Inter Press Service » Human Rights http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 22 Oct 2014 01:05:25 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Panama’s Indigenous People Want to Harness the Riches of Their Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:58 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137302 Emberá dwellings in a clearing in the rainforest. The Emberá-Wounaan territory covers nearly 4,400 sq km and the indigenous people want to manage the riches of their forest to pull their families out of poverty. Credit: Government of Panama

Emberá dwellings in a clearing in the rainforest. The Emberá-Wounaan territory covers nearly 4,400 sq km and the indigenous people want to manage the riches of their forest to pull their families out of poverty. Credit: Government of Panama

By Emilio Godoy
PANAMA CITY, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

For indigenous people in Panama, the rainforest where they live is not only their habitat but also their spiritual home, and their link to nature and their ancestors. The forest holds part of their essence and their identity.

“Forests are valuable to us because they bring us benefits, but not just oxygen,” Emberá chief Cándido Mezúa, the president of the National Coordinator of Indigenous Peoples of Panama (COONAPIP), told Tierramérica.

“It is organic matter, minerals in the forest floor, forms of life related to the customs of indigenous peoples,” added Mezúa, the seniormost chief of one of Panama’s seven native communities, who live in five collectively-owned indigenous territories or “comarcas”.

In this tropical Central American country, indigenous people manage the forests in their territories through community forestry companies (EFCs). But Mezúa complained about the difficulties in setting up the EFCs, which ends up hurting the forests and the welfare of their guardians, the country’s indigenous communities.

Of Panama’s 3.8 million people, 417,000 are indigenous, and they live on 16,634 sq km – 20 percent of the national territory.

According to a map published in April by the National Environmental Authority (ANAM), drawn up with the support of United Nations agencies, 62 percent of the national territory – 46,800 sq km – is covered in forest.

Cándido Mezúa (centre), the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan territory, is calling for an integral focus in forest management that would benefit Panama’s indigenous people. Credit: Courtesy of COONAPIP

Cándido Mezúa (centre), the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan territory, is calling for an integral focus in forest management that would benefit Panama’s indigenous people. Credit: Courtesy of COONAPIP

And this Central American country has 104 protected areas that cover 35 percent of the national territory of 75,517 sq km.

But each year 200 sq km of forests are lost, warns ANAM.

The EFCs “are an effort that has not been well-developed. They merely extract wood; the value chain has not been developed, and the added value ends up outside the comarca,” said Mezúa, the high chief of the Emberá-Wounaan comarca on the border with Colombia, where his ethnic group also lives, as well as in Ecuador.

The indigenous leader said the EFCs help keep the forests standing in the long term, with rotation systems based on the value of the different kinds of wood in the management areas. “But it is the big companies that reap the benefits. The comarcas do not receive credit and can’t put their land up as collateral; they depend on development aid,” he complained.

Only five EFCs are currently operating, whose main activity is processing wood.

In 2010, two indigenous comarcas signed a 10-year trade agreement with the Panamanian company Green Life Investment to supply it with raw materials. But they only extract 2,755 cubic metres a year of wood.

The average yield in the comarcas is 25 cubic metres of wood per sq km and a total of around 8,000 cubic metres of wood are extracted annually in the indigenous comarcas, bringing in some 275,000 dollars in revenue.

In five years, the plan is to have 2,000 sq km of managed forests, the indigenous leader explained.

The government’s Programme for Indigenous Business Development (PRODEI) has provided these projects with just over 900,000 dollars.

Community management of forests in indigenous territories is a pending issue in Panama. Tropical forest in the province of Bocas del Toro, in the north of the country. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

Community management of forests in indigenous territories is a pending issue in Panama. Tropical forest in the province of Bocas del Toro, in the north of the country. Credit: Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute

But only a small proportion of forests in indigenous territories is managed. Of the 9,944 forest permits issued by ANAM in 2013, only 732 went to the comarcas.

Looking to U.N. REDD

In Mezúa’s view, the hope for indigenous people is that the EFCs will be bolstered by the U.N. climate change mitigation action plan, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+).

“We want to pay for the conservation and sustainable use of forests,” the coordinator of REDD+ in Panama, Gabriel Labbate, told Tierramérica. “It is of critical importance to find a balance between conservation and development. But REDD+ will not resolve the forest crisis by itself.”

REDD+ Panama is currently preparing the country for the 2014-2017 period and designing the platform for making the initiative public, the grievance and redress mechanism, the review of the governance structures, and the first steps for the operational phase, which should start in June 2015.

UN-REDD was launched in 2007 and has 56 developing country partners. Twenty-one of them are drawing up national plans, for which they received a combined total of 67.8 million dollars. The Latin American countries included in this group are Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay.

Because forests trap carbon from the atmosphere and store it in tree trunks and the soil, it is essential to curb deforestation in order to reduce the release of carbon. In addition, trees play a key role in the water cycle through evaporation and precipitation.

Panama’s indigenous people believe that because of the position that trees occupy in their worldview, they are in a unique position to participate in REDD+, which incorporates elements like conservation, improvement of carbon storage and the sustainable management of forests.

But in February 2013, their representatives withdrew from the pilot programme, arguing that it failed to respect their right to free, prior and informed consultation, undermined their collective right to land, and violated the U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

They only returned in December, after the government promised to correct the problems they had protested about.

In REDD+ there should be a debate on “the safeguards, the benefits, the price of carbon, regulations on carbon management, and legal guarantees in indigenous territories,” Mazúa said.

“We want an indigenous territory climate fund to be established, which would make it possible for indigenous people to decide how to put a value on it from our point of view and how it translates into economic value,” the chief said.

“The idea is for the money to go to the communities, but it is a question of volume and financing,” said Labbate, who is also in charge of the Poverty-Environment Initiative of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and the U.N. Development Programme.

Poverty and the environment are inextricably linked to Panama’s indigenous people. According to statistics published Sept. 28 by the government and the U.N., Panama’s overall poverty rate is 27.6 percent, but between 70 and 90 percent of indigenous families are poor.

Indigenous representatives are asking to be included in the distribution of the international financing that Panama will receive for preserving the country’s forests.

They also argue that the compensation should not only be linked to the protection of forests and carbon capture in the indigenous comarcas, but that it should be part of an environmental policy that would make it possible for them to engage in economic activities and fight poverty.

Indigenous leaders believe that their forests are the tool for reducing the inequality gap between them and the rest of Panamanian society. “But they have to support us for that to happen, REDD is just part of the aid strategy, but the most important thing is the adoption of legislation to guarantee our territorial rights in practice,” Mazúa said.

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

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We Must Think of “Security” in New Wayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/we-must-think-of-security-in-new-ways/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 10:28:57 +0000 Zafar Adeel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137299 Protesters march through Port-au-Prince in April 2008 to demand the government lower the price of basic commodities.  Credit: Nick Whalen/IPS

Protesters march through Port-au-Prince in April 2008 to demand the government lower the price of basic commodities. Credit: Nick Whalen/IPS

By Zafar Adeel
HAMILTON, Canada, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

Recent events in the Arab world and elsewhere have underscored the point that traditional notions of security being dependent solely on military and related apparatus are outmoded.

Security is a multi-faceted domain that operates at the nexus of human development and sustainable management of water, energy and food resources.The confluence of water scarcity with energy shortages, food-price hikes, ballooning numbers of jobless youth, and poor regional economic performance has created a dangerous recipe.

“Water, Energy and the Arab Awakening,” a new book from an association of former world leaders, the InterAction Council, co-edited and published by the UN University Institute for Water, Environment and Health, explores dimensions of security from a range of angles and offers some uncommon conclusions.

Much has been written in the recent years about water security as the crucial fulcrum on which human development and overall security balances. Access to modern energy services and adequate food, safe drinking water and sanitation are now deemed key determinants.

A clear indication of this increased awareness was provided by global business and political leaders in Davos last year, who recognised water insecurity as one of the five most important world risks.

Energy generation and consumption are driven by access to clean water and often generate polluting wastewater. Conversely, about eight percent of energy generated is used for treating, pumping, and transporting clean water and wastewater.

And food production is integrally linked to water availability – in most water-scarce countries, over 80 percent of water withdrawals support agricultural production.

It is also increasing clear that our use of resources, particularly freshwater, is not in line with availability. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Arab region, where countries suffer water scarcity, worsening with rising population and changing (warming) climate patterns.

Some leading experts argue that Syria’s security crisis is rooted in ineffective water management and drought, problems amplifying long-standing political, religious and social disputes. The confluence of water scarcity with energy shortages, food-price hikes, ballooning numbers of jobless youth, and poor regional economic performance has created a dangerous recipe.

New window into security

The new book argues that reversing this situation requires consumption patterns realigned with available resources. And it downplays the significance of military might as part of the overall security equation.

Enhancements in the energy sector — utilising newer technologies and greener generation — can conserve water resources, improve access to energy and boost energy markets. In the book, Majid Al-Moneef of the Supreme Economic Council of Saudi Arabia argues that national energy companies must play an enhanced role in this re-alignment.

Meanwhile, the food prices spikes of 2006-2008, argues Rabi Mohtar of Texas A&M University, can be linked to steep energy prices and to steering agricultural land to biofuel crop production. While the precise drivers of the global food prices are debatable, it is clear that availability of water and productive land, and the cost of energy are key.

The nexus of water, energy and food security demands re-thinking governance of these sectors. We can no longer afford isolated, ‘siloed’ management. The magnitude of these sectors and the respective proportion each contributes to national GDP varies very significantly from country to country.

But the water sector almost always comes out as a junior ministry or bureaucracy in national governments, making its integration difficult.

The book presents the Red Sea – Dead Sea canal as an example of achieving multi-faceted energy, food and water security goals while promoting regional peace. This 180-km long canal will siphon water from Red Sea to replenish the disappearing Dead Sea.

Some of the water will be desalinised for consumption, while also facilitating energy generation and food production. Former Jordanian Prime Minister Dr Majali notes that Israel, Palestinian Authority, and Jordan are all potential beneficiaries.

Climate change as exacerbating factor

There is little argument left that the greatest impacts of climate change are on the water cycle. And these changes can already be observed in spades — for example, in the extreme floods in Australia, Pakistan, Western Europe, and Canada of the last five years. The same can be said of prolonged droughts in Middle East and Central Asia.

The InterAction Council (IAC) – an association of 40 member former heads of state including Bill Clinton (USA), Jean Chrétien (Canada), Vincente Fox Quesada (Mexico), Andrés Pastrana Arango (Colombia), and Gro Harlem Bruntland (Norway) – notes that the U.N. Security Council has recognised climate change as an agenda for its consideration.

The IAC, however, argues in the book that water security should be a major consideration for the UNSC as climate change impacts manifest themselves in the form of water insecurity.

Looking for solutions

How the international community delivers its response to these multi-faceted problems is key; piecemeal solutions are clearly inadequate. The international development community, often led by the U.N. system, has an obvious central role. Numerous caucuses, most notably the summit-level G20, also have an increasing role to play in ensuring that these responses are comprehensive, geographically appropriate, and adequately resourced.

The Arab region is truly the test-bed of whether these solutions will work or not. As all eyes are turned towards the recent developments in Syria and Iraq, there is a wider narrative that relates to stemming problems before they get out of control elsewhere in the region.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Al Baghdadi and the Doctrine Behind the Namehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-al-baghdadi-and-the-doctrine-behind-the-name/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-al-baghdadi-and-the-doctrine-behind-the-name http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-al-baghdadi-and-the-doctrine-behind-the-name/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 08:14:18 +0000 Farhang Jahanpour http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137294

In this column, Farhang Jahanpour – former professor and Dean of the Faculty of Languages at the University of Isfahan, who has taught for 28 years in the Department of Continuing Education at the University of Oxford – looks at the symbolism of the name adopted by Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, and argues that the views and actions of al-Baghdadi and his followers are almost an exact copy of the Wahhabi revivalist movement instigated by 18th century theologian Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab.

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

When Ibrahim al-Badri al-Samarrai adopted the name of Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi al-Husseini al-Quraishi and revealed himself to the world as the Amir al-Mu’minin (the Commander of the Faithful) Caliph Ibrahim of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, the whole world had to sit up and take notice of him. 

The choice of the long title that he has chosen for himself is most interesting and symbolic. The title Abu-Bakr clearly refers to the first caliph after Prophet Muhammad’s death, the first of the four “Orthodox Caliphs”.

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

The term Husseini presumably refers to Imam Hussein, the Prophet’s grandson and Imam Ali’s son, who was martyred in Karbala on 13 October 680. His martyrdom is seen as a turning point in the history of Islam and is mourned in elaborate ceremonies by the Shi’ites.

Both Sunnis and Shi’ites regard Imam Hussein as a great martyr, and as someone who gave up his life in order to defend Islam and to stand up against tyranny.

Finally, al-Quraishi refers to Quraish, the tribe to which the Prophet of Islam belonged.

Therefore, his chosen title is full of Islamic symbolism.

According to an alleged biography posted on jihadi Internet forums, al-Baghdadi is a direct descendant of the Prophet, but curiously enough his ancestors come from the Shi’a line of the Imams who descended from the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah.

Despite his great hostility towards the Shi’ites, is this genealogy a way of portraying himself as the true son of the descendants of the Prophet, thus appealing to both Shi’ites and Sunnis?“The decision of some Western governments, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to topple the regime of the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad by training and funding Syrian insurgents provided al-Baghdadi with an opportunity to engage in jihad and to widen the circle of his followers, until he suddenly emerged at the head of thousands of jihadi fighters, again attacking Iraq from Syria”

According to the same biography, al-Baghdadi was born near Samarra, in Iraq, in 1971. It is alleged that he received BA, MA and PhD degrees in Islamic studies from the Islamic University of Baghdad. It is also suggested that he was a cleric at the Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal Mosque in Samarra at around the time of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

According to a senior Afghan security official, al-Baghdadi went to Afghanistan in the late 1990s, where he received his early jihadi training. He lived with the Jordanian militant fighter Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Kabul from 1996-2000.

It is likely that al-Baghdadi fled Afghanistan with leading Taliban fighters after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan following the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks in the United States. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, Zarqawi and other militants, perhaps including al-Baghdadi, formed al-Qaeda in Iraq.

In September 2005, Zarqawi declared an all-out war on the Shi’ites in Iraq, after the Iraqi and U.S. offensive on insurgents in the Sunni town of Tal Afar. Zarqawi was killed in a targeted killing by U.S. forces on Jun. 7, 2006.

According to U.S. Department of Defense records, al-Baghdadi was held at Camp Bucca from February until December 2004, but some sources claim that he was interned from 2005 to 2009.

In any case, his history of militancy in both Afghanistan and Iraq and fighting against U.S. forces goes back a long way. He was battle-hardened in the jihad against U.S. forces, and being detained by U.S. forces further strengthened his ambitions and credentials as a militant jihadi fighter.

In the wake of the Arab Spring and anti-government protests in Syria, some Western governments, Saudi Arabia and Turkey decided to topple the regime of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by training and funding Syrian insurgents.

The upheaval in Syria provided al-Baghdadi with an opportunity to engage in jihad and to widen the circle of his followers, until he suddenly emerged at the head of thousands of jihadi fighters, again attacking Iraq from Syria.

His forces conquered vast swaths of territory in both Syria and Iraq, and he set up his so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (or greater Syria), ISIS.

On the first Friday in the Muslim month of fasting or Ramadan on Jul, 4, 2014 (American Independence Day), al-Baghdadi suddenly emerged out of the shadows and delivered the sermon at the Great Mosque in Mosul, which had been recently conquered by ISIS.

His sermon showed not only his command of Koranic verses, but also his ability to speak clearly and eloquently. He is certainly more steeped in radical Sunni theology than any of the al-Qaeda leaders, past and present, ever were.

His biographer says that Al-Baghdadi “purged vast areas in Iraq and Syria from the filth of the Safavids [a term referring to the 16th century Iranian Shi’ite dynasty of the Safavids], the Nusayris [a derogatory term referring to the Syrian Alawite Shi’ites], and the apostate [Sunni] Awakening Councils. He established the rule of Islam.”

In his short sermon, al-Baghdadi denounced those who did not follow his strict interpretation of Islam as being guilty of bid’a or heresy. He quoted many verses from the Koran about the need to mobilise and to fight against non-believers, and to remain steadfast in God’s path.

He also stressed some key concepts, such as piety and performing religious rituals, obeying God’s commandments, and God’s promise to bring victory to the downtrodden and the oppressed. Finally, he talked about the need for establishing a caliphate.

In the Koranic context, these terms have broad meanings. However, in the hands of al-Baghdadi and other militant jihadis, these terms are given completely different and menacing meanings, calling for jihad and the subjugation of the non-believers.

The views and actions of al-Baghdadi and his followers are almost an exact copy of the Wahhabi revivalist movement instigated by an 18th century theologian from Najd in the Arabian Peninsula, Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-1792).

Indeed, what we are seeing in Iraq now is almost the exact repetition of the violent Sunni uprising in Arabian deserts that led to the establishment of the Wahhabi state founded by the Al Saud clan almost exactly 200 years ago.

In 1802, after having seized control of most of Arabian Peninsula, the Saudi warlord Abdulaziz attacked Karbala in Iraq, killed the majority of its inhabitants, destroyed the shrine of Imam Hussein, where Prophet Muhammad’s grandson is buried, and his followers plundered everything that they could lay their hands on.

The establishment of that dynasty has resulted in the propagation of the most fundamentalist form of Islam in its long history, which eventually gave rise to Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaeda, and now to ISIS and al-Baghdadi.

The jihadis reduce the entire rich and varied scope of Islamic civilisation, Islamic philosophy, Islamic literature, Islamic mysticism, jurisprudence, Kalam and tafsir (hermeneutics) to the Shari’a, and even at that, they present a very narrow and dogmatic view of the Shari’a that is rejected by the greatest minds in Islam, putting it above everything else, including their rationality.

Indeed, it is a travesty that such barbaric terrorist acts are attributed to Islam. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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U.S. Airdrops to Kobani Kurds Mark New Stage in ISIL Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-airdrops-to-kobani-kurds-mark-new-stage-in-isil-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-airdrops-to-kobani-kurds-mark-new-stage-in-isil-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-airdrops-to-kobani-kurds-mark-new-stage-in-isil-conflict/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 00:00:13 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137285 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. air drop Sunday of new weapons and supplies to Kurdish fighters in the besieged border town of Kobani marks an important escalation in Washington’s efforts to “degrade and destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The operation, which included the provision of 27 bundles of small arms, including anti-tank weapons, ammunition, and other supplies, also helped trigger a major change in Turkish policy, according to experts here.

School turned into refugee camp in Erbil, September 2014. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

School turned into refugee camp in Erbil, September 2014. Credit: Annabell Van den Berghe/IPS

Until then, Ankara had strongly opposed providing help to Kobani’s Kurdish defenders, who are dominated by members of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) which Ankara considers a terrorist organisation linked to the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK).

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu confirmed Monday that Kurdish peshmerga forces from Iraq will be permitted to transit the Turkish border to bolster Kobani’s fighters against ISIS, which has reportedly lost much of its hold on the city amidst heavy fighting and U.S. air strikes over the last few days.

“I think the Turks are doing damage control,” Henri Barkey, a Turkey expert based at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, told IPS Monday. “Everybody wanted to save Kobani, and the Turks were essentially making it impossible. They’re doing this now to say ‘we’re doing something, too’.”

Despite recent and increasingly worrisome ISIL advances in neighbouring Iraq, particularly in Al-Anbar province, the battle over Kobani has dominated coverage of the two-month-old U.S. air campaign against the group, largely because the fighting can be closely followed by journalists from the safety of the hills on the Turkish side of the border.

Although senior Obama administration and military officers have repeatedly declared that Kobani’s fate is not critical to their overall strategy against ISIL, the town’s prominence in U.S. media coverage – as well as reports that the group has itself sent significant re-inforcements to the battle — has made it a politically potent symbol of Washington’s prospects for success.

Washington had largely ignored the battle until several weeks ago. As ISIL forces moved into the town’s outskirts from three different directions in the media spotlight, however, it began conducting air strikes which have steadily intensified over the last two weeks, even as Ankara, its NATO ally, made clear that it opposed any outside intervention on the PYD’s behalf.

“The government of Turkey doesn’t see [ISIL] as the worst problem they face,” former U.S. Amb. to Ankara Eric Edelman said during a forum at the Bipartisan Policy Center here last week.Erdogan is likely to bargain hard over U.S. requests to use Incirlik air base for offensive operations against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.

He noted that senior Turkish officials have recently described the PKK, with which the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is engaged in critical peace negotiations, as worse — an observation which, he added “gives you a sense of the hierarchy” of threats as seen by Ankara. The PYD is widely considered the PKK’s Syrian branch.

“They see Kobani through the lens of negotiations with the PKK and [want] to cut the PKK down to size,” he said.

That strategy, however, may have backfired amidst increasingly urgent and angry appeals by the PYD and the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) in Iraq to come to Kobani’s aid, or, at the very least, permit Kurdish fighters to re-inforce the town’s defenders.

Even more important, Kurds, who make up about 20 percent of the Turkish population, mounted anti-government protests throughout the country. More than 30 people were killed in street violence before strict curfews were enforced earlier this month.

Moreover, the PKK threatened to break off peace negotiations, one of Erdogan’s signal achievements.

In addition to the domestic pressure, Washington and some of its NATO allies leaned increasingly heavily on Ankara to revise its policy.

Erdogan, however, insisted that it would help out in Kobani – and, more important strategically, permit the U.S. to use its giant Incirlik air base to launch air strikes — only if Washington met certain conditions regarding its overall Syria policy.

In particular, he demanded that Washington and its allies establish no-fly zones along the Turkish border that could be used as safe havens for anti-Syrian government rebels and target President Bashar al-Assad’s military infrastructure, as well as ISIL’s. While Secretary of State John Kerry indicated the administration was willing to consider such steps, the White House has remained steadfastly opposed.

Given the mounting symbolic importance of Kobani, Obama himself telephoned Erdogan Saturday to inform him that he had decided to authorise the resupply of Kobani’s defenders and urge him to open the border to Kurdish re-inforcements.

The initial resupply operation was carried out Sunday night local time by three C-130 cargo planes, marking a new level in Washington’s intervention in Syria.

Even as a few Democrats expressed concern about the latest escalation, the operation was hailed by Republican hawks who have called for much stronger action, including no-fly zones, as well as attacks on Syrian military targets.

“We support the administration’s decision to resupply Kurdish forces in Kobani with arms, ammunition and other supplies,” said Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, the Senate’s most prominent hawks, in a joint statement.

At the same time, they complained that “this tactical adjustment should not be confused for an effective strategy, which is still lacking.” They urged the administration to deploy U.S. special forces and military advisers on the ground in Syria to assist “moderate” opposition forces against both ISIL and the Assad regime.

What remains unclear is whether Obama merely informed Erdogan that the air supply operation would go forward whether he approved or not or if the Turkish president extracted some further commitments in return.

“I think they got nothing in exchange; I think the Turks are doing damage control,” Barkey told IPS. “I would say that the Turks are shell-shocked now by the American decision.”

At the same time, he added, Erdogan is likely to bargain hard over U.S. requests to use Incirlik air base, which is located close to the Syrian border and much closer to both Syria and Iraq than U.S. aircraft carriers and bases in the Gulf, for offensive operations against ISIS in both Syria and Iraq.

Turkey has permitted Washington to use the base to carry out humanitarian flights and launch surveillance drones – which are also used to track PKK movements in eastern Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pakistan’s Ahmadis Faced with Death or Exilehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pakistans-ahmadis-faced-with-death-or-exile/#comments Mon, 20 Oct 2014 14:21:32 +0000 Beena Sarwar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137258 Mujeeb-ur-Rahman (right) speaks at Harvard University. Amjad Mahmood Khan is seated to the left. Credit: Cara Solomon, Harvard Law School

Mujeeb-ur-Rahman (right) speaks at Harvard University. Amjad Mahmood Khan is seated to the left. Credit: Cara Solomon, Harvard Law School

By Beena Sarwar
BOSTON, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

Two years ago, gunmen shot dead Farooq Kahloun’s newly married son Saad Farooq, 26, in an attack that severely injured Kahloun, his younger son Ummad, and Saad’s father-in-law, Choudhry Nusrat.

Saad died on the spot. In Pakistan after travelling from his home in New York for the wedding, Nusrat died in hospital later. Four bullets remain in Kahloun’s chest and arm. A bullet lodged behind the right eye of Ummad, a student in the UK, was surgically removed months later.“In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.” -- Farooq Kahloun

As an Ahmadi leader in his locality, Kahloun knew he was a target for hired assassins in the bustling but lawless metropolis of Karachi. General insecurity in Pakistan is multiplied manifold if you are, like Kahloun, an Ahmadi – a sect of Islam that many orthodox Muslims abhor as heretic.

“I never thought they would target my family,” says Kahloun, 57, a successful businessman who left everything behind, obtained political asylum and moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and daughter.

In 1974, under pressure from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan’s parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslim (similarly pressured, the newly independent Bangladesh refused). A decade later, a military dictator made it a criminal offence for them to “pretend” to be Muslims.

These changes, say lawyers and human rights advocates, violate Pakistan’s own Constitutional provisions, specifically Articles 8-27 that are comparable to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

Saad Farooq-IPS-Ahmadi 300

Saad Farooq

“These are shameful laws,” says Kahloun. “If we have no other Prophet or Quran, what can we do?”

‘Takfiri’ ideology (declaring someone a non-Muslim) led to Pakistan’s first Nobel Prize winner Dr. Abdus Salam (Physics, 1979), an Ahmadi, being hounded out of the country, and to the attack on Swat schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, now Pakistan’s second Nobel Laureate, also forced into exile.

Assailants behind such attacks are rarely caught, tried and punished, creating a culture of impunity that only encourages more attacks, say analysts.

Assailants whom Ahmadi survivors captured and handed over to the police in May 2010 following one of Pakistan’s deadliest terrorist attacks are yet to be punished. The attack targeted an Ahmadi mosque in Lahore, killing over 90 worshippers and injuring many more.

“We could not live in Pakistan anymore. No one would leave if he had a choice, but now, any Ahmadi will go out if given the opportunity,” Kahloun told IPS by telephone. “In Karachi, people are being killed every day. Doctors, professors, not just Ahmadis but also Shias and others.”

Takfiri militants also term Shias as ‘Kafir’ or infidel and have been targeting them in huge numbers.

The independent Human Rights Commission of Pakistan says that 687 people were killed in over 200 sectarian attacks in 2013, 22 per cent more than in 2012, while 1,319 people were injured, 46 per cent more in 2012.

“The number of Ahmadis and religious communities seeking asylum abroad is steadily increasing,” says Qasim Rashid, a Pakistani-born, Virginia-based Ahmadi lawyer and author of ‘The Wrong Kind of Muslim’ (2013) that documents the Ahmadi persecution in Pakistan.

“This goes to show the importance of maintaining freedom of religion and conscience worldwide. It is the failure to uphold these rights that empowers and emboldens groups like Taliban and ISIS,” Rashid told IPS.

Some Pakistani Ahmadis are protected by their prominence, like Mujeeb-ur-Rahman, 83, a senior Supreme Court advocate who lives in Rawalpindi near the capital Islamabad, and has no intention of leaving the country.

“The Thurgood Marshall of Pakistan”, he is currently in the U.S., invited by the newly organised 52-member Ahmadi Muslim Lawyers Association (AMLA) to address their inaugural conference in Silver Spring, Maryland, last month and “pass on the torch”.

“All participants came at their own expense because they have a deep love and admiration for Mr. Rahman’s extraordinary career and advocacy,” says AMLA President Amjad Mahmood Khan, a Pakistani-origin American born in California.

AMLA has organised talks by Rahman at various universities, starting with Khan’s alma mater Harvard Law School. He spoke at Princeton University Oct. 17, and will appear at Columbia University, Oct. 23; New York University Law School, Oct. 27; University of California, Irvine, Oct. 30; and Stanford University, Nov. 4.

A lively and humorous speaker despite his age, Rahman peppers his talks with references to U.S. case law and pioneers like Martin Luther King — “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere” — besides Pakistan’s Constitution and legal cases.

He began his Harvard talk with the Muslim greeting “As-Salam-Alaikum” (peace be with you) — “almost a reflex greeting for any Pakistani, whether Christian or Muslim or from any religion”.

In Pakistan, the greeting could send him to jail for three years, he reminded the audience. So could saying the ‘Kalima’, the first prayer of Islam, “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet.”

“The first departure from the secular concept of Pakistan,” says Rahman, was Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly’s passage of the 1949 Objectives Resolution. Overriding the strong objections by some members, it declared Islam to be the state religion. “The clerics gained an inch”.

The Second Constitutional Amendment of 1974 that termed Ahmadis as non-Muslim is a “usurpation of constitutional authority, not a valid piece of law,” said Rahman. “The state cannot call into question anyone’s faith.”

In 1993, he argued a landmark case against restrictions on the Ahmadis’ right to freely practice their faith, consolidating eight appeals by Ahmadis, imprisoned for saying the ‘kalima’.

Zaheeruddin v. State is also known as the “trademark” or the “Coca Cola judgement” because the Supreme Court dismissed it on the grounds that Ahmadis by professing to be Muslims were violating the “trademarks” of Islam.

“As if religion is a merchandise, saleable commodity with financial interests attached,” scoffs Rahman, who carries with him two books that he adheres to: the Quran and Pakistan’s Constitution.

Lawyers in Pakistani courts cite hundreds of U.S. cases, but in the Zaheeruddin case, “American laws were wrongly cited and misapplied to give the colour of fairness to the case,” asserts Rahman.

Legal experts elsewhere have taken apart the Zaheeruddin judgement, like Martin Lau in a report for the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, and Karen Parker, J.D. in a study for the Humanitarian Law Project of the International Educational Development, USA.

Rahman pins his hopes on “intelligence of a future day” along the lines of what the U.S. witnessed when a U.S. Supreme Court bench overturned a case that earlier restricted the right of the Jehovah’s Witnesses to propagate their faith.

“The ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] was active in overturning the case,” says Rahman, noting that one of the judges who had been on the earlier bench admitted to having been wrong the first time.

Pakistan is the only country where it is a criminal offense for Ahmadis to profess and practice their faith as Muslims, but state-sanctioned discrimination and persecution of Ahmadis elsewhere are increasing.

“Pakistani laws are the most aggressive,” notes the advocate Qasim Rashid. “But other countries have started following Pakistan’s example. The onslaught is led not by locals but by Pakistani mullahs.”

Bangladesh has banned Ahmadi books on religion, Ahmadis are under attack in Malaysia, and Indonesia has started sealing Ahmadi mosques.

Khalida Jamilah, 21, lived in West Java in Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population. She says Ahmadi families like hers were free to practice their faith as Muslims until 2005 when hard-line Muslims attacked an Ahmadi convention in West Java that her family was attending.

In 2008, they sought political asylum in the U.S., and moved to Los Angeles, where Jamilah’s father drives a cab.

“Here [in America] we can express our faith freely,” says Jamilah, now a journalism student at the University of California, Berkeley. “The U.S. government values freedom of religion and there is separation of church and state. I hope the Indonesian government does that too.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Pacific Climate Change Warriors Block World’s Largest Coal Porthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pacific-climate-change-warriors-block-worlds-largest-coal-port/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pacific-climate-change-warriors-block-worlds-largest-coal-port http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/pacific-climate-change-warriors-block-worlds-largest-coal-port/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 20:49:42 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137260 A Pacific Climate Change Warrior paddles into the path of a ship in the world’s biggest coal port to bring attention to the impact of climate change on low-lying islands. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for 350.org

A Pacific Climate Change Warrior paddles into the path of a ship in the world’s biggest coal port to bring attention to the impact of climate change on low-lying islands. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for 350.org

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 18 2014 (IPS)

Climate Change Warriors from 12 Pacific Island nations paddled canoes into the world’s largest coal port in Newcastle, Australia, Friday to bring attention to their grave fears about the consequences of climate change on their home countries.

The 30 warriors joined a flotilla of hundreds of Australians in kayaks and on surfboards to delay eight of the 12 ships scheduled to pass through the port during the nine-hour blockade, which was organised with support from the U.S.-based environmental group 350.org."Fifteen years ago, when I was going to school, you could walk in a straight line. Now you have to walk in a crooked line because the beach has eroded away." -- Mikaele Maiava

The warriors came from 12 Pacific Island countries, including Fiji, Tuvalu, Tokelau, Micronesia, Vanuatu, The Solomon Islands, Tonga, Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Niue.

Mikaele Maiava spoke with IPS about why he and his fellow climate change warriors had travelled to Australia: “We want Australia to remember that they are a part of the Pacific. And as a part of the Pacific, we are a family, and having this family means we stay together. We cannot afford, one of the biggest sisters, really destroying everything for the family.

“So, we want the Australian community, especially the Australian leaders, to think about more than their pockets, to really think about humanity not just for the Australian people, but for everyone,” Mikaele said.

Speaking at the opening of a new coal mine on Oct. 13, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that “coal is good for humanity.”

Mikaele questioned Abbott’s position, asking, “If you are talking about humanity: Is humanity really for people to lose land? Is humanity really for people to lose their culture and identity? Is humanity to live in fear for our future generations to live in a beautiful island and have homes to go to? Is that really humanity? Is that really the answer for us to live in peace and harmony? Is that really the answer for the future?”

Mikaele said that he and his fellow climate warriors were aware that their fight was not just for the Pacific, and that other developing countries were affected by climate change too.

“We’re aware that this fight is not just for the Pacific. We are very well aware that the whole world is standing up in solidarity for this. The message that we want to give, especially to the leaders, is that we are humans, this fight is not just about our land, this fight is for survival.”

Pacific Climate Change Warrior Mikaele Maiava from Tokelau with fellow climate change warriors at the Newcastle coal port. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for 350.org

Pacific Climate Change Warrior Mikaele Maiava from Tokelau with fellow climate change warriors at the Newcastle coal port. Courtesy of Dean Sewell/Oculi for 350.org

Mikaele described how his home of Tokelau was already seeing the effects of climate change,

“We see these changes of weather patterns and we also see that our food security is threatened. It’s hard for us to build a sustainable future if your soil is not that fertile and it does not grow your crops because of salt intrusion.”

Tokelau’s coastline is also beginning to erode. “We see our coastal lines changing. Fifteen years ago when I was going to school, you could walk in a straight line. Now you have to walk in a crooked line because the beach has eroded away.”

Mikaele said that he and his fellow climate change warriors would not be content unless they stood up for future generations, and did everything possible to change world leaders’ mentality about climate change.

“We are educated people, we are smart people, we know what’s going on, the days of the indigenous people and local people not having the information and the knowledge about what’s going on is over,” he said.

“We are the generation of today, the leaders of tomorrow and we are not blinded by the problem. We can see it with our own eyes, we feel it in our own hearts, and we want the Australian government to realise that. We are not blinded by money we just want to live as peacefully and fight for what matters the most, which is our homes.”

Tokelau became the first country in the world to use 100 percent renewable energy when they switched to solar energy in 2012.

Speaking about the canoes that he and his fellow climate warriors had carved in their home countries and bought to Australia for the protest, he talked about how his family had used canoes for generations,

“Each extended family would have a canoe, and this canoe is the main tool that we used to be able to live, to go fishing, to get coconuts, to take family to the other islands.”

Another climate warrior, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands, brought members of the United Nations General Assembly to tears last month with her impassioned poem written to her baby daughter Matafele Peinam,

“No one’s moving, no one’s losing their homeland, no one’s gonna become a climate change refugee. Or should I say, no one else. To the Carteret islanders of Papua New Guinea and to the Taro islanders of Fiji, I take this moment to apologise to you,” she said.

The Pacific Islands Forum describes climate change as the “single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific.”

“Climate change is an immediate and serious threat to sustainable development and poverty eradication in many Pacific Island Countries, and for some their very survival. Yet these countries are amongst the least able to adapt and to respond; and the consequences they face, and already now bear, are significantly disproportionate to their collective miniscule contributions to global emissions,” it says.

Pacific Island leaders have recently stepped up their language, challenging the Australian government to stop delaying action on climate change.

Oxfam Australia’s climate change advocacy coordinator, Dr Simon Bradshaw, told IPS, “Australia is a Pacific country. In opting to dismantle its climate policies, disengage from international negotiations and forge ahead with the expansion of its fossil fuel industry, it is utterly at odds with the rest of the region.”

Dr. Bradshaw added, “Australia’s closest neighbours have consistently identified climate change as their greatest challenge and top priority. So it is inevitable that Australia’s recent actions will impact on its relationship with Pacific Islands.

“A recent poll commissioned by Oxfam showed that 60 percent of Australians thought climate change was having a negative impact on the ability of people in poorer countries to grow and access food, rising to 68 percent among 18 to 34-year-olds,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Iraq’s Minorities Battling for Survivalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-iraqs-minorities-battling-for-survival/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-iraqs-minorities-battling-for-survival http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-iraqs-minorities-battling-for-survival/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 13:56:31 +0000 Mark Lattimer and Mahmoud Swed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137255 Demonstrators in front of the White House call for greater U.S. intervention against ISIS to save Iraqi minorities, including Yazidi and Christians, from genocide. Credit: Robert Lyle Bolton/cc by 2.0

Demonstrators in front of the White House call for greater U.S. intervention against ISIS to save Iraqi minorities, including Yazidi and Christians, from genocide. Credit: Robert Lyle Bolton/cc by 2.0

By Mark Lattimer and Mahmoud Swed
LONDON, Oct 18 2014 (IPS)

Through all of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein’s campaigns of ‘Arabization’, they survived. The diverse Iraqi communities inhabiting the Nineveh plains – Yezidis, Turkmen, Assyrians and Shabak, as well as Kurds – held on to their unique identities and most of their historic lands.

So too they survived the decade of threats, bombings and killings that followed the 2003 invasion of Iraq, remaining on lands that in some cases they have settled for over 4,000 years.Responsibility for many of these attacks falls to ISIS or its predecessors, but regular killings have also been carried out by other militia groups, and by members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

But in less than three months this summer, much of the Nineveh plain was emptied of its minority communities.

The advance by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was marked by a series of atrocities, some of them recorded and posted on the internet by ISIS itself, which have outraged the international community.

Now the first comprehensive report on the situation of Iraq’s minorities, released Thursday by Minority Rights Group (MRG) International and the Ceasefire Centre for Civilian Rights, documents the full extent of violations committed against all of Iraq’s minority communities and reveals ISIS as an organisation motivated by the logic of extermination.

Minorities have been principal targets in a systematic campaign of torture, killings, sexual violence, and enslavement carried out by ISIS.

It should be stressed that nearly all of Iraq’s communities have suffered at the hands of ISIS, including Shi’a and Sunni Arabs, but the varying religious and social status attributed by ISIS ideologues to different peoples – as well as the value of the lands they inhabit – have made some communities much more vulnerable, with the nature of abuse often being determined by the particular ethno-religious background of the victims.

Under the pretence of a religious edict, for example, ISIS confiscated Christian-owned property in Mosul and enforced an ultimatum on the community to pay jizya tax.

Yezidis have repeatedly been denied even a right of existence by ISIS, and some other extremist groups, on the erroneous grounds that they are ‘devil-worshippers’.

The report delineates a pattern of targeting of Yezidis and their property, now overshadowed by the latest wave of violence that has cost the lives of at least hundreds and the kidnapping of up to 2500 men, women and children since August.

Captured Yezidi men have been forced to choose between conversion or death, whilst Yezidi women and children have been sold to slavery and subjected to sexual abuse.

But it would be a mistake to imagine that the violations suffered by Iraqi minorities date from a few months ago – or to believe that ISIS was the only perpetrator.

Since 2003, Christians have been the target of bombings, assassinations and kidnappings, with groups often targeting property and places of worship. Most of Iraq’s Christian population, up to one million people, had already fled the country by the start of the year.

Yezidis suffered the single deadliest attack of the conflict, when a multiple truck bombing in Sinjar in 2007 killed as many as 796 people, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent.

And one of the most sobering pictures to emerge from the report is the series of mass killings of Turkmen and Shabak carried out in recent years, the violence intensifying in the latter half of 2013.

Responsibility for many of these attacks falls to ISIS or its predecessors, but regular killings have also been carried out by other militia groups, and by members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

Throughout these years of violence the Iraqi government has proved either unable or unwilling to protect its minority communities. Few incidents are properly investigated and the perpetrators nearly always go unpunished, in some cases with indications of official complicity.

Aside from the immediate threats of violence, communities including Yezidis, Roma and Black Iraqis continue to face chronic and institutionalised discrimination that hinders their cultural and religious rights as well as imposing restrictions on access to health care, education and employment.

The choice now confronting many of Iraq’s diverse communities is be forced to flee en masse or to endure a life of continuous fear and suffering. Some peoples, such as the Sabean-Mandaeans, have already seen their numbers reduced by emigration to the point where their very survival in Iraq as a distinct community is under threat.

Some community leaders interviewed expressed the hope and determination that they could return to their lands; others saw emigration as their only possibility.

A comprehensive plan for the restitution to minority communities of their former lands and properties in the Nineveh plains and elsewhere is thus an essential component of any positive vision for Iraq’s future.

The need to ensure that those responsible for attacks are held to account also requires Iraq to accede to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC).

More immediately, there is nothing to stop the ICC prosecutor from opening a preliminary investigation into alleged crimes committed by the growing number of nationals of existing ICC state parties fighting in Iraq.

But Iraq’s own response to the ISIS threat holds serious dangers, including in particular the wholesale re-mobilisation of the Shi’a militias.

With the international coalition beginning to ratchet up its air campaign against ISIS, it is imperative that the international community does not appear to condone or even encourage the growing sectarianism now gripping Iraq’s security forces.

From a new sectarian war every community stands to lose.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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Israel Planning Mass Expulsion of Bedouins from West Bankhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/israel-planning-mass-expulsion-of-bedouins-from-west-bank/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-planning-mass-expulsion-of-bedouins-from-west-bank http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/israel-planning-mass-expulsion-of-bedouins-from-west-bank/#comments Sat, 18 Oct 2014 09:21:04 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137252 Makeshift Bedouin home in a camp east of Jerusalem on the way to Jericho. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Makeshift Bedouin home in a camp east of Jerusalem on the way to Jericho. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Oct 18 2014 (IPS)

Thirty-year-old Naifa Youssef and 50 other members of her Bedouin community live a precarious life, eking out a hand-to-mouth existence alongside the main road which links Jerusalem with the Dead Sea and the ancient city of Jericho.

Home for this community, east of Jerusalem, comprises a collection of shanty structures and hovels as well as tents erected on the rugged and rocky hills which line the road.

These makeshift homes are not connected to the electricity grid or to water and waste infrastructure. In winter the bitter cold rain and howling winds creep into the structures while mud and sewerage build up in pools around the tents.“We have nowhere else to go, we’ve lived here for many years and have no other land. We also can’t afford to move into a Palestinian village because we can’t afford the rent” – Naifa Youssef, a Palestinian Bedouin

Water has to be purchased and brought in by hand from the nearest village of Anata, a 15-minute and 5-km taxi journey away costing about two dollars per person.

Youssef’s community lives below the poverty line as the men folk struggle to make ends meet from casual day labour and herding their goats and sheep, with the area they can graze on limited by Israeli settlements.

The community has lived there for 50 years following their expulsion from the Negev Desert in 1948 when the Israeli state was established. The majority of the West Bank’s Bedouin communities were expelled from the Negev Desert during the same year.

Over the next few years, Israel plans to forcibly expel and relocate approximately 27,000 Palestinian Bedouins from Area C of the West Bank to make way for Israeli settlements.

This followed an announcement by the Israeli government in August that it planned to confiscate over 1,000 acres of West Bank land – the biggest land grab by the Jewish state in three decades.

The West Bank is divided into Area A, under nominal Palestinian control, Area B under joint Israeli-Palestinian control, and Area C (which comprises approximately 60 percent of the territory) under full Israeli control, although overall control of the entire West Bank ultimately falls under Israeli control.

The Israelis argue that under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Area C does not belong to the Palestinians and that most of the structures built there were constructed without permits.

However, obtaining the requisite Israeli building permits for Palestinians is notoriously difficult in East Jerusalem and most parts of the West Bank, and almost impossible in Area C. Critics argue that this is a deliberate policy by the Israeli authorities to keep the occupied territory part of Israel.

The Israeli authorities have warned the Youssefs and their neighbours that they have less than two months to evacuate and that if they refuse to leave they will be forcibly expelled by Israeli security forces.

“We have nowhere else to go, we’ve lived here for many years and have no other land. We also can’t afford to move into a Palestinian village because we can’t afford the rent,” Youssef said.

Youssef’s problems have been experienced by thousands of other Bedouins and will be experienced by thousands more once again as Israel moves to keep most of the West Bank free of Palestinians and exclusively for Israeli settlers and settlements.

In preparation for what some have labelled an accelerated wave of ethnic cleansing, officials from Israel’s Civil Administration, which administers the West Bank, have been demolishing Palestinian infrastructure in Area C including shacks, tents, animal shelters and homes and other structures deemed to have been built “illegally”.

As part of the forced relocation, more than 12,000 Bedouins will be relocated to a new settlement near the West Bank city of Jericho where they will be surrounded by a firing zone, settlements and an Israeli checkpoint which will limit their ability to graze their herds, the main source of income for these nomadic pastoralists.

Several Bedouin communities were forcibly relocated in the 1990s by the Civil Administration from near East Jerusalem to an area of land near a garbage dump in Abu Dis which falls in Area B.

The expulsion of the Bedouins in the 1990s was primarily to make way for enlarging the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim, one of the largest in the West Bank.

Further to enlarging Maale Adumim, part of Israel’s plan has been to keep an area known as the E1 corridor, which links the settlement with East Jerusalem, contiguous and under Israeli control by building more settlements, effectively dividing the West Bank in two.

The move also further isolates East Jerusalem from the West Bank. East Jerusalem is of great importance to Palestinians due to cultural, educational, family, business, and religious ties. Palestinians also hope to establish a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“The Civil Administration’s plan blatantly contravenes international humanitarian law, which prohibits the forced transfer of protected persons, such as these Bedouin communities, unless the move is temporary or is necessary for their safety or to meet a military need,” says Israeli rights group B’tselem.

“The Civil Administration’s expulsion plan meets none of these conditions. Israel, as the occupying power, is obligated to act for the benefit and welfare of residents of the occupied territory. Expansion of the settlements does not comport with this requirement.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: The Survivorshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-survivors/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-survivors http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-survivors/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 15:19:03 +0000 Yury Fedotov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137243

Yury Fedotov is Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime

By Yury Fedotov
VIENNA, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

Oct. 18 is the EU’s Anti-Trafficking Day, as well as the United Kingdom’s Anti-Slavery Day. These events offer a good opportunity to talk about human trafficking within Europe’s borders, but we should not forget that there are victims and survivors all over the world.

People like Grace, not her real name, who grew up in a large family in Western Nigeria. On leaving high school her uncle lured Grace to Lagos with false promises that her education would continue. But instead of libraries and lessons, this young Nigerian girl was forced to wear suggestive clothing and work long hours in her uncle’s beer parlour. She was pressured into sleeping with any customer willing to pay. Her aunt kept the money.

Courtesy of UNODC

Courtesy of UNODC

Those who are trafficked, like Grace, are often destitute, alone and afraid. In the face of exploitation and constant abuse it is difficult to summon the courage to flee. Fortunately, she had access to a radio and overheard a show on human trafficking.

One of the interviewees, a staff member for the African Centre for Advocacy and Human Development, encouraged anyone needing help to contact the centre. Grace realised there might be a way out.

Grace approached the centre after running away from her aunt and uncle. She was given a medical examination, as well as a place to sleep and counselling. The centre later sponsored her training as a seamstress, and later, with support, she was able to open a shop to sell her clothes. Grace had successfully taken the long journey from victim to human trafficking survivor.

Although Grace’s cruel experiences are individual to her, they are sadly not unique. In its publication, Hear Their Story, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) highlights numerous stories of children and young people forced to sell themselves, and their labour.

UNODC’s human trafficking report found that 136 different nationalities detected in 118 countries between 2007 and 2010, making this a truly global crime.

Around 27 per cent of those trafficked are children forced into numerous sordid occupations, including petty crime, begging and the sex trade. 55-60 per cent of individuals trafficked globally are women. If the figure for women is added to those for young girls, it becomes 75 per cent.

The majority of these women are coerced into the sex trade; many others find themselves working as domestic servants or forced labour. There is also a commonly held myth that men are not trafficked. This is untrue. Men are also exploited for forced labour and can suffer extreme forms of abuse.

To counter this crime that shreds both dignity and human rights, there is a need to work constantly at the grassroots level. We have to be present where the traffickers are committing their gross crimes, and where victims can be helped to make the transition to a new life.

Countries also need to ratify and adopt the Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and its protocol on human trafficking. The Convention creates a legal framework for mutual legal assistance and other means of tackling organised crime. But what is really needed is comprehensive data, meaning better reporting from countries, and proper funding.

In 2011, the UN Voluntary Trust Fund for human trafficking managed by UNODC, and which has a special emphasis on children, provided grants to 11 organisations working at the ground level. Thanks to their work, children and young adults, such as Grace, have been supported. But more funds are needed to provide legal support and advice, treatment for physical abuse, safe houses, additional life skills, as well as schooling and training.

Grace’s life changed when she heard a radio story that helped her become a survivor. On the EU’s Anti-Trafficking Day and the UK’s Anti-Slavery Day, we have to ensure that other victims find their voices, and when they escape or are freed, we are waiting to offer much needed protection.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mexico’s Cocktail of Political and Narco-Violence and Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/mexicos-cocktail-of-political-and-narco-violence-and-poverty/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 14:45:29 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137238 Students from this school, the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were attacked by the police in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. Six were killed, 25 were injured and 43 are still missing. Credit: Pepe Jiménez/IPS

Students from this school, the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa, Mexico, were attacked by the police in the city of Iguala in the state of Guerrero. Six were killed, 25 were injured and 43 are still missing. Credit: Pepe Jiménez/IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
MEXICO CITY, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

The images filled the front pages of Mexico’s newspapers: 61 half-dressed state policemen kneeling, with their hands tied, in the main square of the town of Tepatepec in the central state of Hidalgo, while local residents threatened to burn them alive.

It was Feb. 19, 2000. The reason the townspeople were furious was the police occupation of the Normal Rural Luis Villarreal rural teachers college in the town of El Mexe, and the arrest of 176 of the students, who had been on strike because of the government’s announcement that enrollment would be reduced.

Between that episode and an incident on Monday Oct. 13 in the southwest state of Guerrero, when teachers, students and local residents of the town of Ayotzinapa set fire to the state government building, there has been a history of repression and criminalisation of the country’s poorest students: the sons and daughters of small farmers who study to become teachers in rural schools.

“It’s built-up anger,” Etelvina Sandoval, a researcher at the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional, Mexico’s national university for teacher training, told IPS. “For years there has been a campaign against the rural teachers colleges and they have been scorned for what they do. In the view of the government, they are very expensive, and the students have to constantly fight to keep their schools running. And no one says anything because they’re poor kids.”

Guerrero is the third-least developed state in the country, and one of the most politicised. It has been the birthplace of social movements, and four decades ago it was one of the targets of the “dirty war” – a time of military repression of opponents of the government, which left a still unknown number of dead and disappeared.“For years there has been a campaign against the rural teachers colleges and they have been scorned for what they do. In the view of the government, they are very expensive, and the students have to constantly fight to keep their schools running. And no one says anything because they’re poor kids.” -- Etelvina Sandoval

It is also one of the most violent states. And since Sept. 26 it has been in the global spotlight, after police in the city of Iguala attacked three buses full of students fom the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college of Ayotzinapa.

The reason for the attack is not yet clear. But it was reported that the police handed over a group of students to the Beltrán Leyva drug cartel.

In the clash with police, six people were killed, 25 were injured, and 43 mainly first-year students went missing.

Implicated in the massacre were Mayor José Luis Abarca and his wife María de los Ángeles Pineda, both of whom are fugitives from justice and who, according to investigations, were on the cartel’s payroll.

In the search for the students, 23 mass graves have been found so far, containing dozens of corpses.

“The indiscriminate violence against the civilian population that we saw during the six-year term of Felipe Calderón (2006-2012) has been directed towards organised social movements since the change of government. What happened in Iguala was just a question of time,” said Héctor Cerezo, a member of the Cerezo Committee, an organisation that documents forced disappearances and the dirty war.

The young people who study at the rural teachers colleges – known as “normales” or normal schools – are the poorest students in the country, who receive training to educate poor “campesinos” or peasant farmers in the most marginalised and remote communities, where teachers who have trained in urban areas do not want to go.

The students are themselves campesinos whose only chance at an education is the normales, which were founded in 1921 and are the last bastion of the socialist education imparted in Mexico from 1934 to 1945.

In the normales, which function as boarding schools, and where students are given meals as well as a scholarship of three to seven dollars a day, the students are in charge.

They participate directly in administrative decision-making, and have established support networks among schools through the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico, the country’s oldest student organisation, which has frequently been accused of churning out guerrillas.

Through its ranks passed legendary guerrillas like Lucio Cabañas, who in 1967 founded the Party of the Poor, and Genaro Vázquez (both of whom were graduates of the Ayotzinapa teachers college). Another was Misael Núñez Acosta, who studied at the “normal” in Tenería, in the state of Mexico, and in 1979 founded the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación teachers union and was killed two years later.

“They were created for that reason – to do political work and consciousness-raising. The students are very independent young people [in comparison with students at the urban ‘normales’] with very strict discipline,” said Sandoval, who added that the rural teachers colleges have been “a thorn in the side of the governments.”

Of the 46 original rural teachers colleges, only 15 are left. Half of them were closed after the 1968 student movement by then-president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964-1970).

The ones that are still open have been waging a steady battle since 1999 to avoid being turned into vocational-technical schools. But the state governments have financially suffocated them, with the argument that the country doesn’t need more primary school teachers, because the declining birth rate has reduced student enrollment.

As a result, fires and other incidents have become common in the rural teachers colleges as the installations have become more and more rundown. In 2008, for example, two students died in a fire caused by a short circuit in the first rural school of its kind in Latin America, the Normal Rural Vasco de Quiroga in the northwest state of Michoacán.

“What I can say is that there are not enough teachers in the most remote areas,” Sandoval said. “There are communities who go for months without a teacher. In some places a ‘non-teacher’ covers the gap temporarily, working without any contract or fixed timeframe.”

The attack on the buses carrying students from the Ayotzinapa school has put President Enrique Peña Nieto’s human rights policy to the test.

The incident occurred in the context of growing tension caused by attempts by the latest governments to close down the school.

In January 2007, then state Governor Zeferino Torreblanca tried to reduce the number of students enrolled and declared that his government’s aim was to reduce the “studentocracy”. In November of that year, the anti-riot police cracked down on students when they demonstrated outside the state legislature.

On Dec. 12, 2011 the police killed two normal school students: phys-ed student Gabriel Echeverría de Jesús and primary education student Jorge Alexis Herrera Pino.

They were taking part in a roadblock to protest cuts in the school budget. In addition, Édgar David Espíritu Olmedo was seriously wounded, and 24 other students were beaten and injured.

“Ayotzinapa is standing up to fight for justice. The academic excellence that we are seeking cannot be conditioned on our political submission,” the Federation of Socialist Campesino Students of Mexico stated in a communiqué at the time.

No one was held responsible or punished for the deaths.

Nearly three years later, as they were getting ready to visit Mexico City to take part in the commemoration of the anniversary of the Oct. 2, 1968 massacre of students in Tlatelolco square in Mexico City, the students from the Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos teachers college in Ayotzinapa were ambushed by municipal police, and the detained students, according to the investigations and testimony, were handed over to a criminal group that the mayor worked for.

Since then, there has been no sign of the 43 missing students.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Cash-Strapped Human Rights Office at Breaking Point, Says New Chiefhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cash-strapped-human-rights-office-at-breaking-point-says-new-chief/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cash-strapped-human-rights-office-at-breaking-point-says-new-chief http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/cash-strapped-human-rights-office-at-breaking-point-says-new-chief/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 21:47:50 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137225 Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks at the opening of the 27th session of the Human Rights Council on Sep. 8, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaks at the opening of the 27th session of the Human Rights Council on Sep. 8, 2014 in Geneva, Switzerland. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

After six weeks in office, the new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein of Jordan launched a blistering attack on member states for insufficient funding, thereby forcing operations in his office to the breaking point “in a world that seems to be lurching from crisis to ever-more dangerous crisis.”

“I am already having to look at making cuts because of our current financial situation,” he told reporters Thursday, pointing out while some U.N. agencies have budgets of over a billion dollars, the office of the UNHCHR has a relatively measly budget of 87 million dollars per year for 2014 and 2015."I have been asked to use a boat and a bucket to cope with a flood." -- U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein

“I have been asked to use a boat and a bucket to cope with a flood,” he said, even as the Human Rights Council and the Security Council saddles the cash-strapped office with new fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry – with six currently underway and a seventh “possibly round the corner.”

Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum (GPF) in Bonn, told IPS that governments treat the United Nations like firefighters.

“They call them to a fire but don’t give them the water to extinguish the fire and then blame the firefighters for their failure,” he said.

Martens welcomed the “the powerful statement” by the UNHCHR, describing it as a wake-up call for governments to take responsibility and finally provide the necessary funding for the United Nations.

Martens said for many years, Western governments, led by the United States, have insisted on a zero-growth doctrine for U.N. core budget.

“They bear major responsibility for the chronic weakness of the U.N. to respond to global challenges and crises,” he added.

The Office of the UNHCHR depends on voluntary contributions from member states to cover almost all of its field activities worldwide, as well as essential support work at its headquarters in Geneva.

“Despite strong backing from many donors, the level of contributions is not keeping pace with the constantly expanding demands of my Office,” Zeid said.

Peggy Hicks, global advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, told IPS the dramatic gap between the demands on the U.N. human rights office and the resources it has available is unsustainable.

“It’s time for states to match their commitment to human rights by providing the resources needed for the High Commissioner and his team to do their jobs,” she said.

Renzo Pomi, Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations, told IPS it is wrong that the office of the UNHCHR’s core and mandated activities are not fully funded from the U.N.’s regular budget.

This, despite the fact, – as the High Commissioner himself points out – human rights are regularly described as one of the three pillars of the United Nations (along with development and peace and security).

Pomi said the office receives just over three percent of the U.N.’s regular budget.

“That makes for a short pillar and a badly aligned roof. U.N. member states should make sure that its core and mandated activities are properly funded,” he added.

Singling out the cash-crisis in the World Health Organisation (WHO), Martens told IPS a recent example is the weakness of WHO in responding to the Ebola pandemic.

Due to budget constraints WHO had to cut the funding for its outbreak and crisis response programme by more than 50 percent in the last two years.

It’s a scandal that the fraction of the regular budget allocation for human rights is less than 100 million dollars per year, and that the Office of the High Commissioner is mainly dependent on voluntary contributions.

Human Rights cannot be promoted and protected on a mere voluntary basis.

He said voluntary, and particularly earmarked, contributions are often not the solution but part of the problem.

Earmarking tends to turn U.N. agencies, funds and programmes into contractors for bilateral or public-private projects, eroding the multilateral character of the system and undermining democratic governance, said Martens.

“In order to provide global public goods, we need sufficient global public funds,” he said.

Therefore, member states must overcome their austerity policy towards the United Nations.

For many years Global Policy Forum has been calling for sufficient and predictable U.N. funding from governments, said Martens. In light of current global challenges and crises this call is more urgent than ever before, he added.

Zeid told reporters human rights are currently under greater pressure than they have been in a long while. “Our front pages and TV and computer screens are filled with a constant stream of presidents and ministers talking of conflict and human rights violations, and the global unease about the proliferating crises is palpable.”

He said the U.N. human rights system is asked to intervene in those crises, to investigate allegations of abuses, to press for accountability and to teach and encourage, so as to prevent further violations.

But time and time again “we have been instructed to do these and other major extra activities within existing resources,” said Zeid, a former Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Vanishing Species: Local Communities Count their Losseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanishing-species-local-communities-count-their-losses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vanishing-species-local-communities-count-their-losses http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanishing-species-local-communities-count-their-losses/#comments Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:08:40 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137211 Over the past two decades, 99 percent of India’s vultures have disappeared. Credit: gkrishna63/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Over the past two decades, 99 percent of India’s vultures have disappeared. Credit: gkrishna63/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 16 2014 (IPS)

The Mountain Chicken isn’t a fowl, as its name suggests, but a frog. Kimisha Thomas, hailing from the Caribbean island nation of Dominica, remembers a time when she could find these amphibians or ‘crapaud’ as locals call them “just in the backyard”.

Known also as the Giant Ditch Frog, these creatures form a crucial part of Dominica’s national identity, with locals consuming them on special occasions like Independence Day. Today, hunting mountain chicken is banned, as the frogs are fighting for their survival. In fact, scientists estimate that their numbers have dwindled down to just 8,000 individuals.

Locals first started noticing that the frogs were behaving abnormally about a decade ago, showing signs of lethargy as well as abrasions on their skin. “Then they began to die,” explained Thomas, an officer with Dominica’s environment ministry.

“People also started to get scared, fearing that eating crapauds would make them ill,” she adds. In fact, this fear was not far from the truth; preliminary research has found that Chytridiomycosis, an infectious disease that affects amphibians, was the culprit for the wave of deaths.

Some 2,599 of 71,576 species recently studied are thought to be endangered -- International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Besides the mountain chicken, there has been a sharp decline in the population of the sisserou parrot, which is found only in Dominica, primarily in the country’s mountainous rainforests. Thomas says large-scale destruction of the bird’s habitat is responsible for its gradual disappearance from the island.

Dominica is not alone in grappling with such a rapid loss of species. According to the Red List of Threatened Species, one of the most comprehensive inventories on the conservation status of various creatures, some 2,599 of 71,576 species recently studied are thought to be endangered.

Compiled by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Red List aims to increase the number of species assessed to 160,000 by 2020. But even with only half the world’s biological species included in the index, the forecast is bleak.

While the extinction or threat of extinction of thousands of species poses huge challenges across the board, tribal and indigenous communities are generally first to feel the impacts, and will likely bear the economic and cultural brunt of such losses.

As Thomas points out, “The crapaud was our national dish. The sisserou parrot [also known as the Imperial Amazon] sits right in the middle of our national flag. Their loss means the loss of our very cultural identity.”

A similar refrain can be heard among the Parsi community of India, whose culture dictates that the dead be placed in high structures, called ‘towers of silence’, that they may be consumed by birds of prey: kites, vultures and crows. The unique funeral rites are an integral part of the Zoroastrian faith, which stipulates that bodies be returned to nature.

But over the past two decades, 99 percent of India’s vultures have disappeared, making it impossibly difficult for the Parsi community to keep up with a centuries-old tradition.

Rising economic burden

Besides severely affecting ancient cultural and spiritual practices, the disappearance of various species is also taking an economic toll on indigenous communities according to 65-year-old Anil Kumar Singh, who was born and raised in the village of Chirakuti in India’s northeastern hill districts.

Singh says that as a child, he never saw a doctor for minor ailments like the common cold or an upset stomach.

“We used Vishalyakarni [a herb] for pains and cuts. We drank the juice of basak leaves (adhatoda vasica) for a cough and used the extract from lotus flowers for dysentery,” he tells IPS.

“But today, these plants don’t grow here anymore. Even when we try, they die out soon and we don’t know the reason. We now have to buy medicines from a chemist’s shop for everything,” he asserts.

Sometimes, the cost is much higher. Northern Indian states like Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have experienced an explosion in the population of stray dogs, giving rise to health risks among locals.

By way of explanation, Neha Sinha, advocacy and policy officer of the Bombay Natural History Society in India (BNHS), a Mumbai-based conservation charity, tells IPS that the phenomenon of increasingly feral dogs can be traced to Indian farmers’ practice of leaving dead cattle out in the open to be consumed by birds of prey.

With no vultures to pick the beasts clean, dogs are now getting to the carcasses, growing more and more vicious and resorting to attacks on humans. BNHS is currently breeding vultures in captivity in order to prevent their complete extinction, but it is unlikely the birds will regain their numbers from 20 years ago.

Meanwhile, according to a study by Birdlife International, the population of feral dogs in India has grown by 5.5 million due to the disappearance of vultures.

The report says there have been “roughly 38.5 million additional dog bites and more than 47,300 extra deaths from rabies, [which] may have cost the Indian economy an additional 34 billion dollars.”

Legal and knowledge gaps

The near extinction of vultures in India is attributed to diclofenac, a painkiller that is often given to cows and buffalos to which vultures are allergic. Intense campaigning against use of the drug led to a government ban in 2004, but implementation of the law has been poor, and diclofenac is still widely used, according to Singh of BNHS.

“The farmers know [the drug] is banned but they continue to use it because the law is not being enforced,” she said.

In several other cases, communities are left confused as to the reasons behind species loss, making it increasingly hard to settle on a solution. For instance, even after a decade of seeing their unique creatures vanish, Dominica still does not know what brought the Chytridiomycosis fungus to their soil, or how to deal with it.

This knowledge gap is a double whammy for indigenous communities, whose lives and livelihoods depend heavily on the species they have lived side by side with for millennia.

Lucy Mulenekei, executive director of the Indigenous Information Network (IIN), tells IPS on the sidelines of the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 12), currently underway in Pyeongchang, South Korea, that the decline in the livestock population in Kenya has affected the Maasai people, a pastoral tribe that has always relied on their herds for sustenance.

Now forced to live off the land, the tribe is faltering.

“The Maasai people don’t know what kind of farming tools they need, or how to use them. They don’t know what seeds to use and how to access them. There is a huge gap in knowledge and technology,” explains Mulenekei, who is Maasai herself.

In response to the growing crisis, governments and U.N. agencies are pushing out initiatives to tackle the problem at its root.

Carlos Potiara Castro, a technical advisor with the Brazilian environment ministry, is leading one such project in the Bailique Archipelago, 160 km from the Macapa municipality in northern Brazil, where local fisher communities are taught to conserve biodiversity. Already, community members have learned the properties of 154 medicinal plants.

The annual cost of the project is about 50,000 dollars, but Potiara says a lot more funding will be needed in order to scale up the work and replicate such efforts around the country.

This might soon be possible under a new initiative launched by the government of Germany together with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), which offers 12.3 million euros over a period of five years to indigenous communities in over 130 countries to help them conserve protected areas.

Yoko Watanabe, a senior biodiversity specialist at the natural resources team of the GEF Secretariat, tells IPS the grants will also cover the cost of trainings, to pass on necessary skills to indigenous communities who are recognised as “indispensable to biodiversity conservation.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Despite Public’s War Weariness, U.S. Defence Budget May Risehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/despite-publics-war-weariness-u-s-defence-budget-may-rise/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-publics-war-weariness-u-s-defence-budget-may-rise http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/despite-publics-war-weariness-u-s-defence-budget-may-rise/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 23:36:19 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137198 Hillary Clinton "is positioning herself to the right of the (Barack) Obama administration on foreign policy issues,” the report notes. Credit: Brett Weinstein/cc by 2.0

Hillary Clinton "is positioning herself to the right of the (Barack) Obama administration on foreign policy issues,” the report notes. Credit: Brett Weinstein/cc by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Despite the public’s persistent war weariness, the U.S. defence budget – the world’s biggest by far – may be set to rise again, according to a new study released here this week by the Center for International Policy (CIP).

The 41-page study, “Something in the Air: ‘Isolationism,’ Defense Spending, and the U.S. Public Mood,” concludes that the current political moment appears similar to those between 1978 and 1982 and between 1998 to 2001 when defence spending spiked upwards after periods of substantial declines.Even if the defence budget does indeed increase over the next few years, it should not be taken as a popular mandate for military activism, particularly for protracted military commitments of large numbers of ground troops.

Like today, the then-incumbent presidents (Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, respectively) appeared politically weakened by domestic troubles; the foreign-policy debate was dominated by perceptions that the U.S. was failing to deal effectively with new challenges overseas; and Democratic incumbents in Congress facing re-election assumed more hawkish positions.

“Already the leading Democratic contender for the presidency is positioning herself to the right of the [Barack] Obama administration on foreign policy issues,” wrote the study’s author, Carl Conetta, in a reference to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. “This will move media and expert discourse in a more hawkish direction.”

While these factors, as well as warnings by military leaders and their supporters in Congress of a “hollowing” of the country’s armed forces, are consistent with historical precedent, the public may still resist higher military budgets due to the slowness of the economic recovery, according to Conetta, a veteran defence analyst who heads CIP’s Project for Defence Alternatives.

But even if the defence budget does indeed increase over the next few years, it should not be taken as a popular mandate for military activism, particularly for protracted military commitments of large numbers of ground troops given the persistent public disillusionment with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Conetta. He noted that some 15 years elapsed between the end of the Vietnam War and the public’s rallying behind a major military operation: the first Gulf War in 1991.

The study, which includes an extensive analysis of polling data over the last few decades, as well as trends in defence spending, comes less than a month before mid-term Congressional elections. The Republicans, who have become markedly more hawkish than just a year ago when many of them opposed U.S. military retaliation for Syria’s use of chemical weapons, are expected to gain control of the Senate, as well as retain their majority in the House of Representatives.

It also comes as the Obama administration struggles to cope with a number of difficult foreign-policy challenges – most recently, the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and, more spectacularly, the alarming gains by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Iraq and Syria and its well-publicised brutality against minorities and western captives (notably, the beheadings of U.S. reporters and aid workers) — against which a reluctant president has felt compelled to react with air strikes and the dispatch of hundreds of U.S. advisers.

In addition, the growing anxiety about the Ebola pandemic in West Africa and its possible spread here have contributed to an apparent decline in public confidence in Obama’s leadership.

These events have emboldened neo-conservatives and other hawks – mostly Republicans – who have long criticised Obama for “leading from behind”, weakness, and “appeasement” in dealing with alleged adversaries, and even “isolationism” – to amplify those charges in advance of the November elections.

They have also encouraged former senior military officers, especially those employed by big military contractors, to call for restoring recent cuts in defence.

While defence spending is currently down about 21.5 percent in real terms from its 2008 high of nearly 800 billion dollars, it still accounts for almost 40 percent of global military spending and four percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), about twice the country average for the rest of the world’s nations.

Polls have suggested for decades that the public is conflicted about Washington’s global role: on the one hand, enduring majorities have long supported the notion that the U.S. should be the world’s leading military power; on the other hand, strong majorities have also strongly rejected the role of “world’s policeman”, preferring instead a co-operative, multilateral approach to foreign-policy issues in which military power and unilateral action should be used only as a “last resort”.

According to Conetta, these views are not mutually contradictory and have been relatively consistent over time. “(T)he public views military superiority as a deterrent and an insurance policy, not a blank check for military activism,” Conetta noted.

Detailed polling conducted over many years by the Pew Research Center, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, and Gallup, among others, have shown that the U.S. public will reliably rally in support of a forceful response to violent attacks on citizens or perceived U.S. vital interests and, at least theoretically, in cases of mass killings or genocide.

On the other hand, they have shown that the public generally opposes intervention in most third-party inter-state or civil wars. And despite initial – but fast-waning — enthusiasm for “regime change” in Afghanistan and Iraq, the public has come to oppose such efforts or “armed nation-building”, especially if they are conducted unilaterally, according to Conetta.

“Current support for bombing ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria is consistent with (those) limits,” his study noted, adding that that support is almost certain to waver “if the mission grows or fails to show real progress.”

In contrast to the public’s views, however, foreign-policy elites have consistently expressed support for U.S. military dominance, or “primacy,” and greater military activism, according to Conetta. This has created a gap between the public and the national leadership which, in the post-Cold War era, narrowed only in the years immediately following the first Gulf War and the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but which has since grown wider than ever in the past decade, despite the strong support for U.S. attacks on ISIL.

While the most recent polling shows a plurality in favour of continuing to reduce Pentagon spending, according to the study, “this may soon change”, especially in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, given the ease with which hawkish political actors have historically framed public debate, according to the study.

“A common stratagem is to frame discussion of budget issues in terms of averting a ‘hollow military’. Another is to use Second World War metaphors – references to Hitler, Munich, and isolationism – to frame current security challenges and higher levels of defense spending,” Conetta wrote.

Such themes, he added, “are now fully in play – casting (Syrian President Bashar al-) Assad and (Russian President Vladimir) Putin as Hitler, warning against a replay of “Munich-like appeasement, and tarring non-interventionary sentiment as ‘isolationist’.”

Still, it’s not certain they will prevail given the persistent economic worries of most U.S. voters and if the electorate perceives the foreign-policy elite as overreaching again, as they have in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: The U.S. and a Crumbling Levanthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-u-s-and-a-crumbling-levant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-u-s-and-a-crumbling-levant http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-u-s-and-a-crumbling-levant/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 20:18:53 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137192

Emile Nakhleh is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

As the international media is mesmerised by the Islamic State’s advance on Kobani or ‘Ayn al-Arab on the Syrian-Turkish border, Arab states and the United States would need to look beyond Kobani’s fate and the Islamic State’s territorial successes and defeats.

The crumbling Levant poses a greater danger than ISIL and must be addressed—first and foremost by the states of the region.Although the so-called deep security state has been able to maintain a semblance of order around the national capital, the state’s control of territories beyond the capital is fading and is rapidly being contested by non-state actors.

The British colonial term Levant encompasses modern-day Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Palestine, with a total population of over 70 million people. The population—mostly young, unemployed or underemployed, poor, and inadequately educated—has lost trust in their leaders and the governing elites.

The Levant has become a bloody playground for other states in the greater Middle East, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE, Iran, and Turkey. While dislocations in the Levant could be contained, the regional states’ involvement has transformed the area into an international nightmare. The resulting instability will impact the region for years to come regardless of ISIL’s short-term fortunes.

The Levantine state has become marginalised and ineffectual in charting a hopeful future for its people, who are drifting away from nationalist ideologies toward more divisive, localised, and often violent, manifestations of identity politics. National political identity, with which citizens in the Levant have identified for decades, has devolved mostly into tribal, ethnic, geographic, and sectarian identities.

The crumbling state structure and authority gave rise to these identities, thereby fueling the current conflicts, which in turn are undermining the very existence of the Levantine state.

The three key non-state actors—ISIL, Hizbollah, and Hamas—have been the beneficiaries of the crumbling states, which were drawn up by colonial cartographer-politicians a century ago.

Although the so-called deep security state has been able to maintain a semblance of order around the national capital, the state’s control of territories beyond the capital is fading and is rapidly being contested by non-state actors.

This phenomenon is readily apparent in Baghdad, Damascus, Ramallah, and Gaza, partially so in Beirut, and less so in Amman. Salafi groups, however, are lurking in the background in Jordan, Lebanon, and Palestine ready to challenge state authority whenever they sense a power vacuum.

Political systems in the Levant are often propped up by domestic ruling elites, regional states, and foreign powers for a variety of parochial and transnational interests. More and more, these ruling structures appear to be relics of the past. A key analytic question is how long would they survive if outside economic, military and political support dries up?

Levant regimes comprise a monarchy in Jordan; a perennially dysfunctional parliamentary/presidential system in Lebanon; a brutal, teetering dictatorship in Syria; an autocratic presidency in Palestine; and an erratic partisan democracy in Iraq. They have subsisted on so-called rentier or “rent” economies—oil in Iraq, with the rest dependent on foreign aid. Providers of such aid have included GCC countries, Iran, Turkey, the United States, the EU, Russia, and others.

Corruption is rampant across most state institutions in the Levant, including the military and the key financial and banking systems. For example, billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Iraq following the 2003 invasion have not been accounted for. According to the New York Times, American investigators in the past decade have traced huge sums of this money to a bunker in Lebanon.

The collapse of the Levant states in the next decade is not unthinkable. Their borders are already becoming more blurred and porous. The decaying environment is allowing violent groups to operate more freely within states and across state boundaries. ISIL is causing havoc in Iraq and Syria and potentially could destabilise Jordan and Lebanon precisely because the Levantine state is on the verge of collapse.

As these states weaken, regional powers—especially Saudi Arabia plus some of its GCC junior partners, Iran, and Egypt—will find it convenient to engage in proxy sectarian and ethnic wars through jihadist and other vigilante mercenaries.

Equally disturbing is that U.S. policy toward a post-ISIL Levant seems rudderless without a strategic compass to guide it. It’s as if U.S. policymakers have no stomach to focus on the “morning after” despite the fact that the airstrikes are proving ineffective in halting ISIL’s territorial advances.

Kobani aside, what should the Arab states and the United States do about the future of the Levant?

1. Iraq. If the Sunnis and Kurds are to be represented across all state institutions in Iraq, regional states with Washington’s help should urge Prime Minister Abadi to complete the formation of his new government on the basis of equity and fairness. Government and semi-public institutions and agencies must be made accountable and transparent and subject to scrutiny by domestic and international regulatory bodies. Otherwise, Iraq would remain a breeding ground for terrorists and jihadists.

2. Syria. If Washington remains committed to Assad’s removal, it should end its Russian roulette charade toward the Syrian dictator. Ankara’s view that Assad is more dangerous in the long run than ISIL is convincing and should be accepted and acted upon.

If removing Assad remains a serious policy objective, is the coalition contemplating imposing a no-fly zone and a security zone on Syria’s northern border any time soon to facilitate Assad’s downfall?

3. Lebanon. If Hizbollah and other political parties do not play a constructive role in re-establishing political dialogue and stability in Lebanon, it won’t be long before the ISIL wars enter the country. Are there regional and international pressures being put on Hizbollah to end its support of Assad and disengage from fighting in Syria?

The upcoming presidential election would be a useful barometer to assess the key Lebanese stakeholders’ commitment to long-term stability. If no candidate wins a majority, does Washington, in conjunction with its Arab allies, have a clear plan to get the Lebanese parliament to vote for a president?

Unless Lebanon gets its political house in order, religious sectarianism could yet again rear its ugly head in that fragile state and tear Lebanon apart.

4. Palestine. If the Obama administration urges Israel to facilitate a working environment for the Palestinian national unity government, to end its siege of Gaza, and dismantle its 47-year occupation, Palestine would no longer be an incubator of radical ideologies.

An occupied population living in poverty, unemployment, alienation, repression, daily humiliation, and hopelessness and ruled by a corrupt regime is rarely prone to moderation and peaceful dialogue. On the contrary, such a population offers fertile recruiting ground for extremism.

5. It is in the United States’ interest to engage Iran and Saudi Arabia—the two countries that seem to meddle most in the Levant—in order to stop their proxy wars in the region. These sectarian wars could easily lead to an all-out military confrontation, which would surely suck in the United States and other Western powers. Israel would not be able to escape such a conflict either.

The Saudi government claims that it opposes ISIS. Yet one would ask why hasn’t the Saudi clerical establishment denounced—forcefully and publicly—the ISIL ideology and rejected so-called Islamic State Caliphate? Why is it that thousands of ISIL jihadists are from Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Gulf countries?

6. Since Levant countries face high unemployment, it’s imperative to pursue serious job creation initiatives. Arab states, with Washington’s support, should begin massive technical and vocational education programs and entrepreneurial initiatives in the Levant countries. Young men and women should be trained in vocational institutes, much like the two-year college concept in the United States.

Vocational fields that suffer from shortages in Levant countries include plumbing, carpentry, home construction, electricity, welding, mechanics, automotive services, truck driving, computers and electronics, health services, hotels and tourism, technology management, and TV and computer repairs. Services in these fields are badly needed. Yet thousands of young men and women are ready to be trained and fill these needs.

In addition to vocational training, wealthy Arab countries should help the Levant establish funds for entrepreneurial, job-creation initiatives, and start-ups. A partnership between government and the private sector, with support from the U.S and other developed countries, could be the engine that drives a new era of job creation and economic growth in the region where the ISIL cancer is metastasizing.

Let’s be clear, the United States has significant leverage to help implement these policies should American leaders decide to do so. One could ask why should the US make such a commitment? If ISIL is primarily a threat to Levantine countries, why can’t they deal with it?

These are fair questions but, as we have discovered with Ebola, what happens in Liberia doesn’t stay in Liberia. A crumbling Levant will have ramifications not just for the region but for the United States and the rest of the world as well.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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Family Farming – A Way of Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farming-a-way-of-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=family-farming-a-way-of-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/family-farming-a-way-of-life/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 07:54:28 +0000 Gloria Schiavi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137180 Women are the backbone of the farming sector and have a crucial role to play in improving nutrition through food preparation and the education of children. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

Women are the backbone of the farming sector and have a crucial role to play in improving nutrition through food preparation and the education of children. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Gloria Schiavi
ROME, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

It does not make the headlines, but 2014 is the International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) and family farming will be centre-stage at this year’s World Food Day on Oct. 16 at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

“If we are serious about fighting hunger we need to promote family farming as a way of production and also [...] as a way of life. It is much more than a way of agricultural production”, says Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO’s Office for Partnerships, Advocacy and Capacity Development.

According to FAO, family farming – which is the largest employer in the world – can help combat hunger and poverty and contribute to healthy food systems. It can also play a role in protecting the environment and managing natural resources in a sustainable way.Family farming is estimated to provide 70 percent of the food produced in the world, sustain 40 percent of households worldwide and is twice more effective in reducing poverty than any other productive sector.

There is no official definition for family farming, which sometimes replaces the term ‘smallholders’, but its key features are family ownership and the use of mainly non-wage labour provided by family members.

Family farming is estimated to provide 70 percent of the food produced in the world, sustain 40 percent of households worldwide and is twice more effective in reducing poverty than any other productive sector.

A FAO working paper, which used figures from the World Census of Agriculture, calculates that “there are more than 570 million farms in the world and more than 500 million of these are owned by families.”

The paper also notes that 84 percent of the world’s farms are smaller than two hectares and operate on about 12 percent of the world’s farmland. The remaining 16 percent of farms are larger than two hectares and represent 88 percent of farmland.

East and South Asia along with the Pacific account for 74 percent of the 570 million farms, with China and India accounting for 35 and 24 percent respectively. Only three percent of farms are located in the Middle East and North Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean represent four percent each.

Farmers’ organisations from Africa, America, Asia, Europe and Oceania met in Abu Dhabi in January at the start of IYFF and issued a set of five demands to make family farming the “cornerstone of solid sustainable rural development, conceived of as an integral part of the global and harmonised development of each nation and each people while preserving the environment and natural resources.”

Among others, they called for strategies to attract young people and prevent migration, creating the conditions for them to take over their parents’ farms or set up new farms.

With regards to gender equality, they criticised discrimination over inheritance rules and wages as unacceptable, saying that women are the backbone of the farming sector and have a crucial role to play in improving nutrition through food preparation and the education of children.

The farmers’ organisations also called on governments to finance the creation of cooperatives, and guarantee access to markets and loans for smallholders.

According to José Antonio Osaba, Coordinator of the IYFF-2014 Civil Society Programme of the World Rural Forum, all nations, and especially developing nations, “have the right to protect their agriculture so as to be able to feed themselves and trade under equitable conditions … the reverse is now the case: a small handful of major exporting nations with high productivity levels and considerable subsidies dominate the world food market.”

Ranja Sengupta, senior researcher at the Third World Network in India, shares Osaba’s position. On the side-lines of the Asia-Europe Peoples’ Forum held in Milan, Italy, on Oct. 10-12, she told IPS that free trade agreements pose a serious problem for the capability of developing countries to sustain their people.

“I think in countries like India, large countries with a large, hungry population, there is no alternative to strengthening small family-based farms”, she said.

“We cannot depend on imported food. So for us, if we have to provide food to our people, we have to take it from our producers and we have to ensure that they are able to produce; that’s why we do need to give essential subsidies – at least for now”, she added.

“It is something which should be non-negotiable for any developing country government and no global agreement should be able to actually say ‘no’ to that”, Sengupta concluded.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Civil Society in Cuba Finds More Space Under the Reformshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 01:25:21 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137201 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/civil-society-in-cuba-finds-more-space-under-the-reforms/feed/ 2 Ahead of Myanmar Trip, Obama Urged to Demand Extractives Transparencyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/ahead-of-myanmar-trip-obama-urged-to-demand-extractives-transparency/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 00:33:47 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137175 Myanmar now has three years in which to put in place a series of transparency standards and publicly report on government extractives revenues, payments from mining and drilling companies, and related issues. Credit: Bigstock

Myanmar now has three years in which to put in place a series of transparency standards and publicly report on government extractives revenues, payments from mining and drilling companies, and related issues. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Oct 15 2014 (IPS)

Lawmakers here are urging President Barack Obama to put transparency in the extractives sector at the centre of an upcoming trip to Myanmar.

While the government of Myanmar has recently engaged in a series of bilateral and multilateral pledges to make its lucrative but highly opaque mining and oil and gas industries more transparent, advocates increasingly warn that officials are failing to keep these promises."The real heart of the issue for civil society in Burma is the details of these contracts. They also want to start talking about the tremendous amount of money the Burmese government makes off of these oil and gas deals, and how most of that doesn’t benefit the people of Burma.” -- Jennifer Quigley

The U.S. government has been a key sponsor in facilitating these pledges, and many now see President Obama’s visit, slated for next month, as an important opportunity to prompt legal change in Myanmar, also known as Burma. Myanmar officials are currently revising related legislation, although little is known about these secretive talks.

Supporters say reforms, particularly around public information on extractives deals and revenues, could help to ensure that Myanmar’s significant natural resources wealth is used for development rather than simply enriching businesses close to the regime.

“Despite commitments to transparency and good governance, decision-making over the management of Burma’s national resources remains largely hidden from public scrutiny … the gap between the Burmese government’s promises and its delivery is widening,” 16 members of the U.S. Congress warned President Obama in a letter sent Tuesday.

“We therefore urge you, during your visit to Burma, to call on the Burmese government to ensure provisions on transparency and accountability are incorporated into revised laws, regulations and policies governing the extractives sector, and negotiated into new contracts and licenses.”

The letter, a copy of which was seen by IPS, includes backing from both Republicans and Democrats. Last year, the United States initiated a partnership between the Myanmar extractives industry and the Group of 8 (G8) rich countries, which could offer Obama additional leverage in demanding new transparency measures.

The lawmakers’ call comes not only a month ahead of President Obama’s planned trip to Myanmar (his second), but also as a global summit on extractives transparency begins in the country’s capital, Naypyidaw. The two-day meeting of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which promotes guidelines that are currently followed by 46 countries, comes just three months after Myanmar became one of the EITI’s newest candidate countries.

Under these guidelines, Myanmar now has three years in which to put in place a series of transparency standards and publicly report on government extractives revenues, payments from mining and drilling companies, and related issues.

Just a month after its EITI candidature was accepted, Myanmar signed several dozen contracts with domestic and international oil and gas companies. Yet according to Tuesday’s letter, the terms of those contracts remain secret, as are ongoing revisions to policies overseeing the extractives sector.

“The laws and regulations governing the extractive industries are currently being revised behind closed doors, with no public consultation,” the lawmakers state.

“Drafts of the first of these new pieces of legislation contain no provisions on public disclosure of data and do not reflect any of the promises of greater transparency made by the government through the EITI process.”

Beneficial owners

The contracts signed in August were for 36 oil and gas blocks, both on land and offshore, auctioned off to 46 local and global companies over the past year. While the details of those contracts remain under wraps, until recently almost nothing was known even of these companies’ owners.

Around the country’s EITI application, an international watchdog group called Global Witness began focusing on what’s known as ultimate beneficial ownership – information on who, ultimately, controls and benefits from a company’s activities. In June, the group had such information on the companies involved in just three of the blocks.

Yet after requesting information directly from the companies, Global Witness last week reported that many more companies had come forward with these details. The companies were also asked whether any of their beneficial owners were politically powerful individuals in Myanmar.

“In total, 28 companies have now participated in Global Witness’ ownership review, and we have been provided with full beneficial ownership details of all partners in 17 oil and gas blocks,” the group says in a new report, published Friday. “This shows that businesses can and will provide such information if they have an incentive, such as protection of their reputation, to do so.”

Global Witness says the information remains unverified and that a “hard core” of 18 companies continue to refuse to provide any information. Still, the group says this corporate response has already set a surprising international example.

“Not only is this significant locally, but it puts Myanmar in the unlikely position of setting a global precedent on transparency, as it’s the first time anywhere in the world that companies have systematically declared their ultimate ownership,” Juman Kubba, an analyst at Global Witness, told IPS.

“Our findings show that companies can reveal their owners if they’re pushed to do so. It’s now up to the Myanmar government with the support of the U.S. and other backers to make that push so that all oil, gas and mining company ownership in the country is public.”

Outside the framework

Still, some worry that the recent corporate disclosure wasn’t actually carried out through the EITI framework, thus suggesting that the government’s transparency pledges remain weak. They also dispute whether beneficial ownership is of foremost importance in the Myanmar context.

“This disclosure is incredibly important on the global scale, but when it comes to Burma the real concern has never been about ownership but rather about conflict related to resources,” Jennifer Quigley, the president of the U.S. Campaign for Burma, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“This wasn’t done through the EITI in this instance, and the real heart of the issue for civil society in Burma is the details of these contracts. They also want to start talking about the tremendous amount of money the Burmese government makes off of these oil and gas deals, and how most of that doesn’t benefit the people of Burma.”

Quigley says that Myanmar’s government has long been comfortable making pledges it has no intention of keeping, and she see little prospect of that changing in the near term. Still, she says the United States has linked itself so closely to extractives transparency in Myanmar that President Obama will need to broach the subject during his trip next month.

“This is really an area in which the U.S. has married itself to the Burmese government,” she says. “So they need to be paying more attention to the fact that the Burmese government isn’t living up to its EITI promises.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Corruption, Tax Evasion Fuel Inequality in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/corruption-tax-evasion-fuel-inequality-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-tax-evasion-fuel-inequality-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/corruption-tax-evasion-fuel-inequality-in-latin-america/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 15:34:13 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137163 (1)	Tax evasion and fraud join forces in Latin America to exacerbate inequality in the region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

(1) Tax evasion and fraud join forces in Latin America to exacerbate inequality in the region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

Corruption and tax evasion are flagrant violations of human rights in Latin America, where they contribute to inequality and injustice in the countries of the region, according to studies and experts consulted by IPS.

“Tax evasion means that those who are most vulnerable are denied the full enjoyment of their economic and social rights, including health and education,” said Rocío Noriega, an adviser on governance, ethics and transparency for the United Nations Development Programme.

“Corruption has a negative impact on the enjoyment of human rights,” she added. It also constitutes “a threat to democracy, because it systematically violates the foundation of citizenship by perpetuating inequality based on access by the few to power, wealth and personal connections,” she told IPS.

Corruption, as a way of distributing public resources for purposes other than the common good, is a serious violation of human rights, experts agreed.

Perceptions of corruption

Most Latin Americans view corruption as one of the three main problems in their country, according to the 2013 Latinobarómetro public opinion poll.

In Costa Rica, 20 percent of respondents complained of corruption, 29 percent of economic problems and six percent of crime.

In Honduras the proportions were 11 percent for corruption, 61 percent for economic problems and 28 percent for crime. In Brazil and Colombia, 10 percent of respondents said corruption was their primary concern, in third place behind economic problems and crime.

In Argentina and Peru, eight percent of interviewees named corruption as their main problem: in Bolivia and the Dominican Republic it was seven percent; in Mexico six percent; in Ecuador, Panama and Paraguay five percent; in Guatemala four percent; in Nicaragua three percent; in El Salvador and Venezuela two percent; and in Chile and Uruguay, one percent.

Latinobarómetro said the poll appeared to show that corruption is not as serious a problem as experts and transparency reports would indicate, but this is because – as happened previously with crime – in many countries of the region corruption is a hidden issue, and they cited Mexico as a prime example.

Mexico is the country with the highest proportion of people who are aware of cases of corruption (39 percent), and transparency reports say its level of corruption is high; yet only six percent view corruption as the main problem.

Source: 2013 Latinobarómetro poll

In 2013 the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that, since corruption can occur in many different forms and contexts, it is almost impossible to identify all the human rights that are violated.

They added that corruption is an obstacle for the development of societies, but is also a serious problem for strengthening the legitimacy of democracy, because its prevalence and the perception of citizens of its incidence in public affairs and institutions can greatly undermine support for democratic regimes.

The 2013 Latinobarómetro poll indicates that 26 percent of all Latin Americans said they were aware of at least one case of corruption in their country in the past 12 months. A similar percentage said that nearly everyone in their government was corrupt.

Venezuela and Mexico top the ranking for perception of corruption, with 39 percent making these statements, followed by Paraguay (38 percent) and Chile (35 percent). Among the countries with the lowest perception of corruption were Uruguay (19 percent), Nicaragua (17 percent), Honduras Guatemala and Brazil (16 percent), and El Salvador (eight percent).

Francisca Quiroga, a political analyst and expert on public policies at the University of Chile, told IPS that both corruption and tax evasion are directly correlated to inequality and injustice.

She said: “Tax policies are a potential instrument for distributing resources and funding the development of social policies.

“The underlying rationale is the duty to combat inequality and to redistribute resources, as well as to build more sustainable economies,” she said.

“When talking about human rights and social rights, in particular, one of the elements to take into account is taxation policy, and the institutional mechanisms to ensure the legitimacy of the decisions taken,” she said.

High inequality is one of the most distinctive characteristics of Latin America’s social situation.

According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), income distribution inequality in the region is substantially higher than in other global regions, with an average Gini coefficient of 0.53.

The Gini coefficient is a measure of income inequality, expressed as an index between zero and one. Zero represents perfect equality, while a value of one represents complete inequality.

For example, the least unequal country in the region is more unequal than any non-Latin American member of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), or than any country in the Middle East and North Africa, according to a report titled “Evasión y Equidad en América Latina” (Evasion and Equality in Latin America) by the ECLAC Economic Development Division.

The five Latin American countries with the worst income distribution, according to the report, are Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Chile, in that order.

In Chile, most employed people earn around 500 dollars a month, in a country where bread costs two dollars a kilo, while the richest 4,500 families live on more than 30,000 dollars a month.

“Tax evasion is a form of fraud that undermines equality, there is no doubt about it,” sociologist Marta Lagos, the head of Latinobarómetro, told IPS.

“There is massive empirical evidence that shows that income distribution improves when taxes are paid,” she said.

“The lack of formality of our state agencies allows tax evasion to occur,” and this may happen in powerful and wealthy circles as well as among ordinary citizens, she said.

She calls this phenomenon “social fraud,” pointing to its basis in customs overwhelmingly regarded as acceptable in social practice, so that the state is unable to eradicate it. “It is customary, however wrong, illegal and immoral,” she said.

Lagos stressed that social fraud may be wrong, immoral or illegal. Wrongness refers to offences that are not legally penalised but affect coexistence, such as parking a vehicle badly and paralysing traffic. Immoral acts include situations like eating something while shopping in a supermarket and not paying for it.

Illegal social fraud, in turn, may occur on a mass scale and covers those who avoid paying for a bus ticket, use state subsidies improperly, or evade paying taxes.

In Chile, as in other Latin American countries, it is common practice for retail outlets in outlying neighbourhoods not to issue receipts for every purchase, said Lagos, and this is wholly accepted by the population.

“I don’t really care,” Bernarda, a middle-aged woman who buys bread every day from a small store near her home in La Florida, a mainly middle class suburb southeast of Santiago, but who does not always receive a formal receipt for her purchase.

“I have known this woman (the store owner) for years and I know she is honest,” she said. “It’s all the same to me,” said another neighbour beside her. “What do I want a tax receipt for? Anyway, everybody does it,” she said.

This behaviour is widespread in the region and is reflected daily in the question that retailers and service providers in many countries constantly ask consumers when it is time to pay: “With IVA (value added tax) or without IVA?”

Lagos said that over the past decade tax evasion has come to be seen as increasingly legitimate, since corruption in high places “increases people’s perception that it is acceptable not to pay taxes, because the money is being stolen and misspent.”

Quiroga, however, believes the time has come for citizens to realise that their political and social rights are infringed whenever the system allows tax evasion and corruption to become common practice.

“This is the only way we are going to be able to overcome this scourge,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

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Vanuatu Puts Indigenous Rights First in Land Reformhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/vanuatu-puts-indigenous-rights-first-in-land-reform/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 11:01:10 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137160 Customary land remains a vital source of food security, cash incomes and social wellbeing in Pacific Island countries, such as Vanuatu, where formal employment is only 20 percent. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary land remains a vital source of food security, cash incomes and social wellbeing in Pacific Island countries, such as Vanuatu, where formal employment is only 20 percent. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
PORT VILA, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

Stemming widespread corruption in the leasing of customary land to investors is the aim of bold land reform, introduced this year in the Southwest Pacific Island state of Vanuatu, which puts the rights of traditional landowners above the discretionary powers of politicians.

Less than one hour from the capital, Port Vila, is the village of Mangaliliu, one of many across this sprawling nation of 82 islands and more than 247,000 people where livelihoods centre on agriculture and fishing.

Here, villagers are battling the loss of their traditional land due to a lease negotiated without their consent.

“We thought the tourism business or selling our land would give us work and employ a lot of our people, but now we realise we made a mistake." -- Mangaliliu’s Chief Mormor
“Somebody from another village leased one piece of our land to an investor. I tried to stop him. When he started bulldozing the land, I went with my people and took palm leaves, which we use as a sign of [something that is] taboo [forbidden]. We hung them all along the road and the case is now in court,” Mangaliliu’s Chief Mormor recounted.

Pristine coastlines and sea views on the country’s main island of Efate have attracted foreign investors interested in property and tourism development and now an estimated 56.5 percent of coastal land on the island has been leased for periods up to 75 years.

More than 80 percent of land in Vanuatu is customary, with ownership held by extended families, who are custodians for the next generation. Rights of use for farming or commercial enterprises are decided by group consensus, as are proposals on leasing to other parties. The importance of land to the culture, identity, food security and social wellbeing of Pacific Islanders is reflected in most national laws, which only allow the lease – not sale – of customary land.

Yet today with the penetration of the cash economy land has also become a source of windfalls to villagers and politicians alike.

“People have learned that if they sell [lease] one piece of land they can buy a car, satellite dish or speedboat,” Mormor said. “It can take many years to save this sort of money, so it is just like a miracle if you sell land.”

However under group custodianship conflict can quickly arise if, for example, “I have a brother who sells a piece of land and doesn’t ask permission of me or my sister, or my children, or my sister’s children,” he added.

In the past, the lands minister could personally decide on disputed leases. The World Bank’s Justice for the Poor programme reports that 21.4 percent of all new leases since the country’s independence in 1980 have been signed under this provision. Last year alleged improper land dealings accounted for almost two-thirds of lawsuits against the government.

Now, the ambitions of land reform by indigenous leader Ralph Regenvanu, who was appointed lands minister in 2013, have become a reality.

In December last year new laws were passed making it mandatory that all members of customary landowner groups give their prior informed consent to any leases over their land. Potential investors must apply to a land management planning committee for approval to conduct negotiations with custom owners. Two customary institutions, Nakamals and Custom Area Land Tribunals, will decide the outcome of disputes, rather than the courts.

According to Regenvanu, investor confidence will increase because now when “you get a lease you can be assured that it was gained lawfully.” But he also believes that the economic and social security which land provides to his people will be strengthened.

Steve Namali of the Vanuatu National Council of Chiefs in Port Vila commented that, while consultation on the reforms had not been conducted nationwide, he believed they would help address the fraudulence of land deals in the past.

With adult literacy in the province estimated at 27.6 percent, the greater thoroughness of the approval process should also improve local awareness of the ramifications of entering into land agreements. For example, reclaiming land on a lease expiry often requires compensation to the lessee for developments, even though many villagers do not have the financial means to reimburse an investor the value of a tourist resort or luxury home.

Local communities often “don’t understand what is going to happen in the long term” and that most likely “at the end of a lease, it [land] will never come back to traditional tenure,” Joel Simo of the Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA), a regional civil society landowner solidarity network, said in Port Vila.

“There is now a process in place that has to be followed and it will stop individuals going and doing their own thing,” he said. “It has been a good change for Vanuatu, especially because of this land boom and people selling land left, right and centre.”

International investors from Australia, Europe and Asia have largely driven growth in the real estate market, along with the nation’s tax haven status. In 2012, foreign direct investment (FDI) amounted to 37.7 million dollars or 4.8 percent of GDP, but Mormor claims local people have seen few benefits.

“We thought the tourism business or selling our land would give us work and employ a lot of our people, but now we realise we made a mistake,” he said.

Despite average GDP growth of four percent over the past decade, with a high of 8.5 percent in 2006, an estimated 40 percent of people have incomes below the poverty line.

“I think people want development, but what type of development and in whose interests?” Simo queried. He believes protecting indigenous landownership makes sense when the traditional economy, which includes subsistence and smallholder agriculture, is the biggest employer in Melanesia.

In comparison, “many [formal sector] jobs available involve cheap labour and that only gets people into more poverty,” he said. Formal employment in Vanuatu is only 20 percent and the average local wage is 316 dollars per month. So, he continued, “If you don’t have a job, you fall back to the land,” which is the only safety net.

Mormor now wants to retain his land for community-driven projects, such as fish farming and coconut oil production. He is happy that the new laws will help protect the land for his children, but also admits the more thorough land registration and approval process, if he engages with development partners, will take much longer than in the past.

“I could be dead when these projects start,” he laughs.

While Vanuatu’s new laws are popular, it remains to be seen how well they work, and if they eliminate political cronyism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Istanbul’s Citizens Discover Green Solidarityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/istanbuls-citizens-discover-green-solidarity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=istanbuls-citizens-discover-green-solidarity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/istanbuls-citizens-discover-green-solidarity/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 08:18:54 +0000 Tessa Love http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137155 Police barricade in Gezi Park – one of the last green spaces in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district and an “oasis” in Taksim Square, a large stone plaza of mostly open space with a few statues, fountains and entrances to underground stations (May 2013). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Police barricade in Gezi Park – one of the last green spaces in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district and an “oasis” in Taksim Square, a large stone plaza of mostly open space with a few statues, fountains and entrances to underground stations (May 2013). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Tessa Love
ISTANBUL, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

A year after the Gezi Park uprising – a protest that began as an act to save trees – exploded into anti-government riots around the country, sparking cohesive community efforts to fight urban sprawl, the face of environmental activism and awareness in Turkey has changed.

“It’s no coincidence that the demonstrations were ignited by an ecological issue, by concerns of urban development,” said Morat Ozbank, an assistant professor of political theory at Bigli University and a board member of the Turkish Green Party. “And this later became an issue of human rights and democratisation.”

At 11 pm on May 27, 2013, bulldozers moved into Gezi Park – one of the last green spaces in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district and an “oasis” in Taksim Square, a large stone plaza of mostly open space with a few statues, fountains and entrances to underground stations.  They were there to clear the trees for the controversial construction of an Ottoman-era style shopping mall.“The mega-projects are disastrous for Istanbul. All development is hurting something. Urban planning is a rational profession, but the government does not listen to this rationale. They take our public spaces and sell them for construction” – Akif Burak Atlar, secretary to the board at the Turkish Chamber of Urban Planners

Within 20 minutes, throngs of people filled the park to block the construction, and they stayed for 20 days before being forced out by police.

The proposed shopping mall was just one of a long list of mega-projects spearheaded by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Other projects include a third bridge across the Bosphorus, a tunnel for private vehicles beneath the same waterway, the world’s largest airport, and a second Bosphorus on the Asian side of the city.

Many of these projects are being carried forward despite opposition from bodies such as the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), which is responsible for assessing the potential impact of proposed projects and advising against those that could be detrimental to the environment.

According to Akif Burak Atlar, secretary to the board at the Turkish Chamber of Urban Planners, all of these projects fit that description.

“The mega-projects are disastrous for Istanbul,” he says. “All development is hurting something. Urban planning is a rational profession, but the government does not listen to this rationale. They take our public spaces and sell them for construction.”

Atlar believes that every neighbourhood in Istanbul should legally have a certain amount of green space to uphold urban planning standards. Nevertheless, public parks are being destroyed and, beyond the city limits, miles of wild forests have been destroyed to make way for the third bridge and the second Bosphorus.

While all of these projects had elicited outcries from various small organisations and legal action from TMMOB before May 2013, nothing came close to the response at Gezi Park.

“Gezi was a unique moment is Turkish history,” says Atlar. “There was no leader, no formal organisation. It was an awakening.”

One year later, this movement is still alive and although policies regarding urban planning have not changed at governmental level, grassroots organisations have joined forces in the hope of making changes where they can.

One of these – Northern Forest Defence – is a movement organised by free volunteers to defend the last forests of northern Istanbul. Known as the “Child of Gezi,” it works to halt the development of mega projects like the third bridge, as well as working within small communities to stop the destruction of public parks for development.

While many of these efforts are small, Cigdem Cidamli, a founding member of the organisation, believes that they are essential to the progress of urban defence. “Small movements can’t change as much as big movements,” she says, “but we can’t have big movements without the small ones. So now we are trying to create more integrated channels of solidarity.”

Cidamli, Atlar and Ozbank all agree that the integration of organisations is the most recognisable accomplishment of Gezi so far. Many neighbourhoods now have an urban defence group to discuss a wide range of issues including urban development.

Many of these groups have come together to form larger organisations such as Taksim Solidarity, Istanbul Urban Defence and Northern Forest Defence.

One small group, Caferaga Dayanismasi, is a collective in the Kadikoy neighbourhood that conducts meetings and organises activist movements from a “squat” – an abandoned building that members have occupied and are renovating.

Bahadir, a member of the squat, says that the best thing they have done as a group is to have occupied and cultivated an empty lot that was going to be turned into a car park. Now it is a community vegetable garden where neighbours, both the young and the old, get their hands dirty.

Cidamli is thankful to Gezi for this development. “After Gezi, people are looking inward to create solidarity in small ways,” she says. “We can’t have Gezi every day. So, instead, we cultivate tomatoes.”

With this growth in community-minded activism, Bahadir says that the city cannot cut down a single tree without sparking a protest.

But so far, the only major development that has successfully been halted is the shopping mall at Gezi.

“The funny thing is, they can’t do anything in Taksim Square right now,” says Ozbank with a smile. “They can’t touch anything … not even to beautify the place.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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