to live in destitution in refugee or detention camps, after having witnessed the destruction of their home societies. The current situation undermines the prospects of recovery of conflict-affected societies from the adverse impact of armed conflict owing to the destruction of human capital and of a stable middle class.”

The Geneva Centre’s Chairman further observed that “the adverse impact of climate change has contributed to exacerbating all forms of poverty and food insecurity in the Arab region as a result of lack of access to renewable and non-renewable resources. Depletion of resources, desertification and water scarcity are indiscriminately affecting countries in the Middle East and North Africa. It has given rise to an ecological crisis affecting the livelihood of millions of people and forcing people to flee.”

He concluded stating that addressing the multidimensional elements of poverty in the Arab region requires adopting a holistic approach addressing the root-causes of extreme poverty in the Arab region.

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International Day of Rural Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/international-day-rural-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=international-day-rural-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/international-day-rural-women/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 20:57:49 +0000 Michel Mordasini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152524
Michel Mordasini, is Vice President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development - IFAD

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Michel Mordasini, is Vice President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development - IFAD

By Michel Mordasini
ROME, Oct 16 2017 (IPS)

On this International Day of Rural Women, the world celebrates women and girls in rural areas and the critical role they play in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.

Michel Mordasini. Credit: IFAD

To increase the impact of IFAD-supported projects on gender equality and to strengthen women’s empowerment in poor rural areas, our approach is centered on three pillars, which are the strategic objectives of our Policy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment:

First, we promote economic empowerment to enable rural women and men to have equal opportunities to participate in, and benefit from, profitable economic activities. To do this, we need to ensure that women have equal access to land and other productive resources and inputs, to knowledge, financial services and markets, and to income-generation opportunities.

Second, we enable women and men to have equal voice and influence in rural institutions and organizations. To this end, we support women’s self-organization in women’s groups and their participation in farmer organizations, water user associations, cooperatives and many other rural institutions. We set quotas for women’s representation and train women in leadership.

Third, we strive to promote a more equitable balance in workloads and in the sharing of economic and social benefits between women and men. Infrastructure development, and access to water, energy, roads and transport all contribute to reducing women’s burden of work, thus enabling them to take on economic activities and decision-making roles.

At IFAD, we celebrate the 2017 International Day of Rural Women by honouring the best-performing project in each region that empowers women and addresses gender inequalities. The Gender Award was established to recognize the efforts and achievements of IFAD-supported projects in meeting the strategic objectives of IFAD’s Policy on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment. The Award gives visibility to those projects that have successfully reduced rural women’s workload, given them a voice and created opportunities for economic empowerment. While selecting the winning projects, we also evaluate the strategic guidance provided by the project management unit and the achievements of gender focal points. We pay particular attention to innovative and gender transformative approaches that address underlying inequalities.

This year the Gender Awards go to the following projects:

The Char Development and Settlement Project – Phase IV in Bangladesh. The project is improving livelihoods for poor people living on newly accreted coastal islands known locally as chars. It uses a combined approach to development, which includes infrastructure works, forestry, water supplies, provision of health and sanitation, management of land and agriculture, securing women’s and men’s access to land and addressing social norms such as child marriage.

The Agricultural Value Chain Development Project in the Mountain Zones of Al-Haouz Province in Morocco. The project is supporting smallholder farmers and livestock producers, and promoting the development of value chains for olives, apples and lamb. With access to subsidies and credit, women have formed professional teams and associations, and cooperatives for income-generation.

The Building Rural Entrepreneurial Capacities: Trust and Opportunity Programme in Colombia. The programme is helping rural communities to recover from conflict. It is improving living conditions, income and employment for small farmers, indigenous groups, Afro-Latino communities, young people, families who have been forcibly displaced and households headed by women in post-conflict rural areas.

The Rural Markets Promotion Programme in Mozambique. The programme is enabling small-scale farmers to increase their incomes and helping them to market their surpluses. Women are learning to read and write, and benefiting from community-based financial services. The programme has achieved transformative changes, including greater involvement of men in activities related to nutrition.

The Poverty Reduction Project in Aftout South and Karakorum – Phase II in Mauritania. The project is improving the income and living conditions of poor rural households in M’Bout, Kankossa and Ould-Yengé. With a female gender officer and an actionable gender strategy, the project has invested in information dissemination and sensitization on gender equality and equitable workloads, and the importance of healthcare and sanitation, water supplies and access to markets.

Let me congratulate the winners. IFAD President and staff look forward to welcoming them to Rome on 29-30 November for the award ceremony and a learning event.

The hundreds of thousands of poor households targeted in these five projects have made considerable progress in reducing rural poverty and empowering women. Let us continue to ensure that poor rural communities and individuals – particularly women, indigenous peoples and young people – become part of a rural transformation that drives overall sustainable development and leaves no one behind. IFAD aims to achieve real transformative gender impact. And to do this, we need to address the deep roots of gender inequality – prevailing social norms, entrenched attitudes and behaviours, and social systems.

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Despite Odds, Women Gain Stature in African Politicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/despite-odds-women-gain-stature-african-politics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-odds-women-gain-stature-african-politics http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/despite-odds-women-gain-stature-african-politics/#respond Mon, 16 Oct 2017 12:47:43 +0000 Kwamboka Oyaro http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152510 Once in a while, Africa produces talented women politicians who, despite the odds, overcome the obstacles that impede their success in the political arena. Some of the African women who have shattered the glass ceiling include Liberia’s outgoing president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; former president of Malawi, Joyce Banda; Mauritius’s president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim; and former interim […]

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Launch of the African Women Leaders Network in New York. Credit: UN Photos

By Kwamboka Oyaro, Africa Renewal*
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 2017 (IPS)

Once in a while, Africa produces talented women politicians who, despite the odds, overcome the obstacles that impede their success in the political arena.

Some of the African women who have shattered the glass ceiling include Liberia’s outgoing president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; former president of Malawi, Joyce Banda; Mauritius’s president, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim; and former interim president of the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza.

For most African women, however, the political terrain is too rough to navigate. Few make the journey, perceiving that their male colleagues would try to undermine them. In their effort to take up leadership positions, qualified African women can expect to confront gender-based attacks, including being labelled “prostitutes” or “concubines”. Sometimes they are sexually harassed, and they often contend with men seeking sexual favours as preconditions for support.

Propositions from senior male office holders as a precondition for entry into the field are unacceptable, says former Nigerian senator Uche Lilian Ekwunife. She adds that this is a tactic men have used for years to discourage women from entering the political fray.

Ms. Ekwunife recollects her 2011 re-election campaign for Nigeria’s House of Representatives, when her opponent superimposed her head on a naked body and sent the picture to YouTube “just to demean my person.” Luckily, that childish slur backfired, and Ms. Ekwunife easily won the election to the legislative body.

Four years later, when she sought election to the senate in 2015, her experience was less pleasant. Although she was re-elected to become one of six women out of the 109 senators in Nigeria’s upper law-making body, her political journey was short.

The courts nullified her election after she had been in the senate only six months. She believes that her election’s nullification was politically motivated, even though there was the issue of her switching political parties at the last minute.

Ms. Ekwunife’s experience is not unique among women political hopefuls in Africa. For example, just two days after activist Diane Shima Rwigara declared her intention to run for the presidency in Rwanda’s general election in August this year, social media was awash with purported nude pictures of her. Her candidacy was disqualified by election officials.

In neighbouring Uganda, a member of the opposition Zainab Fatuma Naigaga and some male colleagues were arrested on their way to a political rally in October 2015. But it was only Ms. Naigaga who was stripped naked by abusive police officers, while the men were left alone.

In Kenya, MP Millie Odhiambo Mabona was analysing the country’s Security Laws (Amendment) Bill 2014 in Parliament when a commotion on the floor degenerated into a free-for-all brawl.

Ms. Mabona says she was assaulted by two pro-government MPs. “That day I was in a dress and these men kept pulling it up while I pulled it down. They went ahead and tore my panties,” Ms. Mabona told Africa Renewal in an interview.

One of the accused male MPs was quoted in the local dailies, saying, “I slapped her because she wanted to assault the deputy speaker. That was great disrespect.” The MPs later passed the bill on security laws.

Women facing sexual harassment must call the men’s bluff, says Ms. Mabona. “If they threaten me with exposing my sexual encounters, I tell them I would also expose those that I went out with.” Ms. Ekwunife, taking a different tack, says “women need to focus and ignore these distractions.”

Besides issues relating to their bodies and their private lives, African female politicians, most of the time, begin their career in politics later in life, and start from a position of disadvantage of having to balance family and work. They also tend to have less money than their male counterparts to spend on campaign expenses.

Shauna Shames of New Jersey’s Rutgers University-Camden, writing about “Barriers and solutions to increasing women’s political power,” notes that “when money dominates politics, women lose out. With women having persistently lower incomes for many reasons, they are far less likely than men to be in the social and business networks that pour money into political campaigns.”

Major political parties rarely nominate women for elected positions during primaries because of the belief that women stand a slim chance of winning against men. In Kenya, for example, all the leading parties nominated men as presidential candidates for the August 2017 elections.

Sometimes a political party will attempt to curry favour by nominating women, yet will not fully back the female politicians to win elections, explains Ms. Ekwunife.

Women candidates are more vulnerable than their male counterparts to electoral violence, including physical attacks on the candidates themselves, their families or supporters, from the campaigns to election time, says Ms. Mabona.

The Kenyan government pledged to enhance security for women aspirants in the lead-up to the August 2017 general election. The cabinet secretary for interior security, the late Joseph Nkaissery, in June announced the government’s intention to protect women candidates, but also told them to be “tough,” without explaining what he meant, leaving pundits to infer a tacit approval for women to be violent.

Ms. Mabona herself witnessed raw violence early this year during her political party’s fiery primaries in her Mbita Constituency in western Kenya. Her bodyguard was killed and her house was burned down.

Will the ground be level anytime soon for women politicians in Africa? Dismas Mokua, a political analyst with Trintari International, a Nairobi-based public relations firm, says women in Africa have made some impact in politics but could do better. Most societies are patriarchal and don’t expect women to take up leadership positions, explains Mr. Mokua.

“Running for a public office requires resources. A lot of women candidates may not have the requisite finances,” says Mr. Mokua. Against all odds, the time is now for Africa’s visionary female politicians to join politics and change the narrative.

*Africa Renewal is published by the UN’s Department of Public Information.

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Inclusive Electoral Processes: a Pathway to More Peaceful Societieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/inclusive-electoral-processes-pathway-peaceful-societies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=inclusive-electoral-processes-pathway-peaceful-societies http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/inclusive-electoral-processes-pathway-peaceful-societies/#respond Thu, 05 Oct 2017 05:53:02 +0000 Magdy Martinez-Soliman and Patrick Keuleers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152362 Magdy Martinez-Soliman is UN Assistant Secretary General & Director of UNDP’s Bureau for Policy and Programme Support & Patrick Keuleers is Director of Governance and Peacebuilding, Bureau for Policy and Programme Support (UNDP).

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Polling station staff assists a voter placing their vote in the ballot box on election day in CAR. Credit: UNDP / Central African Republic

By Magdy Martinez-Soliman and Patrick Keuleers
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 5 2017 (IPS)

The Sustainable Development Goals 16 (SDG16) calls on UN Member States to promote responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making, and to build effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels.

While the means to promote participation have diversified rapidly, in particular through the use of new technologies and social media, elections are, and will likely remain, the definitive mechanism by which most governments derive legitimacy through popular vote.

As part of its responsibility to respond to national requests for enhanced governance capacity, UNDP has provided support to elections and referenda in over 100 Member States since the early 1990s. Our efforts have focused on developing the capacity of national electoral management bodies; promoting the political participation of those most at risk of being left behind; empowering women as electoral administrators, voters and candidates; promoting electoral dialogue between competing political parties; and supporting civic education for a more informed electorate.

UNDP’s work in support of political and electoral processes is done in close partnership with other entities in the UN system. Noting the inherently political nature of elections as contests between those seeking authority to govern, UNDP works closely with and under the guidance of the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, in his capacity as UN Electoral Focal Point, nominated as such by the General Assembly in 1991.

In that capacity, the Focal Point is responsible for establishing the parameters for UN engagement in a Member State’s national elections, in response to either a national request for assistance or a mandate from the Security Council or General Assembly to assist in post-conflict elections.

Every two years, the Secretary-General (SG) reports to the General Assembly on the UN’s work in support of democratic elections, showcasing the breadth and complexity of UN electoral activities around the globe. The 2017 Report was published on August 1, 2017.

Among the many activities undertaken by the UN, it highlights the support that UNDP provides to the UN’s peacekeeping and special political mission efforts in post-conflict elections, as well as UNDP’s work as “the major implementing body of the Organization for support to developing electoral institutions, to building partnerships, legal frameworks and processes and for support to elections in non-mission settings.” In the 2015-2017 period covered by the report, UNDP provided such support to 63 Member States.

Each of the SG’s biennial reports on the UN’s electoral work also addresses specific thematic issues that have proven topical during the reporting period. This year’s report addresses violence surrounding electoral process and suggests strategies that Member States can adopt for the prevention of such violence.

These include, for example, measures to dilute “winner takes all” politics in elections, changes to electoral systems that promote greater inclusivity for the entire spectrum of national political opinions, and promoting dialogue between those competing for political power and the national electoral authorities acting as the guarantors of peaceful and legitimate elections.

Examples of exactly how successful these initiatives can be, were evident in high-stakes presidential elections in countries such as Burkina Faso and Nigeria in 2015, where DPA and UNDP came together to work with national counterparts and electoral contestants at diffusing political tensions in the pre-electoral environment.

In the case of Burkina Faso, the “timely engagement of institutions at the international, regional and sub-regional level was instrumental in encouraging progress and providing the diplomatic, technical and financial support required to restore stability and prepare for the 2015 legislative and presidential elections.” Cote d’Ivoire is a good example of effective capacity development of national electoral institutions.

“The extensive electoral support provided to the Independent Electoral Commission of Côte d’Ivoire since 2005 by UNDP and UNOCI has been gradually scaled down with the Commission fully assuming its role and independently organizing the 2016 (Constitutional Referendum and legislative) elections which were conducted peacefully within the constitutionally established time frames…The subsequent closure and withdrawal of UNOCI by the end of June 2017 attest to the good progress of the political transition in Côte d’Ivoire.”

This year’s report of the Secretary General also addresses thorny issues such as the challenges presented by election boycotts, and the elimination of presidential term limits. There are currently no international standards or commitments that Member States have made to introducing or retaining term limits in their national legislation; this remains an issue of national sovereignty.

The SG’s 2017 report however notes on this subject that term limits “can be important safeguards against “winner-take-all” politics,” and, crucially, that “the manner in which related amendments are sought can be critical factors affecting public confidence” in the electoral process.

A novel but very important topic also addressed in the report is the advent of technological developments that can enhance the inclusiveness of political processes; in this regard the report notes in particular “the additional credibility to an electoral process that expanding voting rights to citizens based abroad can bring.”

The report is very positive about the contribution that we, as the UN, make together to the promotion of democratic values, institutions and processes. UNDP is proud to remain a key partner, with the Department of Political Affairs, in supporting Member States’ efforts to ensure the integrity and freedom of inclusive and peaceful electoral processes globally.

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Need for Inclusive Peace Efforts in South Sudan: No More ‘Compassion Fatigue’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/need-inclusive-peace-efforts-south-sudan-no-compassion-fatigue/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=need-inclusive-peace-efforts-south-sudan-no-compassion-fatigue http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/need-inclusive-peace-efforts-south-sudan-no-compassion-fatigue/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2017 17:56:29 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152359 “Peace is not a one-day affair or event, it requires our collective effort,” said South Sudan’s Vice President, General Taban Deng Gai, while addressing the General Assembly at the UN. South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, celebrated its six-year anniversary on July 9 this year, with its president, Salva Kirr, marking 2017 as the ‘Year […]

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An Oxfam staffer helps a woman at UN House in Juba carry home some of the emergency supplies she has just received. Credit: Anita Kattakhuzy/Oxfam

By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 4 2017 (IPS)

“Peace is not a one-day affair or event, it requires our collective effort,” said South Sudan’s Vice President, General Taban Deng Gai, while addressing the General Assembly at the UN.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest nation, celebrated its six-year anniversary on July 9 this year, with its president, Salva Kirr, marking 2017 as the ‘Year of Peace and Prosperity.’

A mere two years after its split from Sudan, a country plagued by decades-long of ethnic-based civil war between Arab and non-Arab tribes, the independent state of South Sudan erupted in conflict when President Kiir, a Dinka, accused his then vice president, Riek Machar, a Nuer, of attempting a coup.

Amid heightening political tensions, violent skirmishes flared up in the nation’s capital of Juba in mid-December 2013 between loyalist soldiers from both parties. South Sudan has been mired in conflict ever since – much to the dismay of its citizens who hadn’t imagined they would carry the torch of war into their new republic.

Three months into a peace agreement signed by both parties in August 2015, the conflict reached a boiling point in December 2015 when President Kiir dissolved South Sudan’s 10 regional states and established 28 new states, resulting in a surge of violence beyond the capital, to several areas of the country.

A transitional government formed by both parties in April 2016, with the peace agreement as a precursor, failed to temper the violence as clashes continued country-wide. Further, President Kiir’s appointment of General Gai, Machar’s political ally, as his new vice president inflamed Machar and his loyalists, resulting in a split within the opposition – thus fueling the conflict.

A government ceasefire, declared after Machar fled the capital, crumbled shortly thereafter.

With lengthy, arduous peace efforts failing and confidence in ending the conflict flailing, South Sudan is facing its gravest humanitarian situation in years.

“This is the last chance of salvaging the peace agreement in South Sudan…we must resolve now, both individually and collectively, to do more to end this conflict,” said Ambassador Nikki Haley, the U.S. Permanent Representative to the UN, while addressing the UN Security Council last week.

More than 2.5 million people have been displaced by the South Sudan conflict. An estimated 830,000 have fled to neighboring countries, mainly Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda, according to Oxfam America.

Harassment and arbitrary detention of journalists, forced recruitment of child soldiers, widespread sexual violence and restricting movement of UN peacekeepers by both sides characterize the conflict in South Sudan, according to prominent human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

“In over 30 years working in South Sudan, Oxfam has never responded to such dire needs under such difficult conditions,” said Oxfam America’s president, Abby Maxman, speaking on South Sudan at the UN.

Asked about the country’s grim situation, Noah Gottschalk, Oxfam’s Senior Policy Advisor for Humanitarian Response, told IPS that, “with the conflict hitting many parts of the country simultaneously, with more access to advanced firepower, with a collapsing economy, with food insecurity and famine on the rise and, most especially, with no resounding commitment from the international community, South Sudan is more vulnerable than it has ever been.”

The suffering of communities in South Sudan has reached unprecedented levels.

“The situation is South Sudan is dire but not hopeless…when a situation is seen as hopeless and when the rhetoric surrounding it makes it seem ‘too complex’ and diminishes on-the-ground efforts, compassion fatigue arises,” said Gottschalk.

Though it is the responsibility of the significant parties in South Sudan to root out the source of the problem, it is the duty of the international community to navigate a peaceful outcome for the sake of 12 million South Sudanese who have not given up.

“We have not given up on them and we have not forgotten them…they have a friend and advocate in the US,” said Haley.

The UN, African Union (AU) and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) recently agreed to pool their efforts to support the revitalization of the political process in South Sudan.

The primary goal in mind, for this joint communiqué, is to adequately represent all significant parties and encourage them to focus on the full implementation of the August 2015 Peace Agreement, under a permanent ceasefire.

“This is the last chance at salvaging the peace agreement in South Sudan…the different parties to the conflict must use the next several weeks to commit themselves to this process and to conclude it,” said Haley.

Before undertaking these well-intended collective measures, it is important to understand the nature of the conflict in South Sudan.

“To get the country back on its feet, we must first recognize this conflict for what it is and what it isn’t…it’s not a tribal conflict, because ethnic identity doesn’t determine allegiance on the ground, it’s not a military conflict, because civilians, not soldiers, are bearing the brunt of the violence…in many ways it’s not even a political conflict, because that would imply that it’s about competing visions for governing this nation…what it is, is a hostage situation,” said Maxman.

In July this year, the AU Commission, South Sudanese officials, and UN representatives met in Juba to discuss the establishment of an independent Hybrid Court for South Sudan, envisioned under the 2015 Peace Agreement, and agreed on plans to finalize the court’s statute by August, according to Human Rights Watch.

Notably, South Sudan is not a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC). As such, its leaders can only be held accountable by the ICC through a request from the Sudanese government or a referral by the UN Security Council.

Though a lack of accountability is a conflict-accelerant, a more immediate focus is required in the inclusive peace efforts geared towards helping the people in South Sudan.

“It’s high time we throw our lot in with the hostages, not the hostage-takers,” said Maxman.

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Why American Overseas Aid Should Focus on SDGs?http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/american-overseas-aid-focus-sdgs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=american-overseas-aid-focus-sdgs http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/10/american-overseas-aid-focus-sdgs/#respond Wed, 04 Oct 2017 14:59:39 +0000 Bjorn Lomborg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152347 Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School.

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Bjorn Lomborg is director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center and a visiting professor at the Copenhagen Business School.

By Bjorn Lomborg
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC, Oct 4 2017 (IPS)

The average American believes the US spends a whopping third of its federal budget on foreign aid. Consequently, a majority of people think that too much is spent on foreign aid. That is one reason US President Donald J. Trump, who has campaigned on putting the needs of Americans first, has proposed deep cuts to foreign aid in his 2018 budget.

The problem is, this common understanding is very wrong. US foreign aid in 2017 will cost $41.9 billion out of a total federal budget of $4.15 trillion or one percent. When informed of this, support for cutting aid halves, while support for increasing the budget more than doubles. The aid budget should be maintained. And the far more important question should instead be addressed: how do we get the most possible out of this spending?

We can look to recent history for reassuring evidence that US aid spending can achieve a great deal. A recent Brookings study revealed that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the development agenda set by the US and others for the first fifteen years of this century – were more successful than anybody knew.

From 2000, the world agreed on 18 key undertakings, including halving the proportion of people in poverty, halving the proportion of people going hungry, and cutting child mortality by two-thirds.

The study concludes, “especially on matters of life and death, 2015 outcomes were not on track to happen anyhow”. The MDGs ensured that more money went to the most important areas. Improvements sped up. At least 21 million more people are alive today as a result.

This tells us that the simple MDG approach worked; the U.S. and other, smaller donors helped save a number of lives equivalent to the entire population of Florida. We know more today than ever before about how to create meaningful change with each dollar spent. More transparency should be encouraged to reassure taxpayers about how money is spent.

When the MDGs were being replaced in 2015 with a new development agenda called the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), my think-tank Copenhagen Consensus commissioned economists from around the world to analyze development priorities as they were proposed. The results are a body of work revealing what one aid dollar can achieve if spent in different ways.

I would be the first to argue that the SDGs are problematic: the simple 18 MDG targets were replaced with an impossibly long list of 169 targets. That’s just silly.

Targets such as the development of tools to monitor sustainable tourism or teaching the “knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development” don’t deserve priority when malnourishment claims at least 1.4 million children’s lives annually, 1.2 billion people live in extreme poverty, and 2.6 billion lack clean drinking water and sanitation.

But our research conclusively showed that among this list, there are 19 incredibly powerful development targets. If USAID focuses more on the most effective targets, the public could be reassured that every dollar is achieving the most possible.

The reduction of childhood malnutrition does deserve funds. Evidence for Copenhagen Consensus showed that every dollar spent providing better nutrition for 68 million children would produce over $40 in long-term social benefits.

Malaria, too, deserves attention. A single case can be averted for as little as $11. We don’t just stop one persons suffering; we save a community from lost economic productivity. Our economists estimated that reducing the incidence of malaria by 50% would generate a 35-fold return in benefits to society.

Tuberculosis is a disease that has been overlooked and under-funded. Despite being the world’s biggest infectious killer, in 2015 it received just 3.4 per cent of development assistance for health. Reducing TB deaths by 90 per cent would result in 1.3 million fewer deaths. In economic terms, this would bring benefits worth $43 for every dollar spent.

Among the myriad of well-meaning environmental targets, our research shows that protecting coral reefs deserves prioritization. In addition to biodiversity benefits, healthy reefs increase fish stocks, benefitting fishermen and tourism.

Another transformative target would be universal access to contraception and family planning. At an annual cost of just $3.6 billion, allowing women control over pregnancy would mean 150,000 fewer maternal deaths and 600,000 fewer children being orphaned.

There are 19 such targets that deserve prioritization, because each dollar would do a lot to achieve a safer, healthier world – a result that leads to lasting benefits for the US.

If common belief were right and foreign aid really did swallow one-third of all federal resources, it may indeed make sense to focus more on American needs.

But in a world where a few dollars can do a world of difference, spending just one percent of the budget on aid seems a sensible investment.

When it comes to development, everyone’s goal should be the same. Rather than slashing funds for development, the United States should maintain its global leadership by focusing on the areas where every dollar achieves the most good.

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Finally, Argentina Has a Law on Access to Public Informationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/finally-argentina-law-access-public-information/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=finally-argentina-law-access-public-information http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/finally-argentina-law-access-public-information/#respond Thu, 28 Sep 2017 23:53:41 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152281 After 15 long years of public campaigns and debates in which different political, social and business sectors held marches and counter-protests, Argentina finally has a new law that guarantees access to public information. This step forward must now be reflected in reality, in this South American country where one of the main social demands is […]

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The director of the new Agency for Access to Public Information in Argentina, Eduardo Bertoni – a former IACHR special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression - presented his plans at the Aug. 17 public hearing where his appointment was discussed. Credit: Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers

The director of the new Agency for Access to Public Information in Argentina, Eduardo Bertoni – a former IACHR special rapporteur for Freedom of Expression - presented his plans at the Aug. 17 public hearing where his appointment was discussed. Credit: Chief of the Cabinet of Ministers

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 28 2017 (IPS)

After 15 long years of public campaigns and debates in which different political, social and business sectors held marches and counter-protests, Argentina finally has a new law that guarantees access to public information.

This step forward must now be reflected in reality, in this South American country where one of the main social demands is greater transparency on the part of the authorities.

The Law on the Right of Access to Public Information, which considers “all government-held information” to be public, was approved by Congress in September last year and enters into force Friday Sept. 29.

Eduardo Bertoni stressed the importance of the new law. He is the academic appointed by the government of President Mauricio Macri to lead the new Agency for Access to Public Information, which will operate within the executive branch, although “with operational autonomy,” according to the law.

“There are already 113 countries that have right of access to information laws and 90 countries have incorporated it into their constitutions,” Bertoni said during the public hearing where his appointment was discussed.

Bertoni, a lawyer with a great deal of experience regarding the right to information, served as Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (CIADH) between 2002 and 2005.

“We must now encourage society to demand more information from the authorities. And it is essential to push for better organisation of the public archives, because if we do not find the information people seek, we will fail,” he added.

The text is broad in terms of the list of institutions legally bound to respond to requests for access to information: besides the various branches of the state, it includes companies, political parties, trade unions, universities and any private entity to which public funds have been allocated, including public service concessionaires.

The Agency was created to ensure compliance with the law. Its functions include advising people who seek public information and assisting them with their request.

“This was clearly a pending issue for Argentina. It is incomprehensible that the governments of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and Cristina Fernández (2007-2015) did not push for approval of this law, which should be an incentive for provinces and municipalities to do the same, since very few have regulations on access to public information,” Guillermo Mastrini, an expert on this question, told IPS.

For Mastrini, a former director of Communication Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, “this does not change the worrying scenario with respect to the right to information, since the government is regulating by decree issues related to audiovisual communication services in a way that does not favor plurality and transparency.”

The bill was sent to Congress by the government a few months after Macri took office in December 2015, and passed with large majorities in both legislative chambers.

Until now, at the national level, there was only decree 1172, signed in 2003 by Kirchner with the aim of “improving the quality of democracy”, which was not only below the status of a law, but only covered the executive branch with regard to the obligation to provide information.

José Crettaz, a journalist and the coordinator of the Center for Studies on the Convergence of Communications, told IPS that “Néstor Kirchner’s decree, which applied to the executive branch, worked very well at first, but then public officials began to leave most requests for information unanswered.”

“Now we are seeing a huge step forward, since the law encompasses all branches of the state, and I see a government with a different attitude. The decisive thing will be how the law is implemented. The only valid criterion should be: if there is public money involved, it is public information,” he said.

The law was passed after dozens of bills on access to information were introduced in Congress in recent years. The first was presented under the government of Fernando de la Rua (1999-2001), with the support of a network of civil society organisations, but with little backing from journalists.

The initiative obtained preliminary approval from the lower house of Congress in 2003, passed to the Senate and then the main Argentine media outlets joined the public campaign demanding that it be approved. However, they later distanced themselves from the bill.

They did so, Bertoni recalled in a paper written in 2011 for the World Bank, when a senator warned that the media should also respond to requests for information submitted by any member of the public, as they receive state advertising, which is considered a subsidy.

In 2004, the Senate approved the bill, but with modifications that included private entities among the subjects obligated to provide information, and sent it back to the lower house, where it was shelved. Another bill was passed by the Senate in 2010, but it also failed to prosper.

Now one thing that stood out is that just two days before the law went into effect, the government modified it through a questioned channel: based on “a decree of necessity and urgency”, putting the new Agency in the orbit of the chief of the cabinet of ministers.

“The government thus gave a lower status to the Agency, which according to law was to depend directly on the Presidency of the Nation; the decision, moreover, cannot be taken by decree when Congress is in session,” said Damián Loreti, professor of Right to Information at the University of Buenos Aires.

“That the law is in force is good. But I am concerned about a number of things, such as not including among its objectives a guarantee for the exercise of other rights, such as housing or sexual and reproductive rights. The model law of the Organisation of American States was not followed,” he told IPS.

For Sebastián Lacunza, the last director of the Buenos Aires Herald, a well-respected English-language newspaper that closed this year, “in a country that does not have a culture of transparency, there is a risk that the law will fail.”

“This government promised a regeneration of the country’s institutions, but in some aspects it ended up aggravating the shortcomings of the previous administration, which was not prone to being open with information,” he told IPS.

In his view, “in a context of global crisis in the media industry and a shrinking of plurality of information, the most important thing is that there is an active state that combats the concentration of the media in a few hands.”

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Crisis in Cameroon Spurs Govt Crackdown on Presshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/crisis-cameroon-spurs-govt-crackdown-press/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=crisis-cameroon-spurs-govt-crackdown-press http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/crisis-cameroon-spurs-govt-crackdown-press/#respond Tue, 26 Sep 2017 12:22:02 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152241 “For too long we have been afraid to speak out against injustices and all sorts of atrocities happening in Cameroon, thinking it [the silence] will protect us. If I were to repeat what I have done on Canal 2 English [television], I will do it again. I now stand ready for any eventuality,” says Cameroonian […]

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Police block rioters in front of the Divisional Officers building in Kumba, Southwest Region, Cameroon, amid an ongoing political crisis in the country’s Anglophone region. Credit: Mbom Sixtus/IPS

By Mbom Sixtus
YAOUNDE, Sep 26 2017 (IPS)

“For too long we have been afraid to speak out against injustices and all sorts of atrocities happening in Cameroon, thinking it [the silence] will protect us. If I were to repeat what I have done on Canal 2 English [television], I will do it again. I now stand ready for any eventuality,” says Cameroonian journalist Elie Smith.

The outspoken journalist told IPS he was forced to resign from Cameroon’s leading private media house following intense pressure from government. The CEO of the station had suspended a talk show, Tough Talk, Smith co-hosted with Divine Ntaryike and Henry Kejang. He said Prime Minister Philemon Yang and Justice Minister Laurent Esso wanted him fired.Journalist Tim Finian Njua was brutally attacked and taken away by unknown men in Bamenda. He only realised they were security officers when he was brought to Yaounde.

The trio were accused of being too critical of government, especially during reporting and analysis of an ongoing 11-month-long protest in English-speaking Cameroon. Protesters had adopted civil disobedience as their trump card, keeping schools and courts in the region closed since Nov. 21, 2016.

Smith, who had refused to travel from the financial capital, the port city of Douala, to Yaounde, the country’s political capital, to apologise to the prime minister for being too critical of government, was later told to stick to a program called World Views and refrain from any discussion of domestic politics.

“On Sep. 4 when schools were expected to resume in Cameroon, protests marred the resumption in English-speaking Cameroon. Yet, the CEO asked me to lie on air that resumption was effective in order to please government. I refused. That is when we both realised we can no longer work together,” he told IPS.

Despite losing his job, Smith is among the few journalists who have avoided prison in a government clampdown on reporters since the crisis erupted in English-speaking Cameroon. Others have been jailed and tortured, while some are currently in exile. For the most part, security forces target English-speaking journalists whom government accuses of supporting or sympathising with “terrorists”.

Journalists or terrorists?

Cameroon was first colonised by the Germans in 1884. After the defeat of Germany in World War I, France and Britain shared the territory under a mandate from the League of Nations, with Britain keeping one-fifth of it.  A federation of two states with equal status was declared in 1961, but was abolished in 1972 following a referendum – its conduct remains contested to this day.

Citizens of the former trust territory of British Southern Cameroons who have over the years, complained of marginalisation and lack of control over their assets, rose up in October 2016 in two ranks- some demanding a return to federation while others demand total independence. Both camps however agree on the same complaints; insignificant placements of English-speaking Cameroonians in administration, and inequality which they say led to impoverishment of their region and its population and subjugation of their educational and cultural heritage. At least 13 people have been shot dead since the crisis erupted.

A controversial law on the suppression of acts of terrorism in Cameroon enacted in December 2014 is being used to try citizens arrested in relation to the protests. Journalists arrested for reporting on the crisis are equally tried at the military tribunal under the same law which forbids public meetings, street protests or any action that the government deems to be disturbing the peace.

Tim Finian Njua, one of eight journalists arrested in relation to the ongoing crisis, says he is finding it difficult readjusting after spending over six months in jail. The editor of Life Time newspaper, Njua was freed from the Kondengui Prison in Yaounde alongside Atia Tilarious and two other journalists, and close to 50 protesters, following a presidential clemency in August.

Njua told IPS he was brutally attacked and taken away by unknown men in Bamenda. He only realised they were security officers when he was brought to Yaounde. “They said our newspaper reported an incident that may provoke or aggravate rebellion. I was charged with acts of terrorism, insurrection, secession and propagation of false information.”

Atia Tilarious, who had earlier been arrested and released for hosting a TV debate on the uprising, had gone to Kondengui after his first arrest, this time in the company of Amos Fofung, a reporter for The Guardian Post newspaper.

Fofung told IPS “I was let out of prison six months later. I was told the state attorney sent apologies for keeping me in jail without charge or evidence. I walked out and later travelled back to Buea. It made me bolder. I am still objective in my reporting.”

Meanwhile Fonjah Hanson Muki, proprietor of Cameroon Report, was arrested alongside five of his staff in the town of Bamenda, which is regarded as the epicentre of the uprising. They were accused by a military tribunal of propagatng false information. They were also accused of receiving money from secessionists abroad to push a separatist agenda through their reporting. The last of them, arrested on July 25, was released on Sept. 18. The media owner was ordered never to report on the ongoing crisis.

Skewed regulator

Before the clampdown on journalists reporting the crisis, the national communication council had issued a warning to journalists in the country, tacitly outlawing all media debates on the return to federation. Though the council’s decision preceded a speech by President Paul Biya making the topic taboo, French-language media organs continued the debate, while English-language tabloids piped down.

“You know we are not the same. There are things Le Messager or Le Jour can report and go free but The Guardian Post or The Sun will be sanctioned for doing same. The public does not understand, that is why you find citizens criticising us on social media, saying we are chicken-hearted,” a newspaper publisher who asked for anonymity told IPS.

The council has been criticised for siding with state officials and influential citizens. It meted out sanctions on Sep. 22, suspending some 20 media organs, publishers and journalists for periods ranging from one to six months. Most of the decisions were verdicts on complaints filed by government officials like the Minister of Forestry and influential citizens like Cameroonian football star and billionaire, Samuel Eto’o Fils.

Ten-year jail sentence for reporting on terrorism

Ahmed Aba, Cameroon correspondent for the Hausa service of the French international radio, RFI, is currently serving a ten-year jail term. He was found guilty of “laundering of proceeds of terrorism” and “non-denunciation of terrorism” by the military tribunal in Yaounde.

The verdict, handed down this year after two years of pre-trial detention, was appealed by his lawyer, Clement Nakong. Aba told IPS at the prison yard in Yaounde that he is innocent and hopes to be set free after the appeal. He said he was accused of working for the Nigeria-based Boko Haram terror group.

But the outcome of an appeal is uncertain as a government spokesman bluntly declared at a press conference that RFI supports terrorists. The appeal hearing was expected to begin among others in mid-August this year, but Aba’s name was taken off the list.

International and local institutions and activists have been advocating for his release. He was recently named one of the winners of the 2017 International Press Freedom Award by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Another journalist, Gubai Gatama, was placed under investigation and interrogated at the police headquarters for reporting on Boko Haram.

“Cameroon is clearly using anti-state legislation to silence criticism in the press,” said CPJ Africa Program Director Angela Quintal in a statement. “When you equate journalism with terrorism, you create an environment where fewer journalists are willing to report on hard news for fear of reprisal. Cameroon must amend its laws and stop subjecting journalists–who are civilians–to military trial.”

On Sep. 20, CPJ issued a report, written by Quintal, warning that in addition to detaining journalists, authorities have banned news outlets deemed sympathetic to the Anglophone protesters, shut down internet in regions experiencing unrest, and prevented outside observers, including CPJ, from accessing the country by delaying the visa process.

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Indigenous Land Conflicts Finally Garner Attention in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/indigenous-land-conflicts-finally-garner-attention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-land-conflicts-finally-garner-attention http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/indigenous-land-conflicts-finally-garner-attention/#respond Fri, 22 Sep 2017 16:36:36 +0000 Daniel Gutman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152204 The territorial claims of hundreds of indigenous communities, which extend throughout most of Argentina’s vast geography, burst onto the public agenda of a country built by and for descendants of European colonisers and immigrants, accustomed to looking at native people as outsiders. It all started with the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, a 28-year-old artisan who […]

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An indigenous demonstration in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán, demanding justice for the murder of Javier Chocobar, leader of a Diaguita indigenous community that is fighting against the exploitation of a quarry in northern Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of ANDHES

An indigenous demonstration in the city of San Miguel de Tucumán, demanding justice for the murder of Javier Chocobar, leader of a Diaguita indigenous community that is fighting against the exploitation of a quarry in northern Argentina. Credit: Courtesy of ANDHES

By Daniel Gutman
BUENOS AIRES, Sep 22 2017 (IPS)

The territorial claims of hundreds of indigenous communities, which extend throughout most of Argentina’s vast geography, burst onto the public agenda of a country built by and for descendants of European colonisers and immigrants, accustomed to looking at native people as outsiders.

It all started with the disappearance of Santiago Maldonado, a 28-year-old artisan who on Aug. 1 participated in a protest in the southern Patagonian province of Chubut by Mapuche indigenous people, who were violently evicted by security forces. Since then, there has been no news of his whereabouts.

This mobilised broad sectors of society, and brought out of the shadows a conflict that in recent years has flared up into violence on many occasions, but which historically has been given little attention.

“I hope the sad incident involving Santiago Maldonado will help Argentina understand that it is necessary and possible to find legal and political solutions for theindigenous question,” said Gabriel Seghezzo, director of the Foundation for Development in Justice and Peace (Fundapaz) .

“It is imperative to work to defuse conflicts, because otherwise, the violence will continue,” added the head of Fundapaz, anorganisation that works to improve the living conditions of communities living in the Argentine portion of the Chaco, a vast subtropical forest that extends to Paraguay and Bolivia.

Fundapaz was one of the organisations that worked for more than 20 years on a territorial claim of rural lands in the northwestern province of Salta, which ended in 2014, when the local government transferred ownership of 643,000 hectares to the families that lived there.

Communal ownership of over 400,000 hectares was recognised for members of the Wichi, Toba, Tapiete, Chulupí and Chorote indigenous peoples, while the rest was granted in joint ownership to 463 non-indigenous peasant families.

The case, however, was merely one happy exception, since the vast majority of the country’s indigenous communities still do not have title to their lands.

Ten years ago, the government launched the National Programme for the Survey of Indigenous Territories, in which 1,532 communities were registered. To date, only 423 of them have been surveyed, although they do not yet have title deeds, while there are another 401 in process.

According to the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INAI), these 824 communities are demanding that 8,414,124 hectares be recognised as their ancestral lands. That is bigger than several countries in the continent, such as Panama or Costa Rica, but it is only about three percent of the 2,780,400 square km of the Argentine territory.

In the remaining communities, the survey has not even started.

This means the constitution, which recognises “the ethnic and cultural pre-existence of indigenous peoples” and guarantees not only “respect for their identity and the right to a bilingual and intercultural education”, but also “the communal possession and ownership of the lands they traditionally occupy,” is not being fulfilled.

These principles were incorporated in the constitution during the latest reform, in 1994, and marked a tremendous paradigm shift for a nation that has historically seen native people as an alien element, to be controlled.

"Where is he?" That is the question repeated on numerous posters on walls in Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina regarding the Aug. 1 of Santiago Maldonado during a demonstration in the southern region of Patagonia. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

“Where is he?” That is the question repeated on numerous posters on walls in Buenos Aires and other cities in Argentina regarding the Aug. 1 of Santiago Maldonado during a demonstration in the southern region of Patagonia. Credit: Daniel Gutman/IPS

In fact, up to 1994, Argentina’s laws actually instructed the authorities to “preserve the peaceful treatment of Indians and promote their conversion to Catholicism.”

However, the extraordinary progress on paper seems to have brought few concrete improvements for native people, whose proportion in the Argentine population is difficult to establish.

In the last National Census in 2010, 955,032 people identified themselves as belonging to or descended from an indigenous group, which represented 2.38 percent of the total population at that time of 40,117,096.

But the number of indigenous people is believed to be higher, since many people are reluctant to acknowledge indigenous roots, due to the historical discrimination and stigma that native people have suffered. The largest indigenous groups are the Mapuche in the south, the Tobas in the Chaco region, and the Guarani in the northeast.

“Since the constitutional reform that recognised indigenous peoples’ rights, we have had 23 years of absolute failure of public policies to solve the indigenous question. There has been a terrible postponement of the issue by all government administrations in this period,” said Raúl Ferreyra, a professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Buenos Aires.

For Ferreyra, “land disputes have clear roots in the uncontrolled advance of soy monoculture in the north of the country, and the passage to foreign hands of vast swathes of land in the south.”

“What we need is dialogue, but there is a lack of will and of tools,” he told IPS.

What happened with the land question is a good example of the gap between rules and reality.

In November 2006, the national Congress passed Law 26,160 on Indigenous Communities, which declared an “emergency with regard to the possession and ownership of indigenous territories” for four years.

During that period, which was to be used to determine which are the ancestral lands of the communities, as a preliminary step to the granting of title deeds, evictions were banned, even if a court order existed.

However, little progress was made on the survey, despite the fact that Congress voted for an extension of the original term of four years twice, for a total of 11 years.

The latest extension expires in November and dozens of social organisations across the country have called for its renewal until 2021, while Congress will begin debating the fate of the law on Sept. 27.

The demand was backed by hundreds of intellectuals, in a public letter in which they pointed out that “in Argentina, the recognition of indigenous peoples’ collective rights over their ancestral territories is increasingly irreconcilable with the expansion of profitable lands for capital.”

According to a study by global rights watchdog Amnesty International, there are 225 conflicts in the country involving indigenous communities, nearly all of them over land.

In 24 of them there were acts of violence with the intervention of the security forces, and even deaths. One case was the 2009 murder of Javier Chocobar, the leader of a Diaguitacommunityin the northwestern province of Tucumán, which is still unsolved.

“In all these years, many judges have continued to order evictions of indigenous communities despite the law prohibiting it. That is why we believe that if the emergency is not extended, the situation will get worse, “explained BelénLeguizamón, coordinator of the Indigenous Rights area of the Lawyers Association for Human Rights and Social Studies in Northwest Argentina (ANDHES).

In her view, “the law is an umbrella with holes, but an umbrella nonetheless.”

“The survey of Argentina’s indigenous territories should already have been completed, and today we should be studying the granting of title deeds on lands. We have to work against the strong discrimination that not only exists on the part of authorities and the mainstream media, but also among some sectors of society,” Leguizamón told IPS.

As an example, she noted that “schools in Argentina still teach that indigenous people belong to a past that no longer exists.”

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Parliamentarians a “Fourth Pillar” of Sustainable Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/parliamentarians-fourth-pillar-sustainable-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=parliamentarians-fourth-pillar-sustainable-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/09/parliamentarians-fourth-pillar-sustainable-development/#respond Fri, 22 Sep 2017 11:56:11 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=152201 Investing in youth and the population dividend, women’s health, sustainable development objectives, and the key role of parliamentarians to promote transparency, accountability and good governance to achieve the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development topped the agenda of a two-day conference of Asian and African lawmakers in New Delhi last week. Of course, these are not […]

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In spite of the rising number of women entering the labour force in Bangladesh, gender disparities persist. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

In spite of the rising number of women entering the labour force in Bangladesh, gender disparities persist. Credit: Obaidul Arif/IPS

By Baher Kamal
ROME/NEW DELHI, Sep 22 2017 (IPS)

Investing in youth and the population dividend, women’s health, sustainable development objectives, and the key role of parliamentarians to promote transparency, accountability and good governance to achieve the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development topped the agenda of a two-day conference of Asian and African lawmakers in New Delhi last week.

Of course, these are not easy challenges. But according to the discussions of a representative group of around 50 legislators and experts from the two most populous continents, parliamentarians – as representatives of the stakeholders themselves – must be the “fourth pillar” to promote the 2030 Agenda, along with government, private enterprises, and civil society."If our countries can work together, our distinctive attributes can make a meaningful contribution to achieving sustainable development.” --Teruhiko Mashiko, Vice-Chair of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population

“It is not just simply a question of adopting particular legislation and budgetary measures,” said Teruhiko Mashiko, Vice-Chair of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population (JPFP), in his keynote speech.

“Equally vital will be possession of an overarching vision and the conduct of oversight to ensure that the work is being implemented properly. Promoting the global partnerships that have been discussed to date will also be crucial. That is precisely the role that parliamentarians in every country are to fulfill. It is furthermore a role to be fulfilled by parliamentarians both within regions, and between regions.

“Given the law and tax system reforms that will be needed if we are to achieve the SDGs, parliamentarians will have an extremely big role to play,” Mashiko stressed.

Jointly organised by the Japan-based Asian Population and Development Association (APDA) — which is the Secretariat of the JPFP — and the Indian Association of Parliamentarians on Population and Development (IAPPD), the conference approached what has been considered as the key challenge: the linkage between population issues, in particular youth, and the global sustainable development agenda, also known as the SDGs.

Youth

No wonder — while youth in the African continent of 1.2 billion inhabitants face extremely high rates of unemployment, in Asia and the Pacific, nearly 40 million youth – 12 per cent of the youth labour force – were unemployed in 2015. That year, for example, the youth unemployment rate was estimated at around 12.9 per cent in South-East Asia and the Pacific, 11.7 per cent in East Asia and 10.7 per cent in South Asia.

However, despite these apparently moderate youth unemployment rates, young people remain nearly four times more likely to be unemployed than their adult counterparts, and as much as 5.4 times in South-East Asia (over four times in Southern Asia).

This region also faces a big gender gap. In South Asia, low female participation (19.9 per cent) is estimated to be nearly 40 percentage points lower than among youth males (53 per cent). And this gender gap in labour force participation rates has been widening over the last decade in South Asia.

“Building societies where every person can live with dignity - this is the essential principle of our parliamentarians’ activities,” Mashiko said.

“One of the principles of the SDGs is that ‘no-one is left behind’. From that perspective, ensuring equality of opportunity to young people, despite their differences in birth and wealth, has a definite meaning. So to that end, ensuring education and employment opportunities ought to be treated as priority issues.”

Population Growth

Growing populations across the world are the biggest hurdle in the path of equitable development, said India’s Union Minister of Minority Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, adding that in order to achieve the SDGs, it is of “utmost importance” for all the countries to take care of their populations.

He stressed that there is a need for large-scale awareness on population issues, and that increasing population has created problems around the entire world regarding sustainable development, employment opportunities and health services.

Ena Singh, the India Representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), said that his country, India, has registered a rapid decline in fertility rates since its Independence and that currently the average fertility rate is 2.2 children, with the challenge now to bring down the total fertility rate to 2.1.

For her part, Marie Rose Nguini Effa, MP from Cameroon and President of the Africa Parliamentary Forum on Population Development, emphasised the Forum’s readiness to work with APDA to promote investment in youth, “which is critical to Africa’s development and the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.”

The Inter-Linkage

New Delhi’s meeting is the latest of a series of dedicated Parliamentarian conferences focusing on the inter-linkages between population issues and the 2030 Agenda, examining ways in which both developed and developing countries as equal partners serve to be the driving force to address population issues and achieve sustainable development.

According to the meetings of Parliamentarians organisers, the fundamental underlying concept is that addressing population issues is imperative to attain universal health coverage (UHC), turning the youth bulge into a demographic dividend, achieving food security, promoting regional stability, and building economically viable societies where no one is left behind.

Bigger than the Whole African Population

“India is the world’s largest democracy and home to 1.3 billion people, which is bigger than the whole African population. Being a highly diverse country with a multitude of cultures, languages and ethnicities, India now enjoys one of the fastest economic growth rates,” according to the organisers.

The country’s serious investment in young people is the driving force behind such growth; the pool of well-educated, skilled young people is making the country an IT capital, they said, adding that the Indian economy also has a great influence on the African continent, especially East Africa, due to long-standing historical, cultural and commercial connections between them.

“Furthermore, with its longstanding history of democracy, the power and role of the Parliament of India is well-established and fully exercised, and its democratic system has contributed to promoting unity of diversity and national development.”

Given that addressing population issues calls for an approach to help people to make free and informed RH choices, parliamentarians as representatives of the people have a crucial role to play in this regard as well, they conclude.

The Arab, Asian Youth Bulge

Lawmakers from the Asia and Arab region had gathered last July at a meeting in Amman under the theme “From Youth Bulge to Demographic Dividend: Toward Regional Development and Achievement of the SDGs.”.

Organised by the Asian Population and Development Association and the Secretariat of the Japan Parliamentarians Federation for Population, the Asian and Arab Parliamentarians meeting and Study Visit on Population and Development convened on 18-20 July in the Jordanian capital to analyse these challenges and how to address them.

Since its establishment, APDA has been holding an annual Asian Parliamentarians’ Meeting on Population and Development to promote understanding and increase awareness of population and development issues among Japanese, Asian, and Pacific parliamentarians.

APDA sends Japanese and Asian parliamentarians overseas to observe projects conducted by the United Nations Population Fund, International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Japanese Government.

Similarly, parliamentarians from selected countries are invited to Japan to visit facilities in areas such as population and development, health and medical care.

Through exchanges between lawmakers from Japan and other countries, the programme aims to strengthen cooperation and promote parliamentarians’ engagement in the field of population and development.

“Japan is embracing its aging society, where individuals in every age group are finding uses for their particular skills and attributes, and is planning to build a vibrant society which makes the maximum use of what its older citizens can offer and helping to achieve sustainable development, which is what humanity should be striving for,” Mashiko concluded.

“This may possibly apply equally everywhere throughout the world. Given their population structure and social systems, the situation in the countries from Africa, the Arab world and Asia represented at this conference will be very, very different. However, the very presence of such differences means that if our countries can work together, our distinctive attributes can make a meaningful contribution to achieving sustainable development.”

*With inputs by an IPS correspondent in India.

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