Inter Press ServiceDemocracy – Inter Press Service http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 21 Sep 2018 15:51:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.7 Crisis Drives Nicaragua to an Economic and Social Precipicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/crisis-drives-nicaragua-economic-social-precipice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=crisis-drives-nicaragua-economic-social-precipice http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/crisis-drives-nicaragua-economic-social-precipice/#respond Mon, 17 Sep 2018 18:07:02 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157649 Five months after the outbreak of mass protests in Nicaragua, in addition to the more than 300 deaths, the crisis has had visible consequences in terms of increased poverty and migration, as well as the international isolation of the government and a wave of repression that continues unabated. Álvaro Leiva, director of the non-governmental Nicaraguan […]

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“In Two Years, Duterte Has Crushed All the Progress We’ve Made”http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/two-years-duterte-crushed-progress-weve-made/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=two-years-duterte-crushed-progress-weve-made http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/09/two-years-duterte-crushed-progress-weve-made/#comments Wed, 05 Sep 2018 10:38:22 +0000 Ivar Andersen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157461 The Philippines has been ranked one of the world’s ten worst countries for workers’ rights. Arbetet Global reports from a country which labour union activists brand as fascist.

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Excerpt:

The Philippines has been ranked one of the world’s ten worst countries for workers’ rights. Arbetet Global reports from a country which labour union activists brand as fascist.

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Amid Chronic Violence, Millions of Afghans Face Risks of Drought Related Displacementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/amid-chronic-violence-millions-afghans-face-risks-drought-related-displacement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=amid-chronic-violence-millions-afghans-face-risks-drought-related-displacement http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/amid-chronic-violence-millions-afghans-face-risks-drought-related-displacement/#respond Thu, 30 Aug 2018 16:07:12 +0000 Enayatullah Azad http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157410 Enayatullah Azad is Media, Information & Advocacy Coordinator, Norwegian Refugee Council

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Drought-affected IDP children from Badghis in front of their makeshift shelter in Kahdestan area or Injil district. Credit: NRC/Enayatullah Azad.

By Enayatullah Azad
HERAT, Afghanistan, Aug 30 2018 (IPS)

Amid a precarious security situation in Afghanistan, the worst drought in recent history, that hit two out of three provinces in Afghanistan in July, has destabilized the lives of tens of thousands of civilians, some of whom have already been displaced.

The United Nations has predicted that over two million people are expected to become severely food insecure in the coming period.

The West Region of conflict-stricken Afghanistan has been hardest hit by the drought, and over 60,000 people have been displaced to Herat and Badghis provinces, as a result.

Families that fled to Herat are living in dire conditions in makeshift shelters, where they are exposed to the scorching sun and summer temperatures of over 40 degrees Celsius. Many families are subsisting on a single meal a day. Many get by on just bread and water.

Herat has become the closest refuge for about 60,000 people, who have been displaced from their homes due to the drought. Conflict has also prompted many to flee their homes to the relative safety of province.

Over 1700 civilians were killed in Afghanistan during the first half of 2018, according to UNAMA. It is the highest recorded number, compared to the same periods for the past decade. The combination of drought and conflict has made tens of thousands of families destitute. They live with few long term prospects or means of regaining stability.

Among the most vulnerable are women and children. Many of the children show visible signs of malnutrition and illness, including skin diseases and eye infections due to dust and the hot weather.

Ayesha Halima is one of thousands of such children, who fled her home for Herat.  Leaning against the wall of a distribution center, she patiently awaits her next meal, as he mother moves through the growing crowd to get their rationed supplies.

 

Halima at the NRC’s cash for food distribution center in Herat.
Credit: NRC/Enayatullah Azad

 

The lack of sufficient nutrition is visible in the pallid faces of children like Soraya Hawa Gul and FatimaPari Gul, who have become neighbors in Herat. They bake bread together in a clay oven in the open air. The mothers make about ten loaves of bread a day, which they wash down with boiled water or tea.

“We cook together because we share a bag of flour,” said Hawa Gul. “Neither of us could afford a bag of flour alone. We have spent all the money we had and have taken many loans from relatives.”

Given such meagre resources, the unconditional cash grants from ECHO and NRC have become life lines for tens of thousands of the impoverished households. Despite the rapidly deployed assistance, drinking water, food and medical supplies are falling short.

Over 1700 civilians were killed in Afghanistan during the first half of 2018, according to UNAMA. It is the highest recorded number, compared to the same periods for the past decade. The combination of drought and conflict has made tens of thousands of families destitute. They live with few long term prospects or means of regaining stability.

The blazing temperatures are testing the endurance of those who are in the IDP settlements. Many people are suffering from dehydration, with children and older IDPs particularly susceptible. With few water resources around, drinking water is a prized commodity in the settlements.

“We can’t get enough water to drink or to clean ourselves and our clothes,” displaced Afghans in Herat told staff of the Norwegian Refugee Council.  “There hasn’t been any change to our life situation. We fled our homes because there was no water and it is the same here. At least we a had shelter back home in Badghis.”

With illnesses such as diarrhea, skin diseases and eye infections on the rise, many children are in need of comprehensive medical care. One-year-old Ahmad Mohammed has diarrhea, and a skin and eye infection. He lives in a makeshift shelter with his family after they were forced to leave their home in Badghis city/region/province. “It’s been 70 nights since we arrived. My children and my wife are all sick, and I don’t have the money to buy them enough food or medicine,” Mohammed’s father Ziauddin told NRC.

Shelter is another pressing issue, with families residing in makeshift shelters for the time being. While protection from the scorching sun and the high summer temperatures are the present concern, staying warm and winterisation of homes will become a need, if they remain displaced into the winter months.

But, despite the challenges, women like 57 year old Khanim Gul, who have been displaced several times, show remarkable resilience. Gul was forced to leave her family behind in Badghis. “This isn’t the first year we are suffering from drought. Last year we had almost nothing on the table. This is the fifth tent that I am setting up – the heavy wind keeps tearing it apart,” she said.

Amid the struggles of daily survival, protection has been scant, with women and girls facing heightened risks of harassment and gender-based violence. In the absence of regular schooling and safe spaces where they can grow, learn and play, children are more prone to child labour and child marriage.

Amid scarce resources and lack of livelihood opportunities, including daily labour, many of the displaced men in Herat, try to travel to Iran in search of work.

With regular wages a far fetched notion for most of the displaced populations, Karim is counting his blessings these days. With loans from family members, he has set up a vegetable stall and sell onions and potatoes to the rest of the displaced community near his tent in Herat.

 

Karim selling onions and potatoes near his tent in Kahdestan. Credit: : NRC/Enayatullah Azad.

 

For thousands of families displaced from Herat the few items they carried on their backs are the only remnants of their homes. For many, this is not the first instance of leaving their homes and belongings because of drought.

While news of peace talks and bombings in Afghanistan make the headlines, the IDP communities suffering chronic, long term displacement feel “forgotten” by their government and the international community. They are in desperate need of long term assistance.

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Excerpt:

Enayatullah Azad is Media, Information & Advocacy Coordinator, Norwegian Refugee Council

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Lee, Journalist Banned from UN for Misconduct, Plans to Fight Backhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/lee-journalist-banned-un-misconduct-plans-fight-back/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lee-journalist-banned-un-misconduct-plans-fight-back http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/lee-journalist-banned-un-misconduct-plans-fight-back/#respond Fri, 24 Aug 2018 14:14:33 +0000 Carmen Arroyo and Emily Thampoe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157339 The United Nation’s Department of Public Information (DPI) last week withdrew UN press credentials from Matthew Lee, a longstanding journalist who reported for his blog, Inner City Press (ICP). Although UN officials have argued that the reason for the withdrawal was his lack of adherence to guidelines every reporter has to follow for UN coverage, […]

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Journalists covering the arrival of delegations to address the General Assembly’s seventy-second general debate. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas - Matthew Lee, Journalist Banned from UN for Misconduct, Plans to Fight Back

Journalists covering the arrival of delegations to address the General Assembly’s seventy-second general debate. UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Carmen Arroyo and Emily Thampoe
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 24 2018 (IPS)

The United Nation’s Department of Public Information (DPI) last week withdrew UN press credentials from Matthew Lee, a longstanding journalist who reported for his blog, Inner City Press (ICP).

Although UN officials have argued that the reason for the withdrawal was his lack of adherence to guidelines every reporter has to follow for UN coverage, Lee’s accreditation predicament is not as straightforward as it may seem.

Throughout a running battle leading to his ban, he has argued he did not have the opportunity to be heard.  “This is a new low for the UN: no due process for journalists, no freedom of the press,” he told IPS.

Lee is perhaps only the third journalist to be banned from the UN, the other two being barred in the 1970s, one of them for harassing colleagues, and the other losing his credentials when Taiwan lost its UN membership to the People’s Republic of China in 1971, according to a veteran UN correspondent who has been covering the world body for over four decades.

Since his beginnings as a UN correspondent over 10 years ago, Lee has been known for asking thought-provoking questions during daily briefings and at press stakeouts. He has reported on global conflicts such as those in Sri Lanka, Congo, Somalia, and others, as well as news coverage within the UN.

For many people who worked within the UN framework, and even those who were simply fascinated by the unfolding events in the world body, Lee’s blog posts have been well-read and well-received, for the most part.

However, the incidents with Lee started back in 2012, when he was warned by the DPI to treat his fellow journalists with respect. At that time, nothing was done to affect his access to meetings and to his physical presence in the UN premises.

"Even if Lee was technically in violation of the UN's rules for non-resident correspondents, there was no reason for UN security guards to grab him and forcibly escort him out of the building, ripping his shirt in the process. It is never appropriate for security guards to use force against journalists."

Two years ago, things changed: he was in an interpreter’s booth recording a closed-door meeting of UN correspondents, without their consent. Then, DPI’s Media and Liaison Unit (MALU) made the decision to downgrade his accreditation from “resident correspondent” to “non-resident correspondent”, which means he was deprived of his own office space, barred from going to the UN on weekends and prevented from staying late hours and restricted from some areas in the building.

Although Lee believes this was “bogus reason” for the treatment he received, Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary General, told IPS: “Matthew has come up with his own version on his website. But in that case I know to be true what I saw with my eyes”.

Despite the downgrading of his credentials, Lee continued reporting and asking abrasive questions during the noon press briefings.

Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary General, along with the UN officer that had to deal with Lee’s questioning, has constantly repeated that they had no problem with his reporting, but with his behavior. It seemed that the change in his accreditation pass had no effect. “After that, the problems with his behavior did not subside”, said Haq.

On June 22nd, Lee had to be removed from the UN premises as he stayed long after his accreditation permitted him, and on July 3rd, he was similarly found long after 9 pm within a restricted area of the complex. UN Security removed him from the premises, but he apparently resisted.

According to Lee, that was an invalid reason, since he can cover specific meetings past 7 pm but UN representatives insist this situation was in breach of the UN press guidelines. UN Security grabbed Lee, who resisted, escorted him forcefully to the exit, ripping his shirt in the process. Lee also claims his laptop was damaged and his arm twisted by a UN security officer.

After that incident, his press accreditation was put under review and he was temporarily banned from UN headquarters. Many sympathized with him.

Peter Sterne, senior reporter at Freedom of the Press Foundation and managing editor of the US Press Freedom Tracker, told IPS: “Even if Lee was technically in violation of the UN’s rules for non-resident correspondents, there was no reason for UN security guards to grab him and forcibly escort him out of the building, ripping his shirt in the process. It is never appropriate for security guards to use force against journalists.”

Since that day, Lee has defiantly continued working outside the UN premises, with interviews being conducted in the sidewalks, with delegates and other officials on their way in or out of the building.

He also sends emails on a daily basis to the Office of the Spokesperson. His questions include policy matters, his suspension, and other issues.

On August 17, his press accreditation was permanently withdrawn, banning him from UN premises, and detailed in a four-page letter sent by Alison Smale, Under Secretary General for Global Communications.

Smale explained the reasons behind Lee’s pass withdrawal.

Four mis-behaviours stood out: staying inside the complex past the hours he was allowed to, going to areas he was not supposed to be in, questionable behavior towards delegates and fellow journalists, “including videos/live broadcasts using profanities and derogatory assertions towards them without due regard to their dignity, privacy and integrity”.

In an interview with IPS, Haq said: “Of course, we respect his press rights, but we also want to respect other’s press rights. And some journalists feel their press rights have been impeded by his actions.”

At the noon press briefing on August 20, in the latest development in the ongoing saga, Dujarric was asked about Lee’s expulsion.

“Mr. Lee’s accreditation was — as a correspondent here – was revoked due to repeated incidents having to do with behaviour, with violation – violating the rules that all of you sign on to and accept when you receive your accreditation, rules that are, by far, self-policing.  We trust journalists to respect the rules.  The rules are clear, and they’re transparent.”

He added: “The removal of his accreditation had nothing to do with the content of his writing. The allegations include recording people without their consent, being found in the garage ramp late at night, using abusive and derogatory language towards people.”

On the same day, Lee shared with IPS his thoughts over Dujarric’s responses: “What he said today in the briefing makes it clear how little a case the UN has – I was in a garage? When? If so, my non resident correspondent pass worked to get there. ”

However, Haq told IPS: “The fact is that what we’ve been able to see is that he has a track record of different types of behavior that impede the activities of other journalists and members of member states, and he has created difficulties with security”.

He went on by stating: “I know for a fact that he has his own version of these events, but we have security records and cameras that do not coincide with his version of events”.

But Lee believes there is a conspiracy from the top of the United Nations to keep him silent: “They dug up everything they could, a real hit job, which I’m told comes right from the top: Guterres, who didn’t like my questions and writing that he was weak on the killings in Cameroon because he needed or wanted the support of the chair of the UN budget committee, Cameroon’s ambassador Tommo Monthe.”

Accusing the UN of conspiring against him, Lee said: “I am not going to allow Antonio Guterres, Alison Smale and Dujarric to prevent me from covering the UN. This is a shameful period for the UN, and I don’t intend to stop”, he claimed.

“I think large institutions like the UN need to be held accountable, including by journalists who daily ask them questions using information from those impacted (and sometimes injured) by the institutions.”

He added:  “This explains the approach I take with my reporting and I think it is appropriate and needed and that the UN has no right to try to hinder or prevent it.”

Meanwhile, in an interview with IPS, a veteran journalist in the UN press corps, speaking on condition of anonymity, said:  “Coverage of the United Nations is very important for the peoples of the world and the organization must facilitate journalists to do their job. After all, the UN is a tax-payer funded organization and its activities should be open and transparent.”

“But some rules have been devised, in consultations with the United Nations Correspondents’ Association (UNCA), the representative body of journalists, for orderly coverage of events.”

It is important to note, he said, that Lee is not a member of UNCA, and he has consistently criticized it. The veteran journalist went on: “There are do’s and don’ts for correspondents — for instance, journalists trying to get into closed-door or restricted meetings will be stopped. The elected president of UNCA will always put the first question at press conferences/news briefings. Journalists should not make statements, just ask questions, etc.”

Lee has not been the first journalist to be denied press accreditation, he pointed out. On the contrary, there have been more than two previous cases.

The veteran correspondent recalled that in the late 1970s, a journalist called Judy Joy sued UNCA for alleged irregularities in handling its funds. After a long and arduous process, UNCA was cleared of any mishandling but the association was left bankrupt due to lawyer fees.

Joy was not satisfied, and she said that the then UNCA president had threatened her for going to court, so the police picked up the president from his apartment early in the morning. But the case was proved bogus, as the president completely denied talking with Joy and she lacked any evidence. After that, the UN correspondents asked the UN to expel her to prevent her from further harassing her fellow journalists.

Another case he recalls was a political one: “After China’s entry to the UN in 1971, Beijing demanded the expulsion of Taiwan’s correspondent at the UN as its push for recognition of its goal of one China. Some western journalist protested, but the UN couldn’t do anything as it was also the demand of majority of member states.”

Other UN sources have mentioned another case during their time at the headquarters, in which a reporter’s accreditation was withdrawn for misbehaviors.

Nevertheless, Lee’s questions, directed to the Spokesperson’s Office, have been answered via email since he was expelled from the complex.

Haq explained: ““He sends us questions by email and we try to get them answered as best as we can. And we’ll keep doing that regardless where he is.”

However, Lee insisted: “Today’s UN is so corrupt they just look for a pretext to throw a critical journalist out. For life.”

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Q&A: Comoros Power Grab Rejected by Opposition, Amid Pleas for International Interventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/qa-comoros-power-grab-rejected-opposition-amid-pleas-international-intervention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-comoros-power-grab-rejected-opposition-amid-pleas-international-intervention http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/qa-comoros-power-grab-rejected-opposition-amid-pleas-international-intervention/#respond Thu, 23 Aug 2018 12:16:36 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157326 President Azali Assoumani of the Comoros Islands is tightening his grip on power. First, he insisted on holding a referendum allowing him to extend his term of office and abolish the country’s constitutional court. Which he won. And now, the lawyer of former President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi has said that his client has been charged […]

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Former Comoros president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi has been charged with corruption and the misappropriation of public funds in a passport fraud. He has been under house arrest by current president Azali Assoumani for the last three months. Courtesy: Abubakar Aboud

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Aug 23 2018 (IPS)

President Azali Assoumani of the Comoros Islands is tightening his grip on power. First, he insisted on holding a referendum allowing him to extend his term of office and abolish the country’s constitutional court. Which he won. And now, the lawyer of former President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi has said that his client has been charged Tuesday with corruption and the misappropriation of public funds in a passport fraud.

This July, Assoumani held a referendum in the Indian Ocean archipelago, giving himself a mandate that widely extends his powers.

The constitutional draft allows for the President of the Union of the Comoros to now ratify international treaties and agreements without consulting parliament. The text also provides for the abolition of the three vice-presidencies, as well as the Constitutional Court. The Comoros was plunged into crisis in April when Assoumani suspended the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country, sparking opposition protests.

Under the current constitution, power rotates every five years between the archipelago’s three main islands. But this has also been done away with through the referendum.

Sambi, who is a leading critic of Assoumani’s rule and president of the vocal opposition, the Juwa Party, was placed under house arrest three months ago. Since then has not been allowed any visitors, though his lawyer Mahamoud Ahamada saw him on the afternoon of Tuesday, Aug. 21.

The Juwa party has rejected the mandate extending Assoumani’s powers, and has called for immediate international intervention to restore democracy.

Comoros, situated in the Indian Ocean between Mozambique and Madagascar, is one of the world’s poorest countries. It has been repeatedly shaken by separatist movements and instability prior to the passing of a new constitution in 2001, which provides for the rotation of power between the islands.

Advisor to Sambi, Abubakar Aboud, told IPS that they have reached out to the international community to intervene in the political crisis unfolding in the Comoros to avoid bloodshed. Excerpts of the interview follow:

Inter Press Service (IPS): The referendum has given Assoumani carte blanche to grab power, as it were, with an extension to his rule. Do you accept this outcome?

Abubakar  Aboud (AA): We do not approve at all the electoral process that Colonel Azali [Assoumani] has started. This process is illegal to the extent that it has violated the fundamental texts of our country. Colonel Azali [Assoumani] put an end to the Constitutional Court without consulting the people. From that moment on, we cannot accept the results of this illegal process.

IPS: What about the charges against Sambi?

AA: The arrest as well as all the charges are purely political. In parallel, the lawyers will ask for a provisional release of president Sambi, who has now been a political prisoner of Colonel Azali [Assoumani] for over three months.

IPS: What does this mean for the fragile democracy in Comoros?

AA: I fear the worst for the fragile peace of our country. It is very disturbing to see a colonel put our country in danger for the sole purpose of holding on to power. Our country has not tasted the benefits of democracy for long, and now Colonel Azali [Assoumani] is demolishing everything that we have built for his own interests.

IPS: What action will you take, or can you take, now if you are to save the country from the autocratic rule?

AA: We do not want violence in the country. And yet, Colonel Azali [Assoumani] is doing everything to crush the discordant voices we are part of as members of the opposition. To avoid confrontations that could cause bloodshed, we regularly call on the international community for help. These calls are becoming more and more urgent as almost all the members of the opposition are either arrested or have suspended sentences.

 

IPS: What is the feeling on the other islands’ about this result?

AA: Everyone feels betrayed by the colonel and his men. The Comoran people are very peaceful. But Azali [Assoumani] is driving the people to revolt. I feel a lot of anger and frustration among the population. I don’t know how long the current patience will last, but we are dangerously close to reaching [the] limit.

IPS: Where do you see the future of Comoros now?

AA: I hope to see my country return to the democracy that we fought so hard to achieve. I hope for a brighter future, even though we are crossing the darkest path of our history… I see this future without Colonel Azali [Assoumani], because he will have to answer for the violations of human rights and the acts of high treason.

IPS: What of ex-president Sambi? Is he safe and how does he feel about this turn of events?

AA: His lawyer, Mahamoud Ahamada, saw him Tuesday [Aug. 21] and told us he seems a little bit weak but he is okay.  I did not have the ex-president’s opinion on this electoral masquerade. But knowing him, I’m sure he shares our opinion on it.

IPS: What are your next steps to challenge this result?

AA: We are waiting for the international community to react. If they don’t do it fast, we’ll be obliged to do it ourselves by any means necessary. Formal letters have been signed by president Sambi and his lawyers have sent them by mail today [Aug. 22] to the United Nations and the African Union.

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Which Way Now for Zimbabwe as Constitutional Court Receives Petition Against Election Results?http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/way-now-zimbabwe-constitutional-court-receives-petition-election-results/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=way-now-zimbabwe-constitutional-court-receives-petition-election-results http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/way-now-zimbabwe-constitutional-court-receives-petition-election-results/#respond Mon, 13 Aug 2018 07:12:06 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157186 Many in Zimbabwe are questioning whether the country can break with its horrid past or embrace a new future after a watershed election that saw Emmerson Mnangagwa win the presidential race by a narrow margin and the opposition lodge a formal petition challenging the results in the Constitutional Court. Mnangagwa–a trusted and past enforcer of […]

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Voters queuing ahead of Zimbabwe's Jul. 30 general elections. The election saw Emmerson Mnangagwa win the presidential race but the opposition has lodge a formal petition challenging the results. Courtesy: The Commonwealth/CC By 2.0

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Aug 13 2018 (IPS)

Many in Zimbabwe are questioning whether the country can break with its horrid past or embrace a new future after a watershed election that saw Emmerson Mnangagwa win the presidential race by a narrow margin and the opposition lodge a formal petition challenging the results in the Constitutional Court.

Mnangagwa–a trusted and past enforcer of former president Robert Mugabe–won the vote by 50.8 percent against the 44.9 percent garnered by Nelson Chamisa of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-Alliance).

Mnangagwa’s 2.46 million votes, against Chamisa’s 2.15 million, gave him the mandatory 50+1 percent required to be declared winner.

But the MDC-Alliance on Friday afternoon, Aug. 10, lodged a petition with the Constitutional Court of Zimbabwe challenging the results, halting the inauguration of Mnangagwa that had been slated for Sunday, Aug. 12.

The Constitutional Court will consider the matter over 14 days but political watchers say that what the ruling will be, remains unclear. The court could reject the MDC-Alliance petition and confirm Mnangagwa’s win, or it could confirm Chamisa’s presented evidence and rule in the opposition’s favour. The court could also order another election, which could be held within the next 60 days.“The future of Zimbabwe lies in a negotiated settlement now because of what the country stands to lose [rather] than gain if a political resolution is not found soon.” -- Political analyst and human rights activist, Effie Ncube.

Political analyst and human rights activist, Effie Ncube, says that should the court rule in favour of Chamisa and order a rerun, this could stoke tensions. He says that a preferred solution would be inclusive discussions out of court between Mnangagwa and Chamisa.

“Keeping away from a re-run is the best solution for Zimbabwe because the tension on the ground now is not ideal for an election without triggering violence,” Ncube tells IPS. “The future of Zimbabwe lies in a negotiated settlement now because of what the country stands to lose [rather] than gain if a political resolution is not found soon.”

Mugabe may have been ousted, but his brutal legacy lingers over a country desperate for a fresh start. Zimbabwe’s Jul. 30 elections–the first since Mugabe was toppled last November–did not disappoint on the dearth of harmony. Violence, in all its forms, has been emblematic of Mugabe’s rule and is something that president-elect Mnangagwa sought a clean break from.

But violence, intimidation, killings and disputed results soiled the elections.

Two weeks ago police clashed with opposition supporters who staged a demonstration outside the offices of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) over the delayed announcement of the presidential election results. The army fired on protesting supporters, killing six people and injuring scores more. The tragedy stained the polls despite pleas from both the ruling Zimbabwe Africa National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) and the opposition MDC for a violence-free election.

“Mugabe’s legacy of brutality has returned to haunt us again but at least it was clear who was in charge,” Dumisani Nkomo, director of Habakkuk Trust, a civil rights advocacy organisation, notes. “Right now it is not clear who is charge and many centres of power seem to have emerged and even within the army there appears to be many centres of command as evidenced by the mystery of who deployed soldiers in Harare.”

Nkomo says the credibility of the electoral process has been severely eroded by issues around the voters roll, postal voting and election results.

“This is a really complex situation because contested election outcomes have been an issue since 1980 and more visibly in 2000, 2002 and 2013 and we seem to be moving in circles,” Nkomo tells IPS. “The election result cannot in all honesty be termed free and fair because of the uneven playing field and the clampdown on civil liberties after the announcement of the results.”

The elections had a semblance of being free on many fronts; the polls were relatively peaceful, there was a new biometric voters’ system, a well-organised and resourceful ZEC, and a plethora of candidates and parties vying for power.

While observers from the Southern African Development Community and African Union have endorsed the elections as free and fair, the European Union has pointed to irregularities.

Economist and lawmaker, Eddie Cross, says he expects the presidential ballot to stand up to the court challenge.

“Any legal challenge should therefore be short lived,” Cross said in post-election commentary on his website. “The big challenge facing Emmerson Mnangagwa is now to unite the country under his leadership and heal the wounds of past battles–the struggle for independence… the struggle against the MDC since 2000 with 5,000 abductees, tens of thousands beaten and tortured, hundreds of deaths and the near total destruction of the economy, all in the name of fighting the restoration of real democracy.”

Time to build bridges

Mnangagwa has scoffed at the idea of a government of national unity, an arrangement his predecessor, was forced to enter into in 2008 with the opposition MDC, which had been led at the time by the late Morgan Tsvangirai.

“I have two-thirds majority and you are talking about me abandoning my two-thirds majority to set a government of national unity?” Mnangagwa commented on Skye News television during an interview last week.

“Not that it’s a bad idea, but it doesn’t show that there is any need. I am saying politics should now take the back seat because the elections are behind us. We should now put our shoulders to the wheel for purposes of modernising our economy, growing our economy together. Those who have voted against me, those who voted for me, we say Zimbabwe is ours together.”

In spite of the violence that has marred the election outcomes, Zimbabwe was banking on a smooth assumption of power as a ticket into the fold of the international community.

However, in a move set to pile pressure on the new government to double its effort to reengage the international community and institute a raft of political and economic reforms, the United States last week renewed sanctions on Zimbabwe, which have been in place since 2001.

The economy remains a key challenge Mnangagwa has to address swiftly.

Mnangagwa has been on an international investment charm offensive, promoting Zimbabwe’s new open business approach.

The country needs an economic vision to ensure growth, unlock business opportunities, jobs, restore trust in the banking sector and hopefully bring back a local currency.

“Mnangagwa has the opportunity to turn the country round, he has made the right pronouncements on the economy that he needs to follow up with action. I think he wants to play a [Nelson] Mandela come in as a person who transforms the country and moves it to democracy and move away from the dictatorship,” says Ncube.

“Should the court confirm Mnangagwa as the winner, there could be less tension. But the credibility and legitimacy of the regime will be questioned and that will challenge its ability to organise international investment and undermine political stability.”

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Campaigns Promote Women’s Participation in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/campaigns-promote-womens-participation-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=campaigns-promote-womens-participation-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/campaigns-promote-womens-participation-latin-america/#respond Fri, 10 Aug 2018 22:04:43 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157184 An alternative network in Brazil promotes women’s participation in elected offices with media support. This campaign, like others in Latin America, seeks to reverse a political landscape where, despite being a majority of the population, women hold an average of just 29.8 percent of legislative posts. It is the first meeting in Rio de Janeiro, […]

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Laws and Threats Undermine Freedom of Expression in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/laws-threats-curtail-freedom-expression-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laws-threats-curtail-freedom-expression-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/laws-threats-curtail-freedom-expression-honduras/#respond Sat, 04 Aug 2018 00:26:49 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157053 A series of laws that came into force in the last five years and the petition for amparo by 35 journalists and 22 social communicators against the government’s “Secrecy Law” give an idea of the atmosphere in Honduras with regard to freedom of expression. The international organisation Reporters Without Borders (RWB) gives an account of […]

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Trump’s Attacks on Media Violate Basic Norms of Press Freedom, Human Rights Experts sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/trumps-attacks-media-violate-basic-norms-press-freedom-human-rights-experts-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-attacks-media-violate-basic-norms-press-freedom-human-rights-experts-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/08/trumps-attacks-media-violate-basic-norms-press-freedom-human-rights-experts-say/#comments Fri, 03 Aug 2018 13:16:41 +0000 David Kaye and Edison Lanza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=157047 David Kaye is the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the United Nations and Edison Lanza is Special Rapporteur for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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David Kaye is the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the United Nations and Edison Lanza is Special Rapporteur for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

By David Kaye and Edison Lanza
GENEVA / WASHINGTON, Aug 3 2018 (IPS)

U.S. President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the free press are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts.

The President has labelled the media as being the “enemy of the American people” “very dishonest” or “fake news,” and accused the press of “distorting democracy” or spreading “conspiracy theories and blind hatred”.

Journalists wait for the arrival of official delegations at the Geneva II Conference on Syria, in Montreux, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Violaine Martin

These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law. We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.

Over the course of his presidency, Mr. Trump and others within his administration, have sought to undermine reporting that had uncovered waste, fraud, abuse, potential illegal conduct, and disinformation.

Each time the President calls the media ‘the enemy of the people’ or fails to allow questions from reporters from disfavoured outlets, he suggests nefarious motivations or animus. But he has failed to show even once that specific reporting has been driven by any untoward motivations.

It is critical that the U.S. administration promote the role of a vibrant press and counter rampant disinformation. To this end, we urge President Trump not only to stop using his platform to denigrate the media but to condemn these attacks, including threats directed at the press at his own rallies.

The attack on the media goes beyond President Trump’s language. We also urge his entire administration, including the Department of Justice, to avoid pursuing legal cases against journalists in an effort to identify confidential sources, an effort that undermines the independence of the media and the ability of the public to have access to information.

We urge the Government to stop pursuing whistle-blowers through the tool of the Espionage Act, which provides no basis for a person to make an argument about the public interest of such information.

We stand with the independent media in the United States, a community of journalists and publishers and broadcasters long among the strongest examples of professional journalism worldwide. We especially urge the press to continue, where it does so, its efforts to hold all public officials accountable.

We encourage all media to act in solidarity against the efforts of President Trump to favour some outlets over others.

Two years of attacks on the press could have long term negative implications for the public’s trust in media and public institutions. Two years is two years too much, and we strongly urge that President Trump and his administration and his supporters end these attacks.

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Excerpt:

David Kaye is the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the United Nations and Edison Lanza is Special Rapporteur for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

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Zimbabwe’s Election of Great Expectationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/zimbabwes-election-great-expectations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-election-great-expectations http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/zimbabwes-election-great-expectations/#respond Tue, 31 Jul 2018 10:21:35 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156969 Counting is underway today across Zimbabwe as the country voted in an historic election on Jul. 30, which many expect will bring political and economic transformation. It is a long-awaited change for many after autocratic leader, Robert Mugabe, was ousted in a soft coup in November 2017 after 37 years in power. A post-Mugabe future […]

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The Commonwealth’s team of observers began their assessment of the electoral process in Zimbabwe, leading up to general elections on Jul. 30. Courtesy: The Commonwealth/CC By 2.0

By Busani Bafana
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Jul 31 2018 (IPS)

Counting is underway today across Zimbabwe as the country voted in an historic election on Jul. 30, which many expect will bring political and economic transformation. It is a long-awaited change for many after autocratic leader, Robert Mugabe, was ousted in a soft coup in November 2017 after 37 years in power.

A post-Mugabe future has provided a kindling of hope among citizens that a new Zimbabwe, which can offer a better life for all is still possible.

The country has survived a myriad of crises that have traumatised its citizens, scared investors and left this resource-rich country isolated internationally. It was an election pregnant with expectations for change and transformation. Economic restoration, jobs, unity, peace and prosperity have been key election expectations. “A non-violent election is a big step but of course at the end of the day the real crisis is still here, the economic crisis." -- David Moore, researcher and political economist.

On election morning in the Bulawayo suburb of Famona, the lines where short and it took most people less then 10 minutes to cast their votes. But people were trickling in. And soon most of the 10,000 polling stations across the country had long queues.

No reports of violence have been reported so far. Though the Zimbabwe Republic Police told a local radio station yesterday that a few voters had been nabbed for sloganeering outside voting stations in direct violation of election rules.

Political analysts told IPS that while Zimbabwe has all the potential to turn around its fortunes, it is a tall ask that this election needs to deliver on. The voter turnout yesterday was high as more than 75 percent of the five million Zimbabweans registered to vote went to the polls to choose a president, members of parliament and local government councillors. There were 23 presidential candidates and more than 100 political parties with registered candidates to contest the 210 seats in the House Assembly.

The presidential contest – the most important of all – appears a largely two horse race pitting current Zimbabwean president, Emmerson Mngangwa (75) of the ruling Zimbabwe Africa National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) against president of the Movement for Democratic Alliance (MDC), Nelson Chamisa (40).

Mnangagwa is a lawyer and was Mugabe’s point man for many years, having served in government since independence where he held the portfolios of minister of state security and minister of justice. He was the vice president until he was fired by Mugabe in 2017.

Chamisa, also a lawyer and firebrand activist, is a founding member of the MDC under the late Morgan Tsvangirai. He succeeded Tsvangirai in March 2018 in a controversial manner that split the party and which saw Thokozani Khupe lead a breakaway faction. Khupe is one of four female candidates vying for the presidency.

Calling the presidential race a “male” race, pitting men from the privileged classes against each other, Professor Rudo Gaidzanwa, a lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe and social commentator, told IPS this contest excluded even elite men who are perceived to be competent but “alien” because they do not exhibit the earthy, violent and killer characteristics that can win a party the election and appeal to the grassroots.

“Men of violence and force are admired and accepted because they are perceived as being able to fight for their constituents and followers. This is a legacy of Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence that extolled the virtues and legitimacy of violence as a means of achieving political ends. That legacy continues to haunt us,” said Gaidzanwa.

He said that Zimbabwe needed to transcend the values and politics of the past that focused “on colonists as the enemy and accept that even the elites amongst the former oppressed people are not angels.”

“They have shown us what they are capable of doing to their own people! If you look at Zimbabwe’s political and nationalist elites that pillaged diamonds, agricultural and land you will realise that in Africa, we are yet to embark on a class war that attempts to restore to the working people the wealth of their countries.

“The nationalists continue to use nationalism to justify their pillaging of national resources and they use nationalism to dupe the peasants and workers to think that it is ok for their clansmen, tribesmen to loot “on their behalf” when in fact the clansmen and some women get crumbs.”

A vote for change

Zimbabwe has a harsh history of violence, dating back to before this southern Africa nation became independent in 1980. The price of that violent past has been dear—deep divisions and polarisation along ethnic, and political lines, economic ruin and palpable corruption. These are some of the legacies blamed on Mugabe who led Zimbabwe for 37 years before a coup forced him into permanent retirement.

“Zimbabweans have to break with the violent past, because that will be a real symbol of something that is new no matter who wins,” David Moore, researcher and political economist at the University of Johannesburg, told IPS. “A non-violent election is a big step but of course at the end of the day the real crisis is still here, the economic crisis. What took Zimbabwe out of the 2008 crisis was the Americanisation of the crisis you cannot do that now. How long does it take for a dream of floods of billions of dollars in investment that remains to be seen?”

In 2008 Zimbabwe’s economy had been on the brink of collapse, experiencing hyperinflation of unprecedented levels. The country was forced to abandon its currency, the Zimbabwean dollar, and replaced it with the United States dollar, to stabilise the economy.

Moore said the 2018 elections were different for many reasons. There was no Mugabe—at least on the ballot paper—and neither was there his erstwhile political foe, Tsvangirai.

Former president Mugabe, in an election eve press conference at his home in the capital Harare, on Jul. 29, said he would not be voting for the Zanu PF because it still harboured his tormentors and the reason he was out of power.

“Neighbours have been fooled into believing this was not a coup d’état. Nonsense, it was a coup d’état.. ….I cannot vote for a party and those in power who have caused me to be in this situation.”

Legitimacy and credibility are at stake for political contenders

Chamisa is seeking legitimacy. He is a young contender for the highest political office in the country and has made his own blunders along the way. But he is seeking to prove he can lead and change the future for Zimbabwe. For Mnangagwa, who has been at the helm for seven months, the key is to legitimise his rule and to cement international relations. ‘Zimbabwe is open for business’, has been his campaign mantra.

“Usually processes like an election after a coup are not that successful because a coup has its characteristics of using force and not wanting to give up but when you look at the effort of the coup makers to legitimise this coup by having free and fair elections you have a certain amount of pressure from the donors and the investors,” Moore told IPS.

“It is actually been a pretty peaceful election given Zimbabwe’s history, the Gukurahundi, the 1980s election has a lot of violence and the British were debating whether to let it go. In 2008, there is intimidation but its minor. I think there is a real appetite and hope for serious change. There could be a turning point whoever wins if the elections are seen as credible and the people accept them as credible. It could perhaps be the most important election since 1980.”

A compromise of sorts like a semi-government of national unity could be in the office, Moore believes.

“If Mnangagwa wins, he could bring in a few people inside, people who can interface with capital and people with money. But it’s a volatile situation too and Zanu PF will have to work very hard to make it acceptable to the main opposition,” said Moore. “The MDC has really fired up a lot of people especially young people, who are really hoping for something and if they feel this election has not been credible one could possible expect some pretty tense situations. If it is a victory for the MDC, there will have to be a lot of bridge building and lot of horse trading as well.”

The jury is out still about the choice Zimbabweans made at the ballot this week, and whether that choice will take the country out of its conundrum and raise it to a new level.

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Pakistan’s Vote – a Loud and Clear Message that People Want Democracy at Any Costhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistans-vote-loud-clear-message-people-want-democracy-cost/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-vote-loud-clear-message-people-want-democracy-cost http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/pakistans-vote-loud-clear-message-people-want-democracy-cost/#respond Mon, 30 Jul 2018 09:44:00 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156941 Voters in Pakistan’s general election outrightly rejected political parties with extremism records and candidates linked to banned terrorist groups, opting instead to back liberal forces in a support for peace. “None of the parties related to terrorism won any of the 272 national assembly seats as the people don’t want to empower them to legislate,” […]

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Voters in Pakistan’s general election outrightly rejected political parties with extremism records in the country’s Jul. 25, 2018 – which had the largest ever voter turnout. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Jul 30 2018 (IPS)

Voters in Pakistan’s general election outrightly rejected political parties with extremism records and candidates linked to banned terrorist groups, opting instead to back liberal forces in a support for peace.

“None of the parties related to terrorism won any of the 272 national assembly seats as the people don’t want to empower them to legislate,” analyst Muhammad Junaid told IPS.

On Saturday, Jul. 28, electoral officials announced that Pakistani cricket star Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or PTI (Move for Justice party) won 115 of the 272 contested seats in the National Assembly. The former ruling party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), won 64 seats and Pakistan People’s Party won 43. Other seats went to smaller parties and independents, with militant parties losing badly.

Junaid, who teaches political science at the University of Peshawar, said that Pakistan has suffered a great deal because of terrorism and people had clearly rejected terrorist-linked groups in the polls.

Political party Allah-o-Akbar Tehreek supported extremist candidates allegedly linked to the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 108 people, Hafiz Muhammad Saeed. Saeed is head of Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), one of the largest terrorist organisations in South Asia.

However, the party was rejected by voters across the country as it failed to win a single seat in the national assembly.

Saeed’s son, Talha Saeed, contested the elections from Punjab province, but lost. Saeed’s son-in-law, Khalid Waleed, faced a similar fate. The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) results show that the party’s candidates received just 171,441 votes, just a drop in the ocean when compared with the more than 49 million votes that were cast.

Tehreek-i-Labaik Pakistan (TLP), another party with a clear sectarian mindset, had fielded more than 150 candidates contesting the National Assembly seats and hundreds more who contested provincial assembly seats. The party received just over two million votes and just two of its candidates were elected to the Sindh provincial assembly, the ECP results showed. Sindh is one of Pakistan’s four provinces.

People also rejected candidates from Jamiat Ulemai Islam Sami for the party’s connection with the terrorist group Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The party’s leader, Maulana Samiul Haq, is known as the father of the Taliban and his seminary Darul Uloom Haqqania is referred to as the “University of Jihadists”.

Pakistan faced a great deal of criticism from both the international and local media, human rights groups as well as political leaders for having hundreds of individuals with clear links to extremists openly campaigning in the election.

In June, the global watchdog Financial Action Task Force placed Pakistan on its terrorism financing watchlist. The call for Pakistan to be placed on the list was led by the United States in a move to pressure the country to close financing loopholes for terrorist groups. The U.S. has previously accused Pakistan of providing a savehaven for terrorists.

The country itself, however, has not been immune to terror attacks.

On Jul. 10, Haroon Bilour, a candidate from the Awami National Party, was killed in Peshawar along with 30 others. The terrorist group TTP claimed reasonability for the attack. Two days later, a candidate from PTI was killed in a separate act.

On Jul. 13, candidate Siraj Raisani, along with 130 others, was killed in a suicide attack in Balochistan, one of the Pakistan’s four provinces. On election day the province was scene to another suicide attack, which killed 30 people.

However, the deadly attacks failed to deter people as they formed long queues at polling stations to cast their votes. Some 55 percent of Pakistan’s registered 100 million voters turned out at the polls – the highest ever turnout in Pakistan’s history.

Junaid said militants wanted to advance their own agenda and rule people through the use of force and fear and not democracy.

In Khan’s victory speech he continued to condemn terrorism and vowed to establish peace in the region. “We want a better relationship with neighbouring countries, India, Iran and Afghanistan as well as China and the U.S. to have peace in the region,” he said.

Pakistan’s army deputed 350,000 soldiers to guard polling stations on election day and publically declared their support for democracy.

“Militants want to create anarchy in our country, but the nation is united against militancy. Our military and civil leadership are on the same page and determined to continue the war against terror till its logical end,” military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said.

Analyst Khadim Hussain said that it was indicative of people’s hate for terrorism that they took part in a “high-decibel campaign” for the national polls to defeat terrorism.

“Long queues were seen outside the polling booths. People remained vibrant and upbeat, which was a signal that they wanted democracy and rejected terrorism in all its forms and manifestations,” he said.

Despite incidents of terrorism, the mood was extremely upbeat, and towns and villages were adorned with party flags and banners calling on people to vote for respective candidates, he said. The message was loud and clear that people wanted democracy at any cost, Hussain said.

Foreign observers declared the election free, fair and transparent.

“A number of violent attacks, targeting political parties, party leaders, candidates and election officials, affected the campaign environment,” the European Union’s election observation mission chief Michael Gahler, told a news conference Jul. 27.

Most interlocutors acknowledged a systematic effort to undermine the former ruling party, Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), through cases of corruption, contempt of court and terrorist charges against its leaders and candidates, he added.

Religious parties contesting the polls also fared poorly.

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After Elections, Hard Work Starts for Zimbabwe’s Civil Societyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/elections-hard-work-starts-zimbabwes-civil-society/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=elections-hard-work-starts-zimbabwes-civil-society http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/elections-hard-work-starts-zimbabwes-civil-society/#respond Fri, 27 Jul 2018 13:06:15 +0000 Teldah Mawarire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156923 Teldah Mawarire is a campaigns and advocacy officer with global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

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

By Teldah Mawarire
HARARE, Zimbabwe, Jul 27 2018 (IPS)

For many Zimbabwean voters, casting their ballots on July 30 is sure to be a somewhat surreal experience. For the first time since the country’s independence, the ever-present face of Robert Mugabe will not be staring back at them on the ballot paper.

But that new experience – while perhaps inspiring hopes for positive change among some – is likely to be preceded by an old, familiar feeling of déjà vu. The road to the 2018 general election has been littered with the same potholes of electoral irregularities and restrictive laws of previous polls.

And for Zimbabwe’s embattled civil society, the fact that none of the repressive laws that were used against them have been touched since a bloodless military coup eight months ago is cause for concern.

This vote is proving difficult to call. It’s not the first time the race has seemed too close to call for analysts and opinion pollsters. The 2008 poll posed the same dilemma. It later emerged that the opposition was cheated of victory and a government of national unity among the political opponents was later formed.

The latest survey released by think tank, Afrobarometer last month showed that the ruling Zanu-PF party would get 42%, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) 31% and the voting intentions of the remaining 26% of respondents were unknown.

Whilst these figures create the picture of a competitive race, it does not mean the conditions on the ground are favourable for a fair and credible election.

The incumbent Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former right-hand man and vice president who took power after the coup, is desperate for a win to rip off the “coup plotter’’ tag on his back.

The opposition, coming from a troubled and fractured past, have been re-energised by emergence of a more youthful leader, Nelson Chamisa and need a win badly to avoid being again relegated to the dustbins of ineffectiveness. The poll’s outcome will be highly contested and could spill over into the courts, if not the streets.

Zimbabweans have been concerned with electoral irregularities, particularly related to a voters’ roll that has not been made fully transparent, and issues concerning the validity of profiles of voters appearing on the roll.

Questions have also been raised around the independence of the poll’s administrators, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and allegations that the printing of the ballot paper was compromised and done without consultation with all contesting parties. Civil society concerns however, go beyond the administration of the electoral process.

Although there is a notable peace and an absence of the politically motivated violence that has hounded Zimbabwean elections since 2000, conditions impacting freedom of assembly, association and expression remain constrained by restrictive legislation.

Zimbabwe’s civil society at home and abroad have no time to rest after the historic election and must already be strategising on giving the next administration a timeline on intentions to open civic space.

Before the coup, CIVICUS Monitor, a tool that tracks threats to civil society in all countries, rated Zimbabwe’s rated civic space as a ‘repressed’. That assessment remains – just one step away from the worst rating: ‘closed’. The Democratic Republic of Congo currently the only nation in the Southern Africa Development Community region regarded as ‘closed’.

On the eve of the election, outstanding human rights issues remain largely untouched and unamended restrictive laws are yet to be aligned to the constitution the country adopted in 2013, remain active, casting doubt on the country’s ability to hold a truly credible and fair election.

This legislation includes the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA), which was used to persecute and harass journalists. Under AIPPA, it is compulsory for all media houses, foreign and local journalists to be registered with it with restrictive requirements and expensive costs. Even non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that produce publications for small or specialised audiences must be licensed.

Another law needing reform is the Broadcasting Services Act, which in its current form is an impediment to media freedom and the growth of independent media, and has been used by government for political interference in the news media sector.

While the political opposition has been largely able to assemble with less administrative and physical interference from security agents post-Mugabe, the Public Order and Security Act (POSA) remains a huge concern.

Provisions that violate the right to assemble and protest such as protesters’ needing to give police four days’ written notice of an intended demonstration or the power of police to ban a gathering for three months if they believe it would endanger public safety, awkwardly remain.

NGOs will also have to work hard to have the law governing NGO registration and operations amended. The Private Voluntary Organisations Act (PVO) creates a web of bureaucratic red tape for NGO registration, which can take three months to a year Organisations that work to protect LGBTIQ rights are unable to operate openly and require specific legislation protecting their freedom to exist and operate.

It is also no secret that NGOs operating in rural areas at the district level have been routinely and illegally made to secure police clearance and sign a memorandum of understanding with the District Administrator to operate. This control over NGO activities has contributed to the strangling civic space in the rural areas.

And of course, there remains the glaring lack of protection for human rights defenders who have borne the brunt of brutal attacks under Mugabe. For the rights community, it has also not inspired confidence that there is still no meaningful investigation into the case of Itai Dzamara, an activist who disappeared on 9 March 2015.

Whichever way the election results swings, civil society has much work that is essential to holding Mugabe’s successors to the promise of opening civic space, so desperately needed in Zimbabwe.

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Excerpt:

Teldah Mawarire is a campaigns and advocacy officer with global civil society alliance, CIVICUS.

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Silence from Judiciary Increases Self-Censorship, Pakistan’s Journalists sayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/silence-judiciary-increases-self-censorship-pakistans-journalists-say/#respond Thu, 26 Jul 2018 14:53:33 +0000 Aliya Iftikhar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156901 Aliya Iftikhar* is Asia Research Associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists

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Journalists in Pakistan protest against the killing of their colleagues. Credit: Rahat Dar/IPS

By Aliya Iftikhar
ISLAMABAD, Jul 26 2018 (IPS)

When it comes to the military and the judiciary, Pakistan’s journalists are “between a rock and a hard place,” Zohra Yusuf, of the independent non-profit Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told CPJ.

In recent months the judiciary, which has a history of siding with Pakistan’s powerful military, has remained largely silent amid attempts to censor or silence the press.

Ahead of yesterday’s elections, CPJ documented how journalists who are critical of the military or authorities were abducted or attacked, how the army spokesman accused journalists of sharing anti-state and anti-military propaganda, and how distribution of two of Pakistan’s largest outlets–Geo TV and Dawn–was arbitrarily restricted.

The judiciary, which has power to take up cases on its own, did not intervene on behalf of the press. But it has continued its practice of threatening legal action against its critics.

Some journalists and analysts said that by not taking action, the judiciary has added to a climate of fear and self-censorship.

The judiciary has at times been seen as a strong supporter of democratic values, but Yusuf said the perception among many people in Pakistan is that the judiciary and the military “seem to be on the same page on certain aspects of our democracy.”

“Now … democracy and media are being presented as a problem,” Yusuf said, adding that journalists are bending over backwards to avoid provoking either institution.

Madiha Afzal, an adjunct assistant professor of global policy at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the author of Pakistan Under Siege: Extremism, Society, and the State, told CPJ she thinks the judiciary is an “all too willing pawn in the military’s hands.” Afzal added, “I also think that it is in broad agreement with the military in its stance on Pakistan’s politics.”

The judiciary did not respond to CPJ’s email and calls requesting comment. Pakistani authorities certainly appear to be taking a tougher stance toward the press.

The country’s media regulator issued a statement this month warning news channels not to air any statements “by political leadership containing defamatory and derogatory content targeting various state institutions, specifically judiciary and armed forces.”

And Ahmad Noorani, a senior journalist with The News, told CPJ that some media houses received instructions from “certain forces” not to cover anything that favored former prime minister Nawaz Sharif or went against the judiciary. Noorani did not provide further details.

Owais Ali, the founder of the Pakistan Press Foundation, said a free media was crucial for free and fair elections. “Whatever the political issues are, they need to be discussed. These include criticisms of the judiciary and the military in the forthcoming elections. The media should not have a price to pay simply for reporting what is being discussed by the politicians and political parties.”

The lack of judicial support does not appear to be linked to court capacity. Pakistan’s chief justice came under criticism from political analysts this year for “judicial activism” — taking on suo motu cases, cases taken on the court’s initiative, Reuters reported. The court has launched inquiries on issues ranging from water shortages, police encounters, and milk prices.

Suo motu cases seem to be taken up “at the drop of a hat,” but when Geo asked the Supreme Court to take on its case, the court refused, Imran Aslam, president of Geo TV, told CPJ, referring to how cable operators arbitrarily blocked the broadcaster’s transmission earlier this year. “I certainly think the judiciary could have done something about Geo.”

The judiciary is supposed to provide justice to the media houses and media workers, but failed to take notice of the situation that the leading news channel of the country was facing, Noorani said. The court could easily have issued an order or at least asked for a report from the relevant regulatory authority, but they didn’t provide any relief to Geo, he said.

Afzal said she thinks the restrictions on Geo and Dawn undermined the outlets’ credibility. “[It] means that many in Pakistan don’t get to hear liberal voices or voices that are critical of the military, which in turn ensures that they remain pro-military and skeptical of liberal voices,” she said.

News outlets that criticize the judiciary often find themselves threatened with legal action. Nearly every major news organization has been served contempt of court notices, Yusuf said.

Last year, Noorani and his paper’s publisher, Jang Group, were served two notices, including one over Noorani’s report on the Inter-services Intelligence. Noorani said the court withdrew the notice after he presented records of his communication and evidence backing the story.

A contempt of court order brought against TV journalist Matiullah Jan and Waqt TV in February, over claims the higher court was insulted on Jan’s talk show, was dropped after the station’s management apologized and Jan said he would exercise more caution, according to Dawn.

Fakhar Durrani, a reporter at The News, said that when he reported last year on judges who were allegedly vying for plots of land that were part of a housing scheme case they were hearing, his organization came under pressure to stop reporting. Durrani, who did not specify where the pressure came from, said he was not able to publish any follow-up stories.

“During that era, my organization was facing contempt of court notices on other issues so they tried not to indulge in any other legal matter,” Durrani said.

Issuing a contempt of court notice to just one news outlet in Pakistan is a sufficient message to all the media houses because it comes from the highest court in the country and there is no way to appeal a Supreme Court order, Noorani said. If the Supreme Court orders the closure of a news station it sends a message to all other media houses to either fall in line or face the consequences, Noorani said.

The uncertainty over what could draw a contempt of court notice exacerbates the situation.

Aslam, of Geo TV, said criticism of any kind is looked upon as almost treasonous. He added, “It’s a scary situation because you don’t know when you’ll be called up in the courts, and this has led us to tread more carefully.”

He added that objective reporting has been skewed in Pakistan because of the constraints “looming” over the media all the time. “What it induces is self-censorship, even if word doesn’t go down to reporters and everybody else, they are looking over their shoulders.”

*Prior to joining CPJ, Aliya Iftikhar was a research assistant at the Middle East Institute and interned at the U.S. Department of State. She has worked with Amnesty International and written for Vice News.

The link to the original article: https://cpj.org/blog/2018/07/silence-from-judiciary-over-media-attacks-increase.php

The post Silence from Judiciary Increases Self-Censorship, Pakistan’s Journalists say appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

Aliya Iftikhar* is Asia Research Associate at the Committee to Protect Journalists

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Half of the Young People from Poor Central American Neighbourhoods Want to Migratehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/half-young-people-poor-central-american-neighbourhoods-want-migrate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=half-young-people-poor-central-american-neighbourhoods-want-migrate http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/half-young-people-poor-central-american-neighbourhoods-want-migrate/#comments Wed, 25 Jul 2018 08:06:28 +0000 DANIEL SALAZAR http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156869 La Carpio is an island of poverty on the outskirts of Costa Rica’s capital, surrounded by the country’s most polluted waters – the Torres River – on one side and a massive garbage dump on the other. A sewage treatment plant that processes wastewater from 11 cities is also next to the slum, where nearly […]

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A young couple walk down a steep stairway in La Carpio, a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of San José, Costa Rica. About half of the young people living in communities like this one in Central America say they would migrate if they could. Credit: Josué Sequeira/IPS

A young couple walk down a steep stairway in La Carpio, a poor neighbourhood on the outskirts of San José, Costa Rica. About half of the young people living in communities like this one in Central America say they would migrate if they could. Credit: Josué Sequeira/IPS

By Daniel Salazar
San Jose, Jul 25 2018 (IPS)

La Carpio is an island of poverty on the outskirts of Costa Rica’s capital, surrounded by the country’s most polluted waters – the Torres River – on one side and a massive garbage dump on the other.

A sewage treatment plant that processes wastewater from 11 cities is also next to the slum, where nearly 25,000 people live in unpainted houses and shacks, interspersed with street markets, more than seventy bars and a hundred or so churches of different faiths, about 10 km from downtown San José.

This impoverished community holds the stories of thousands of Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans; it is the largest community of migrants from that neighbouring country in Central America. Most of them are young people who had to migrate because of inequality and fear of violence of different kinds."On average, the difference between countries of origin and destination worldwide in terms of income is one to 70, and it is estimated that in about 25 years we will be talking about a difference of 100 to one. In this world, it will not be easy to convince migrants not to migrate to where the income and quality of life can be found.” -- Salvador Gutiérrez

On average, almost half of the residents between the ages of 14 and 24 of poor Central American neighbourhoods similar to La Carpio, such as Jorge Dimitrov (Managua), El Limón (Guatemala City), Nueva Capital (Tegucigalpa) or Popotlán (San Salvador), say they would leave their countries… if they could.

This was reported by a study by the Institute of Social Research of the University of Costa Rica (UCR), which interviewed 1,501 young people from these five poor neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Central America’s capital cities, partly released in June under the title “Central America torn apart. Demands and expectations of young people living in impoverished communities.”

The study was based on 300 interviews with young people from each community conducted at their homes during the last quarter of 2017, with the help of nearly 100 pollsters recruited in those communities.

In these neighbourhoods, on average almost two-thirds of young people see the distribution of wealth as “very unjust” or “unjust”, about half say they have recently been afraid of the violence around them and the same percentage believe “their fate does not depend on them.”

In Popotlán, in the municipality of Apopa, outside of San Salvador, 76 per cent of young people under 24 said they wanted to migrate, while in the neighbourhood in Tegucigalpa the proportion was 60 per cent, in La Carpio 50 per cent, in Guatemala City 49 per cent and in Managua 47 per cent.

The Salvadoran case

The young people of Popotlán are surrounded by violence, and face the stigma of living in an area ruled by different gangs, while suffering a lack of access to an adequate diet and to healthcare.

“Maria” (not her real name) is well aware of these problems. She lives in this neighbourhood and heads a community organisation that supports young people with food and education. A few days after the interview she asked that neither her name nor the name of her organisation be mentioned, after several murders in the area.

“Being young here would appear to be a crime. Usually, young people say happily, ‘I’m going to be of legal age soon’, but that doesn’t happen here. Here they’re afraid the police will catch them because they’re young, not so much because they’re in a gang, but just because they live in this neighbourhood. When looking for work it’s very hard to say you’re from Popotlán,” she told IPS in a telephone conversation.

Youth, the dominant feature of migration

Salvador Gutiérrez, regional liaison and policy officer at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Regional Office for Central America, North America and the Caribbean, said the central feature of migration in this region is youth.

Corrugated iron roofs predominate in the populous neighbourhood of La Carpio, on the outskirts of San José, Costa Rica, where an estimated half of the houses are built with inadequate materials. Credit: Daniel Salazar/IPS

Corrugated iron roofs predominate in the populous neighbourhood of La Carpio, on the outskirts of San José, Costa Rica, where an estimated half of the houses are built with inadequate materials. Credit: Daniel Salazar/IPS

“In general, the age group that migrates the most are people between 14 and 24, in the case of Central America. What is clearly seen as a differentiating element in the case of youth migration is the fact that these people are looking to build an entirely new future,” he told IPS at the regional office in San José.

Young Central Americans are also different from other migrants because they are fleeing violence and crime, often suffered personally, or they want to be reunited with their families who already live in other countries.

The stigma of being young in Popotlán leads many to migrate, but others like the community activist Maria decide to stay and fight for the youth of the neighbourhood, “in an area where the state is barely present.” Five of the young people she helps are about to enter university.

“Living is a miracle, and we try to encourage them to discover the values they can offer to others…One young man told me that he wanted to go to college, and that he wanted his parents to be proud of him. Sometimes it hurts a lot when your own family doesn’t believe in you,” Maria said.

Communities torn apart 

Carlos Sandoval, coordinator of the UCR study, told IPS that 31 years after the Esquipulas II Agreement, which in its preamble stated that it was aimed at young people and that it established measures to bring about “lasting peace” in the region, “Central America is still torn apart.”

“Even the main achievement of electoral democracy as a mechanism of political legitimation is falling apart. Perhaps what this study contributes is that there is a lack of ideas on how to think about Central America,” he said.

“Let us not be surprised if what is happening in Nicaragua opens a new cycle of social unrest,” he said, referring to the demonstrations and uprising that broke out in that country in April, and which is not waning despite the fact that a brutal crackdown has already caused more than 370 deaths, mostly young people, and has triggered a wave of emigration.

In the five neighbourhoods covered by the study, life is even more complex for young women. Almost 32 per cent of the young women surveyed said they were mothers, while only 13 per cent of the young men said they were fathers.

This situation was experienced by Mario de León, who was born in Nicaragua and grew up in La Carpio, with a mother who raised her four children on her own.

“My mom worked from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Monday through Sunday in a supermarket. We were able to eat, study and have clothes to wear thanks for her,” he said. Now, De León, at the age of 30, is a math professor at the UCR.

He came to La Carpio when he was six years old, he said as he accompanied IPS around the neighbourhood. His family had lost everything in Nicaragua during the war, had moved to Guatemala for some time and arrived in Costa Rica in the mid-1990s.

“It was horrible in school. The school was made of four corrugated iron sheets, a roof and a dirt floor. It leaked when it rained, we would have blackouts, and we would have to go home. But I would stay there studying as the water ran down the walls. I tried to motivate myself,” he said.

Not until this year did a modern primary school open in La Carpio, serving some 2,100 students. Although access to education already existed, ensuring quality services for communities like this is often a task where the state shows up late, if at all.

In the neighbourhoods surveyed, the vast majority of young people (between 64 per cent in Costa Rica and 79 per cent in El Salvador) said they did not care whether the government was “democratic or not,” but simply wanted it to “solve problems.”

For the IOM’s Gutiérrez, the study highlights that cooperation and aid for these countries to develop are crucial if the issue of migration is to be addressed.

“We must work on the structural causes of migration: poverty, inequality, security and development opportunities in a broad sense,” he said.

For him, that means creating opportunities for the regularisation of migrants, cooperating to address public security, and reducing inequality within and, above all, between countries.

“On average, the difference between countries of origin and destination worldwide in terms of income is one to 70, and it is estimated that in about 25 years we will be talking about a difference of 100 to one. In this world, it will not be easy to convince migrants not to migrate to where the income and quality of life can be found,” he said.

That is why, the UCR study states, half of the young people in the poor communities of Central America think that having a future depends on emigrating.

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We Cannot Look Away From the Crisis in Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/cannot-look-away-crisis-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cannot-look-away-crisis-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/cannot-look-away-crisis-nicaragua/#respond Tue, 24 Jul 2018 15:10:34 +0000 Edwin Huizing http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156857 The conflict in Nicaragua is spiraling out of control. International political action is urgently needed to prevent further escalation, argues Hivos Director Edwin Huizing. And the Netherlands must take the lead.

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Credit: Jader Flores/IPS

By Edwin Huizing
Jul 24 2018 (IPS)

Just 40 years after the Sandinistas overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, a severe crisis grips Nicaragua. Most Nicaraguans want nothing more than to see President Daniel Ortega, who has been in office now for eleven years, disappear from the political scene.  Hivos, headquartered in The Hague, believes the Netherlands should use its membership in the UN Security Council to prevent a civil war and bring about a peaceful transition.

Since the protests against President Ortega started in April this year, at least 273 people have died and 2,000 have been injured, according to the human rights arm of the Organization of American States (OAS). And the number of victims grows every day.

Edwin Huizing, Executive Director at Hivos

The opposition to Ortega comes from many corners: students, workers, pensioners, the Catholic Church and not least, women’s groups fighting for a more just society. The government’s heavy-handed repression of the protesters also affects journalists and human rights defenders supported by the Netherlands and Hivos. For example, employees of the human rights organization CPDH were arrested. Journalists from the online magazine Confidencial have been mistreated, threatened and robbed of their cameras and telephones.

In the weekend of July 13, Ortega’s supporters – a mix of government officials and militias – besieged a Catholic church where some 200 students had sought refuge after the protests at their university turned violent. Thanks to fifteen hours of mediation by high-ranking clergy, the students were given safe conduct to leave. But by then, there were already two dead and ten wounded.

According to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (CIDH), abuse, torture, kidnapping and murder are the order of the day. In its unusually harsh report, the Commission clearly points to the state as partly responsible. If the protests against Ortega continue to spiral out of control, a civil war could break out.

 

A global trend of government oppression

Nicaragua exemplifies the current trend of governments that are increasingly suppressing activist citizens, critical journalists, human rights defenders and NGOs.

Dutch foreign policy, with its emphasis on “the ring of instability around Europe,” migration and economic commitment is far too limited in this light. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok’s recent letter about strengthening the Netherlands’ diplomatic network does not even mention the words “human rights”. Its emphasis on economic diplomacy and cuts in spending on diplomatic posts comes at the expense of promoting human rights.

But foreign policy must be about more than migration from Africa and growth opportunities for the Netherlands. The Dutch government’s Coalition Agreement has allocated 40 million euros for strengthening our diplomatic network. Part of this should be directly destined for Nicaragua, and for Central America, which is threatening to become a forgotten region.

 

The conflict in Nicaragua is spiraling out of control. International political action is urgently needed to prevent further escalation, argues Hivos Director Edwin Huizing. And the Netherlands must take the lead.

Credit: Jorge Mejía Peralta

 

There must be an end to the violence and impunity

Together with Sweden, currently chairman of the UN Security Council, the Netherlands can bring these human rights violations in Central America to the attention of the UN Security Council, starting with the crisis in Nicaragua. There must be an end to the violence and impunity, for which disarmament of paramilitary forces is crucial. There needs to be an independent international investigation into the killings and other crimes that will bring those responsible to justice. International delegations (e.g. EU parliamentarians) should visit Nicaragua to act as the eyes and ears of the international community and thus increase the pressure on the government to cease its repression and start a transition to free elections, under international supervision.

Riding a wave of hope back in the 1980s, many Dutch people – including NGOs – supported the Sandinista movement. Let them now declare in no uncertain terms that Ortega has not proven to be any better than his illustrious right-wing predecessors.

International political action is urgently needed as the crisis in Nicaragua rapidly escalates, possibly into civil war.

This opinion was originally published here

The post We Cannot Look Away From the Crisis in Nicaragua appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

The conflict in Nicaragua is spiraling out of control. International political action is urgently needed to prevent further escalation, argues Hivos Director Edwin Huizing. And the Netherlands must take the lead.

The post We Cannot Look Away From the Crisis in Nicaragua appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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The Industrialization of Cybercrimehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/the-industrialization-of-cybercrime/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-industrialization-of-cybercrime http://www.ipsnews.net/2018/07/the-industrialization-of-cybercrime/#respond Wed, 18 Jul 2018 12:17:16 +0000 Tamas Gaidosch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=156762 Tamas Gaidosch, a senior financial sector expert in the IMF’s Monetary and Capital Markets Department, is a cybersecurity professional with more than 20 years’ experience, including probing banking systems to find cyber weaknesses. He formerly led the Information Technology Supervision Department at the Central Bank of Hungary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post The Industrialization of Cybercrime appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Excerpt:

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

The post The Industrialization of Cybercrime appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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

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

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 18 2018 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

In recent weeks, the situation has become more tense.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By James Jeffrey
JUBA, Jul 3 2018 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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