Inter Press Service » Human Rights http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 13 Feb 2016 08:49:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Radio rage in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/radio-rage-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=radio-rage-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/radio-rage-in-india/#comments Sat, 13 Feb 2016 07:45:59 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143875 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/radio-rage-in-india/feed/ 0 Attacks on Medical Workers in War Zones under Firehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/attacks-on-medical-workers-in-war-zones-under-fire/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=attacks-on-medical-workers-in-war-zones-under-fire http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/attacks-on-medical-workers-in-war-zones-under-fire/#comments Fri, 12 Feb 2016 15:35:24 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143867 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2016 (IPS)

The growing number of indiscriminate bombings in three of the most devastating military conflicts currently underway -– in Syria, Afghanistan and Yemen – are taking a heavy toll on medical personnel serving with humanitarian organizations — along with thousands of civilians caught in the crossfire between government forces and rebel groups.

The U.S. bombing of a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, Afghanistan last October, and the Syrian government’s attacks on doctors and medical facilities, have been singled out as just two examples of the dangerous environments under which health care workers operate.

The attacks have also prevented medical care being provided to populations in need—and largely under siege.

When medical staff are killed in these attacks, the many lives that could be saved are also jeopardized, according to experts from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), Doctors Without Borders, and the Open Society Foundation.

Speaking at a panel discussion this week, some of the experts said when combatants destroy a hospital, thousands of people who are sick and wounded, are left with nowhere to go.

Asked if these attacks are by design or by accident, Elise Baker, program associate at Physicians for Human Rights, told IPS the five-year-old conflict in Syria has been marked by government forces orchestrating a deliberate campaign to destroy the health care infrastructure and attack medical personnel in opposition-controlled areas.

“This is just one element of a campaign against civilians which is in direct violation of the key principle of distinction in the laws of war which makes it unlawful to ever target civilians or civilian objects such as hospitals and schools”.

She said additional evidence of attacks on health care facilities as being part of a campaign is that humanitarian aid, including medical supplies and medicines, have largely been distributed through Damascus.

Government forces have obstructed the delivery of these and other life-saving supplies to opposition-held areas or only let convoys through after stripping out medical supplies.

Baker said PHR’s map documenting the attacks on hospitals does not include strikes “that we believe were accidental or – to use the parlance of humanitarian law, a result of collateral damage.”

“PHR is deeply concerned about the reports of attacks on hospitals in Yemen.”

However, she said, it is unclear at this point whether the Saudi-led coalition is targeting hospitals or if hospitals are being hit as the coalition members carpet bomb areas in an indiscriminate manner, and in turn, hospitals, like civilians and civilian objects, are paying the price.

According to PHR’s data, 2015 marked the worst year on record for attacks on medical facilities in Syria, with government forces responsible for most of the more than 100 attacks.

Between March 2011 and November 2015, there were 336 attacks on 240 medical facilities in Syria, 90 percent of them committed by Syria and its allied forces.

In the same time period, 697 medical personnel were killed, with Syria and its allies responsible for 95 percent of the deaths.

PHR tracks these findings in an interactive map, which includes photographic and video documentation of these crimes. In November, PHR released a report detailing the Syrian government’s attacks on health care, “Aleppo Abandoned: A Case Study on Health Care in Syria.”

Asked about a letter from the Saudi government urging UN and international aid agencies to leave areas controlled by the Houthi rebel forces in Yemen to facilitate bombings, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric confirmed receipt of the letter.

“Yes, there’s been an exchange of letters between the Permanent Mission of Saudi Arabia and our colleagues at the Office of Humanitarian Affairs,” he said.

“What I can tell you is that the United Nations continues to call on all parties to allow access for humanitarian workers wherever they are needed to be, that access needs to be free and unfettered for humanitarian workers and, obviously, humanitarian goods.”

“And it is also important to note that all the parties involved in this conflict and any conflict need to make sure they do their utmost to protect those humanitarian workers,” Dujarric told reporters Thursday.

Asked whether the clearance sought was only around military installations, Dujarric said: “I think the only premise that we accept is that humanitarian workers need to have free and unfettered access to all the areas where they need to be, and it is incumbent on all the parties to ensure that they protect those humanitarian workers.”

Baker told IPS it is unlawful for warring parties to use indiscriminate weapons in civilian areas.

It violates the other key principle of the laws of war which is that any attacks must be proportionate, and to the extent that there are concerns about harm to civilians, the military benefit must outweigh the potential harm to civilians.

“Clearly, this principle is not being applied in Yemen,” she said.

Asked what action the UN should take, Baker told IPS: First, the UN Security Council should condemn all these violations in the strongest possible terms. Allowing them to continue undermines decades of work establishing these norms that were aimed at making war a little less hellish for civilians.

Second, the UN Security Council has the power to refer situations in which these crimes are occurring to the International Criminal Court – but as we have seen, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council effectively are content to live with a stalemate.

In the case of Syria, she pointed out, Russia and China are refusing to allow stronger action, and in the case of Yemen, the US, UK and France support the Saudi-led coalition.

“As a result, the UN Security Council, which is charged with maintaining international peace and security, has failed miserably, and it is civilians in Syria and Yemen and elsewhere who are paying the price – often with their lives”, Baker added.

She said PHR has documented numerous incidents where Syrian government forces have attacked the same hospital repeatedly in a short period of time or have attacked numerous hospitals in a small geographic area within a short period of time.

These attacks clearly indicate the Syrian government’s intent to destroy health care systems inside opposition-controlled Syria. Two particularly compelling examples are included below.

PHR has documented seven attacks on M10 hospital, Aleppo city’s main trauma hospital. Four of these attacked happened within the 10-day period between June 23 and July 3, 2014.

The two most recent attacks occurred on April 28 and April 29, 2015. This hospital was established before the conflict started. It is not in a hidden location, she noted.

On August 7, 2015, between 10am and 1pm, Syrian government forces bombed five hospitals in Idlib governorate. The following day, they hit another hospital in Idlib.

Two days later on August 10, government forces hit three more hospitals in Idlib. All nine hospitals attacked in that four-day period were within 30 miles of each other.

All were at least six miles from the nearest frontline, and none were near military locations. All were attacked with discriminate weaponry. Five of the nine hospitals had been attacked previously by Syrian government forces.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Rise of Middle Class Undermined in East Europe & Central Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/rise-of-middle-class-undermined-in-east-europe-central-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rise-of-middle-class-undermined-in-east-europe-central-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/rise-of-middle-class-undermined-in-east-europe-central-asia/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2016 11:36:41 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143860 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11 2016 (IPS)

The UN’s post-2015 development agenda, which was adopted by world leaders at a summit meeting last September, includes a highly ambitious goal: the eradication of extreme poverty by the year 2030.

The decline in poverty, as reflected in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ended last December, had one positive fallout: the rise of a new middle class graduating largely from the ranks of the poor.

But a new study by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) points out that the decline in poverty and the rise of the middle class are being undermined by several factors, including falling commodity prices and shrinking remittances – specifically in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The middle class in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia swelled from about 33 million people in 2001 to 90 million in 2013, according to the latest available figures.

“In many ways, the story in this region is different from what is happening in other parts of the world. The share of people living on $10 and $50 dollars per day has actually increased in most of these countries”,(as against a poverty line of less than 1.25 dollar a day), said Cihan Sultanoğlu, the Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Over that same period, the number of people in the region living in poverty fell from at least 46 million in 2001 to about 5.0 million in 2013.

“But the region’s advances are under threat and the focus needs to be on improving its prospects for sustainable development”, she added.

With collapsing commodity prices, shrinking remittances and slow economic growth in Europe, the Russian Federation and much of the rest of the region, income-and-employment generating opportunities are disappearing, she said.

Sultanoglu told IPS: “The question really is: what impact inequality can have in reducing poverty. In this region, low or falling inequalities are central to prospects for poverty reduction, inclusive growth, and sustainable development.”

Addressing the UN Commission for Social Development (CSD) early this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Experience has shown that thriving economy is not enough to eradicate poverty and promote shared prosperity. Economies must be put at the service of people, through effective integrated social policies.”

“The widening gap between the rich and poor is marginalizing and alienating the most vulnerable in society,” he warned.

Ben Slay, Chief Economist, UNDP Eastern Europe and Central Asia, told IPS: “The middle class is unlikely to grow much in 2016 or 2017 because of the difficult overall growth environment.”

The UNDP study points out that the share of workers in vulnerable employment in Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan is already estimated at close to 50 percent, while many different groups are excluded.

Vinicius Pinheiro, Director of the UN Office of the International Labour Organization (ILO) told the CSD Monday that the number of unemployed people had increased in 2015 by more than 0.7 million, reaching 197.1 million globally: a one million increase over 2014 and more than 27 million before the pre-crisis levels.

According to UNDP, inequalities and exclusion are at the heart of the newly-inaugurated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

And the UN’s 193 member states have committed themselves to eradicating poverty, fighting inequalities, building peaceful, inclusive, and resilient societies, and securing the future of the planet and the well-being of future generations.

Almost 1.5 billion people live in poverty according to UNDP’s Multidimensional Poverty Index, and almost 800 million are vulnerable to slipping back into poverty. Eighty per cent of the world’s elderly lack basic social protection, making them a particularly vulnerable group.

“The challenge is not just to lift people out of poverty – it is to ensure that their escape is permanent,” says UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.

That is difficult, if there is no social protection, and where societies are vulnerable to relapses into conflict and to huge setbacks from natural disasters, she added.

“As dynamic emerging economies and stable societies move ahead, increasingly we will see extreme poverty co-located with zones of conflict and high disaster risk exposure, and where there is poor governance and little rule of law.”

It will therefore be idle rhetoric to talk about poverty eradication, said Clark, if the context in which it exists isn’t addressed.

“At UNDP, we look forward to the post-2015 global agenda taking on this challenges. We equally look forward to playing our full part in building the more inclusive, peaceful, and resilient societies which can advance human development.”

The battle against poverty is also being thwarted by military conflicts and the growing humanitarian crises.

The secretary-general told the CSD: “We are living in a world of turmoil and trouble.” He said there may be fewer wars between countries, but there is more insecurity.

“Inequality remains too high, affecting poverty reduction efforts and social cohesion in both developed and developing countries.”

He said too many people continue to face exclusion and are unable to realize their full potential. Too few economies have attained inclusive and sustainable growth and are unable to promote true social progress.

“People are frustrated. They are working harder and falling behind. Too often, instead of decisions, they see deadlock. And they wonder: are leaders even listening?”, Ban asked.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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The New Normal in Fatahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/the-new-normal-in-fata/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-new-normal-in-fata http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/the-new-normal-in-fata/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2016 07:16:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143858 Displaced people leave for their homes in Fata after a successful military operation. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Displaced people leave for their homes in Fata after a successful military operation. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 11 2016 (IPS)

A military operation by Pakistan’s army has been proving fatal for Taliban militants who held sway over vast swathes of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) for over a decade. They crossed over the border from Afghanistan and took refuge in Fata after their government was toppled by US-led forces towards the end of 2001. After a few years, when they got a toe-hold in the region, they extended their wings to all seven districts of Fata. Not any more.

During those fateful years, schools were targetted as the militants are opposed to education. “Taliban destroyed more than 750 schools, mostly for girls, in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa between to 2005 to 2012,” Jaffar Ahmed, an official of Fata’s education department said. Fortunately, there was no incident of bombing of schools by the Taliban because the army campaign forced them to empty out of Fata. They have now lost the capability to operate freely due to the military offensive launched in early 2015.

Pakistan army launched operations against militants after the attack on the Army Public School in December 2014, killing 150 mostly pupils, This campaign was part of the National Action Plan approved by all political parties, which has now cleared 95 per cent of Fata of insurgents. Brigadier (retired) Mahmood Shah, former secretary security Fata, told IPS about the benefits of military action: “Taliban’s ruthlessness forced people to leave for safety. Now, the displaced have started returning to their ancestral areas.”

About 3 million had taken temporary refuge in adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the Pakistan’s four provinces, out of which 500,000 people have returned as normalcy has returned to Fata. “We sighed with relief from the end of Taliban’s ruthlessness. We are overwhelmed by government’s announcement about our return,” said Muhammad Shabbir, a resident of Khyber Agency, one of Fata’s districts. “We left our native home when local Taliban destroyed schools and banned oral polio vaccine, he explained, adding that “Taliban are opposed to polio drops due to which they disallowed vaccinators in Fata. Likewise, they considered education against Islam and banned it.” He now hopes that children will get into schools very soon. Kids have also started receiving vaccination which was earlier completely banned by the Taliban.

On Feb. 5, shopkeepers resumed business activities in Bara Bazaar in Khyber Agency after seven long years. The bazaar was shut due to increasing militancy, which forced the people to stay away from businesses and take refuge somewhere else. “We have cleared the area of militants and have made elaborate arrangement for the security of the bazaar,” political agent Shahab Ali Shah informed IPS. Everyone entering the bazaar is thoroughly searched at the entry and exit points to ensure that militants don’t carry out acts of terrorism, he added. The bazaar would open at 8 am and close at 6pm. The government has installed closed-circuit television cameras at six points to monitor the people’s movements and ensure security, he added.

Shopkeepers are overwhelmed by the resumption of work. “We have suffered heavy economic losses due to terrorism and want complete peace. All the traders have given an undertaking to the government that the shopkeepers wouldn’t give donations to militants,” Abdul Jabbar, a trade leader said. We have also requested the government to give us soft loans to resume our businesses, he said. We desperately need financial assistance to be able to repair our damaged shops and start our businesses afresh, he said. “About 70 per cent of shops in the bazaar are in bad conditions for which we demand assistance to rebuild them,” he stated.

The government has also started repair work and reconstruction of the Taliban-damaged schools. “The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has rebuilt 200 of the total 250 schools destroyed by Taliban,” Education Minister Atif Khan told IPS. We have allocated $10m for rebuilding schools in the province, he said. “Committees at the community level have been set-up to safeguard the schools,” he said. About 15,000 watchmen have been trained in security-related matters to cope with the situation, he said.

According to Director Education Fata, Muhammad Nadeem, “about 40,000 students have missed their studies and efforts were being made to enable those who remained out of schools to get back. “There would be no summer vacation in schools opened after military action so students could catch up with studies,” he elaborated. Students aren’t only back in schools but they are also playing different kinds of sports. “We appeal to the army to continue the campaign till the Taliban militants are eliminated so that durable peace is established,” felt Jawad Shah, a student of grade 10 at a school in the North Waziristan Agency, which was hitherto the headquarters of the Taliban in Fata.

(End)

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UN Chief Focuses on World’s First Humanitarian Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/un-chief-focuses-on-worlds-first-humanitarian-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-chief-focuses-on-worlds-first-humanitarian-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/un-chief-focuses-on-worlds-first-humanitarian-summit/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2016 20:01:50 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143855 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 10 2016 (IPS)

As the global humanitarian crisis continues to devastate civilian lives in conflict zones, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon appealed to the international community to ensure “no-one in conflict, no-one in chronic poverty, and no-one living with the risk of natural hazards and rising sea levels, is left behind.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) briefs the General Assembly on his report for the World Humanitarian Summit, which is to take place on 23-24 May in Istanbul, Turkey. Also pictured (from left, front row): Stephen O'Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Mogens Lykketoft, President of the seventieth session of the General Assembly; and Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management. Credit: UN PHOTO/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second from left) briefs the General Assembly on his report for the World Humanitarian Summit, which is to take place on 23-24 May in Istanbul, Turkey. Also pictured (from left, front row): Stephen O’Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; Mogens Lykketoft, President of the seventieth session of the General Assembly; and Catherine Pollard, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly and Conference Management. Credit: UN PHOTO/Rick Bajornas

Speaking to delegates during the launch of a new report, he said the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit is “the moment for us to come together to renew our commitment to humanity.”

The report, “One Humanity: Shared responsibility“, was released Tuesday three months ahead of the summit meeting of world leaders scheduled to take place in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 23-24.

The United Nations says it needs more than 20 billion dollars to feed and care for over 60 million people who are either displaced internally or who have fled their home countries becoming refugees virtually overnight.
And there are about 40 countries – out of the 193 UN member states – which are engulfed in “high-level, medium-level and low-level crises and violence,” according to Ban

“Given the current crises in our global political economy, along with climate change”, Ban warned, violent extremism, terrorism, transnational crime and persistent brutal conflicts are devastating the lives of millions of people and destabilizing entire regions.

“Today’s complex challenges cross borders and surpass the capacity of any single country or institution to cope,” the Secretary-General said.

“We need to restore trust in our global world order and in the capacities of our national and regional institutions to confront these challenges effectively.”

According to a senior U.N. official, who provided a background briefing last week, the report contains a personal plea from the Secretary-General to “restore humanity”, while guaranteeing dignity and safety to all people, in accordance with the U.N. Universal Declaration of Rights and the 2030 Agenda.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) with Mogens Lykketoft, President of the seventieth session of the General Assembly, at the meeting where the Secretary-General briefed the Assembly on his report for the World Humanitarian Summit. Credit: UN PHOTO/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) with Mogens Lykketoft, President of the seventieth session of the General Assembly, at the meeting where the Secretary-General briefed the Assembly on his report for the World Humanitarian Summit. Credit: UN PHOTO/Rick Bajornas

As part of Ban’s five-year plan, the WHS will appeal to the international community to come together to re-discover “global unity and solidarity” and end human suffering and inequality, according to the official.

“Funding figures for humanitarians have totally mushroomed up to over 600 percent of what we required ten years ago… and almost 80 percent of humanitarian staff, but also peace-keepers, and staff of special political missions are now deployed in these protracted situations” the U.N. official remarked, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America, along with civil society, showed their positive response to Ban’s initiative.

Oxfam’s Humanitarian Representative, Charlotte Stemmer, said: “The humanitarian system is overwhelmed with the amount of rising needs in a world racked by crises. […] (World leaders) should not pay lip service to this, as concrete action is urgently needed. The World Humanitarian Summit’s greatest legacy would be a real commitment to change this.”

According to the new report, “the international community is increasing its response to crises while struggling to find sustainable political and security solutions to end them.”

In 2014, the economic and financial cost of conflicts was estimated to be around 14.3 trillion dollars (13.4 percent of the global economy).

The five core shared responsibilities are: One, political leadership to prevent and end conflicts. Rather than investing in humanitarian assistance, the international community should prioritize political solutions, unity, and create peaceful societies.

Two, enforcing and abiding to international laws in order to protect civilians, respect human rights, restrict the use and transfer of certain arms and ammunition, halt bombings and strengthen the global justice system.

Three, “leaving no one behind” — which is also the central theme of the U.N.’s 2030 Development agenda – and reaching out to the poorest and the most vulnerable men, women and children in war-torn areas or in case of natural disasters. It also includes the protection of women and girls and focuses on the right to education for all.

Data from the report highlights that in 2014, conflicts and violence forced around 42.500 people to flee their homes daily. This resulted in 60 million internally displaced peoples, refugees and asylum-seekers by the first half of 2015.

About half of the world’s refugee children are missing out on primary education and three quarters do not have access to secondary education, according to a UN report.

Four, changing people’s lives. Currently, nearly 1.4 billion people live in fragile situations, and figures are estimated to grow up to 1.9 billion by 2030, says the report.

Therefore, it is fundamental to develop coordinated actions to anticipate crises, reinforce local institutions and governments, build community resilience, and invest in data and risk analysis.

Five, investing in humanity. Ban highlighted the concept of “grand bargain” urging donors and national authorities to change their mindset “from funding to financing” local actors and local institutions, while increasing cost-efficiency and transparency.

Organised by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Relief (OCHA) the WHS summit offers for the first time the opportunity to reflect on a new humanitarian aid framework – explained Ban.

The summit also aims at bringing together the international community –- civil society, world leaders, private sector, peace-builders representatives, peace-keepers, and NGOs — to design new policies and set new strategies for humanitarian assistance and relief in affected countries.

In a preface to the report, Ban wrote: “I ask global leaders to come to the World Humanitarian Summit prepared to assume their responsibilities for a new era of international relations; one in which safeguarding humanity and promoting human progress drives our decision-making and collective actions.”

(End)

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Kidneys Going Cheap in Poor Estate Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/kidneys-going-cheap-in-poor-estate-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kidneys-going-cheap-in-poor-estate-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/kidneys-going-cheap-in-poor-estate-community/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2016 07:27:27 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143845 By Amantha Perera
TALAWAKELE, Sri Lanka, Feb 10 2016 (IPS)

One and half years ago, Johnson, a 20- something youth, hailing from Sri Lanka’s tea plantations, received an unusual request. The caller, someone Johnson knew casually, made an offer for his kidney. “It was for a half a million rupees (around US $3,500),” he said.

Rajendaran, a 24 year-old beggar at the Talawakele railway station who gets regular requests for his kidney but has so far refused. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Rajendaran, a 24 year-old beggar at the Talawakele railway station who gets regular requests for his kidney but has so far refused. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Johnson thought for a while and agreed. Mired in poverty and without a permanent job, half million was something he could only dream about till then. Soon he admitted himself into a private hospital in the capital city, Colombo, about 170 km from his native Talawakele. Neither did Johnson know anyone there nor was he familiar with the sprawling urban maze.

After several tests, his kidney was deemed compatible with a 41 year-old man from the north of Sri Lanka, the only detail Johnson knew of the man who now has his kidney. From the time he got admitted, Johnson was well taken care of by his initial caller, a middle man. To those who were curious, he was advised to tell them that he was a relative of the kidney patient. No one asked, Johnson said later.

Johnson stayed in the hospital for several days after the operation. When he returned home, he was provided a vehicle. But the benevolence ended there. For days Johnson went to the bank and checked his account. No monies had been credited. Nervous, he called the middle man; the number returned a message that said it had been disconnected.

He visited the man’s residence, only to be told that he had moved out and was now overseas. “I did not receive a cent for my kidney,” a desperate Johnson told IPS. He suspects that the middle man did in fact get the cash, but decamped with it.

Johnson’s story may be unusual in other segments of Sri Lanka society that are richer and savvier. But among the estate community in the central hills, selling a kidney has now become a frequent tale of woe.

Mahendran, a 53 year-old father of four, is also a victim of the same racket. He received a request for his organ while working as a helper at a rich household. It was the same modus operandi: a middle man, known a little but not that much, approached Mahendran, made the play for the kidney and got his consent.

Both thereafter travelled to Colombo, where Mahendran like Johnson was a fish out of water. At the hospital he was asked to pretend to be a relative of the patient. Mahendran also got played out after he had parted with his kidney. “I was promised Rs 150,000 ($1,050) and paid Rs 10,000 ($70).”

Mahendran told IPS that he initially balked at selling his organs, but finally gave way because of abject poverty. “I have four children to look after, that was why I did it,” he said.

Now with one kidney, he can’t work hard and earn as much as he used to. Two of his eldest kids, two boys have now dropped out of school.

Both men said that poverty was the main factor behind their decision. Sri Lanka’s plantations, where the island’s popular tea is grown, has been mired in poverty. According to the Government’s Census and Statistics Department, over 15 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, in some areas the rate is close to 30 per cent.

However, there are no statistics on the large-scale trafficking racket. Officers at the Talawakele Police station say that they have heard about the sale of the kidneys but no complaints have been lodged.

There could be several reasons for the lack of police complaints. Both Mahendran and Johnson told IPS that they have now become the butt-end of village jokes. Another is that according to Sri Lanka’s Penal Code anyone who sells an organ faces a jail term of seven years.

Clearly, this issue warrants closer investigation. Prabash Karunanayake, a doctor at the Lindula hospital in Talawakele has had to regularly admonish villagers who have sought advice on parting with a kidney. “In recent days I have had to warn at least three persons on the dangers they court by doing this,” he added.

Another one who has had to deal with such offers is Rajendaran, a 24 year-old beggar, who lives and begs at the Talawakele railway station. He said that several people have made offers for his kidney which he says have now become routine. “I have refused all of them so far. I don’t want to make a complaint because these are dangerous people.”

Kanapathi Kanagaraja, a member of the Central Provincial Council, feels that before the sale of kidneys acquires larger proportions, the government should take decisive action to stem it. “We will take this up at provincial level, but it warrants national level attention.”

Prathiba Mahanama, the former head of the national Human Rights Commission said that till national level programmes are launched, the most effective deterrent is public awareness. That is a view that Karunanayake, the area doctor, also agrees on. “Right now because people don’t know the medical dangers, the sale of kidneys is purely a financial transaction. People are unscrupulously making such offers because they know that at the right price, a kidney can be bought.”

(End)

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CTBTO’s Verification System Thwarts Nuclear Testshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/ctbtos-verification-system-thwarts-nuclear-tests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ctbtos-verification-system-thwarts-nuclear-tests http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/ctbtos-verification-system-thwarts-nuclear-tests/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 21:52:23 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143839 Dr. Lassina Zerbo is Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Dr. Lassina Zerbo is Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO). Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 9 2016 (IPS)

The Vienna-based Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) – a 24-hour international watchdog body – is known never to miss a beat.

The Organization’s international monitoring and verification system has been tracking all nuclear explosions -– in the atmosphere, underwater and underground –- including all four nuclear tests by the Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) – the only country in the world to test nuclear weapons in the 21st century.

“The CTBTO’s International Monitoring System has found a wider mission than its creators ever foresaw: monitoring an active and evolving Earth,” says Dr. Lassina Zerbo, Executive Secretary of CTBTO, an Organization which also monitors earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, large storms and drifting icebergs.

He said some compare the system to a combined giant Earth stethoscope and sniffer that looks, listens, feels and sniffs for planetary irregularities.

It’s the only global network which detects atmospheric radioactivity and sound waves which humans cannot hear, said Dr. Zerbo.

Asked how effective the CTBTO’s verification system is, Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association told IPS since the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) was opened for signature 20 years ago, national and international test ban monitoring and verification capabilities have improved immensely and they now far exceeds original expectations.

He said there have been significant advances in the U.S. national monitoring and the International Monitoring System capabilities across all of the key verification technologies deployed worldwide to detect and deter nuclear test explosions, including seismic, hydroacoustic, infrasound, radionuclide, and satellite monitoring, as well as on-site inspections — “as demonstrated in the November 2014 integrated field exercise in Jordan, which I observed directly.”

With the combined capabilities of the International Monitoring System (IMS), national technical means (NTM), and civilian seismic networks, no potential CTBT violator could be confident that a nuclear explosion of any military utility would escape detection.

By detecting and deterring clandestine nuclear-explosion testing, the CTBT and its monitoring systems effectively inhibit the development of new types of nuclear weapons, Kimball said.

“With the option of short-notice, on-site inspections, as allowed under the treaty once it enters into force, we would have even greater confidence in detecting evidence of a nuclear explosion,” he added.

According to CTBTO, the verification regime is designed to detect any nuclear explosion conducted on Earth – underground, underwater or in the atmosphere, and the purpose of the verification regime is to monitor countries’ compliance with the CTBT which bans all nuclear explosions on the planet.

Michael Schoeppner, Programme on Science and Global Security, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University, told IPS the verification system of the CTBT relies on diplomatic and technical means.

The technical verification aims at the physical proof whether a nuclear explosion has occurred or not, he said.

“The CTBTO has built an efficient and effective system to monitor the Earth around the clock for underground, underwater and atmospheric nuclear explosions. It delivers data to all member states and thus enables a sound decision-making of the international community,” he added.

The CTBT and its verification regime establish an international norm for countries to refrain from developing and testing new nuclear weapon types, Schoeppner said.

Alyn Ware, Global Coordinator for Parliamentarians for Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, told IPS the effectiveness of the verification system provided by the CTBTO demonstrates that similar real-time global verification required for nuclear disarmament is indeed possible.

He said the CTBTO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which monitors nuclear reactors to ensure there is no diversion of fissile materials into nuclear weapons programmes, could meet some of the verification tasks for nuclear disarmament.

However, there would also need to be verification of the destruction of existing stockpiles and the destruction or conversion of delivery vehicles, he noted.

The United States has launched an International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification which is exploring the technologies and systems required, Ware said.

“The experience of the CTBTO shows that such verification systems can begin operating even before disarmament agreements are fully ratified and operational.”

In addition, Ware pointed out, the CTBTO provides additional benefits beyond the verification of nuclear tests.

Real-time information from the CTBTO network of seismic and hydro-acoustic monitoring stations is now available for the tsunami warning centres – providing warning time for tsunamis when there are earthquakes in ocean regions.

“The CTBTO network of radionuclide monitoring stations provides information which can be useful in time of a nuclear accident, such as the Fukushima disaster. It is likely that additional verification systems developed to monitor nuclear disarmament agreements could also provide spin-off benefits,” he pointed out.

According to CTBTO, the verification regime consists of the following elements: International Monitoring System International Data Centre; Global Communications Infrastructure Consultation and clarification; On-Site Inspection and Confidence-building measures.

The International Monitoring System (IMS) consists of 321 monitoring stations and 16 laboratories world wide. These 337 facilities monitor the planet for any sign of a nuclear explosion.

Asked whether there was even a remote possibility of a nuclear test circumventing the verification system, Kimball told IPS: “No monitoring system is one-hundred percent foolproof, but only a foolish leader would try to conduct a clandestine nuclear weapon test explosion because the likelihood of detection today is extremely high and the cost would be particularly severe.”

Unfortunately, he said, Pyongyang’s Jan. 6 blast is an uncomfortable reminder that 20 years after the conclusion of the CTBT, the door to further nuclear testing remains ajar.

Kimball said formal entry into force has been delayed by the failure of seven other states—China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, and the United States—to ratify the treaty.

Some states, including Egypt and Iran, have not completed the monitoring stations in their territory or are not allow data from stations to be sent to the CTBTO.

Responsible states can do more to reinforce it pending CTBT entry into force this year, he noted.

“We are calling for a new, high-level diplomatic effort to encourage key states such as Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, and Pakistan to condemn North Korea’s test, reaffirm their support for the global testing moratorium, and promptly consider the CTBT.”

In addition, Kimball said, they could pursue the adoption of a new UN Security Council resolution and a parallel UN General Assembly measure calling on all states to refrain from testing, declaring that nuclear testing would trigger proliferation and undermine international peace and security, and recommending that the treaty’s Provisional Technical Secretariat and Preparatory Commission, including the International Monitoring System, be considered essential institutions because of their critical role in detecting and deterring nuclear testing.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Violence Is a Preventable Diseasehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/violence-is-a-preventable-disease/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-is-a-preventable-disease http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/violence-is-a-preventable-disease/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 15:55:00 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143837 Mairead Maguire, a peace activist from Northern Ireland is a 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate ]]>

Mairead Maguire, a peace activist from Northern Ireland is a 1976 Nobel Peace Laureate

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Feb 9 2016 (IPS)

The World Health Organization has said that ‘Violence is a preventable disease’ and people are not born violent, rather we all live in cultures of violence. This can be changed through nonviolent peacemaking and the persuit of ‘just peace’ and nurturing of cultures of peace.

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

In Northern Ireland for over thirty years we faced violence from all sides, as we lived in a deep ethnic/political conflict. This violence only ended when everyone acknowledged that militarism and paramilitarism could not solve our human problems, and only through unconditional, all inclusive dialogue and negotiations could we reach a political agreement based on nonviolence, forgiveness, compromise and cooperation. We spoke ‘to our enemies’ and made peace with them, because we recognized that without peace nothing is possible, and with peace, everything is possible. We also began to tackle the root causes of our violence, by painstakingly making policy changes. Today in Belfast, while it is good for all its citizens to live in a city at peace, we all acknowledge that our peace process is a work in progress and we must continue to work on justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.

This is a time when, I believe, Europe is at cross-roads and hard choices regarding policies and priorities have to be made. Today’s refugees and migration challenge has shown the best and the worst of European values, often beamed via television onto our screens. The best have been the compassionates response of some spiritual leaders such as Pope Francis and the people of Italy, government and political leaders, such as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, and millions of ordinary citizens across Europe, moving to help in any way they can the refugees, and migrants who have arrived from war torn countries.

The worst has been the fearology fuelled by negative forces which has resulted in an increase in racism, islamophobia, hate crimes and speech, and fascism in some European cities, hitherto known as cities of cultural diversity and tolerance. The stream of refugees andmigrants from Africa, Middle East and Asia, will continue pouring in to Europe, and the question is: what is the role of Europe and its citizens? I hope that Europe will continue to demonstrate compassion and offer to host those who are so desperate they had to flee all they loved in order to save their lives, or for a better life elsewhere.

The consequences of NATO/US policies of invasions and occupation is the destruction of Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, and Yemen, to name but a few. A real question now to be asked by Europeans is: Do you want to continue being part of the perpetual wars of US and its most belligerent states of UK and Israel, and the militarization and nuclearization of Europe to continue?

All across the European Union (UE) young Europeans are travelling to other EU countries and further afield, trying to find jobs, and many continue to immigrate overseas. Austerity cuts, imposed by many European Union (UE) governments, are driving people deeper into poverty. In spite of this lack of jobs and falling In to poverty for many families, political leaders insist on governments policies, supporting foreign wars instead of human security of EU citizens, health care, education and the environment.

The British government has implemented austerity cuts which have devastated social services for many poor families and it is currently promising the renewal of the UK nuclear trident missile (these nuclear weapons, although on European soil, are in the control of the US government). This is all done in the face of millions of citizens protesting nuclear weapons and calling for a nuclear weapons free Britain and World.

Many governments in Europe are in denial that they are in a crisis but unless courageous policy reversals are implemented and more funding put into human security by dealing with unemployment and poverty, things will not change for the better for our societies in the forseeable futre. But we do not need austerity cuts, we live in a very rich world it’s just that we have got our priorities wrong!

Billions of Euros spent by NATO and Europe hosting war exercises, increases fearology, prepares people mentally for enmity and war, and lines the pockets of the rich, of arms manufacturers and war profiteers. In November 2015, while the worlds political leaders, and media, focused on the refugee crisis and the violence of illegal groups of Daesh (Islamic state) and other fundamental Islamic extremists, almost unknown to the civil community, as it was little reported, one of the great threats to the survival of humanity was taking place in Northern Europe, across three European states. Some 36,000 military troops, 200 fighter aircrafts and more than 60 warships carried out NATO’s biggest war games in 13 years.The military troops were from over 30 states.

They were carrying out war exercises preparing to fight together in battle groups if necessary in a war, which should it come to pass, would be a horror of horrors and one of the greatest crimes against humanity, a nuclear/conventional war on European soil, and spreading quickly across the world. The NATO (led by the US) has fought many illegal wars. They argue that it is necessary to fight terrorism and that it must defend its members from threats from the Middle East and North Africa.

The cold war propaganda against Russia continues and NATO by its expansionist and aggressive strategy has brought Europe to a situation similar to that of the Cold War causing a new dangerous confrontation with Russia.

I believe Europe (and indeed the world) must now ask the tough questions and make hard, brave and courageous choices: ‘Do we continue down the road of re-arming Europe and the World, and building a culture of militarism and war, creating enemy images and demonizing other countries and their leaders, implementing ‘regime change’ through bogus ‘right to protect’ military intervention, or do we choose to start disarming our conscience, hearts and minds, dismantling our weapons, ending militarism and war and implementing International law?’

Europe and the world needs a New Vision of Unity and Demilitarization of Regions, with power devolved to communities where people feel empowered and true democracy can be established. A demilitarized world is something we can all work together to build.

It is not an impossible dream, but begins with each one of us, choosing to live lives of nonkilling and nonviolence and building friendships between peoples and regions in order to cooperate as the human family on the problems we all need to deal with such as environment and poverty. We have imagination and genius and with confidence and trust in ourselves and each other, we can move away from nationalism and war, towards regional solutions built on demilitarized societies of peaceful co-existence ¬ we can and we must learn to live together in all our diversity. Peace Demilitarized and Devolved Democracy is possible and is a human right for all.

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UN Seeks Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/un-seeks-zero-tolerance-for-female-genital-mutilation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-seeks-zero-tolerance-for-female-genital-mutilation http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/un-seeks-zero-tolerance-for-female-genital-mutilation/#comments Tue, 09 Feb 2016 14:07:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143836 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 9 2016 (IPS)

The United Nations says it is determined to end female genital mutilation (FGM) – a ritual practiced mostly in Africa, the Middle East, parts of Asia and even among some migrant communities in Europe.

And the world body’s determination is being backed with facts, figures — and a global campaign by a Joint Programme against FGM initiated by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the UN children’s agency UNICEF.

As the world body commemorated International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “I am proud to be among so many champions in the cause of eliminating female genital mutilation.”

Since 2007, more than a dozen countries have enacted measures to tackle FGM and more than 950 legal cases have been prosecuted.

“And today, nearly all countries where it is prevalent outlaw the practice. We are working to extend that legal protection everywhere,” he said.

As of now, more than 110,000 doctors, nurses and midwives have received training on the need to eliminate the practice.

The number of women benefiting from valuable services supported by the UN’s Joint Programme more than doubled over the past year — to over 820,000.

And over the last ten years, budgeting to fight FGM has increased by 600 percent, according to the United Nations.

By 2011, the African Union led the way calling for a General Assembly resolution to eliminate FGM. By 2012, UN established an International Day (Feb 6) for Zero Tolerance for FGM.

The New York Times said last week that FGM – also described as female circumcision of mostly young girls — is not just an African problem but also a growing practice in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population.

Virtually all countries that practice FGM say it is either a cultural or a religious ritual handed down over many generations.

But Rena Herdiyani, vice chair of Kalyanamitra, a non-governmental organization (NGO) based in Indonesia, thinks it’s a myth.

She is not only lobbying against FGM but also wants the government to punish those who perform female circumcision.

“They think it’s a family or a cultural tradition, and an Islamic obligation, yet they can’t name any verses in the Quran about female circumcision,” she was quoted as saying.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), FGM includes procedures that intentionally alter or cause injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons. “But the procedure has no health benefits for girls and women”.

Ban said that in his 9-year tenure as Secretary-General, he has helped achieve impressive results.

“In my first year, 2007, we held a first-of-its-kind global consultation on FGM. Experts took a hard look at the problem – and came up with effective solutions.”

The next year, 2008, 10 UN agencies signed a statement on eliminating FGM. The Commission on the Status of Women and the World Health Assembly also took action.

At the same time, the UNFPA and UNICEF launched the Joint Programme to help communities quickly abandon this practice.

In 2009, Ban’s report to the General Assembly on the Girl Child called for social change to drive FGM abandonment.

The next year, the UN established a global strategy against harmful medicalization. “I also launched my ‘Every Woman Every Child’ movement which has mobilized partners who are getting concrete results,” Ban said.

And more than 15,000 communities where some 12 million people live are committed to ending FGM.

According to UNICEF’s new statistical report, at least 200 million girls and women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation in 30 countries.

The report says half of the girls and women, who have been cut, live in three countries — Egypt, Ethiopia and Indonesia.

Moreover, girls aged 14 and younger represent 44 million of those who have been cut. In most of the countries the majority of girls were cut before reaching their fifth birthdays
Ban thanked the many religious leaders joining this cause. More and more men and boys are speaking out. Somali Men Against FGM has its own Facebook page. One wrote: “We say collectively: Don’t Do it FOR US”.

Let us make a world where FGM stands for Focus on Girls’ Minds, he said and posted the question: “How about this: FGM stands for Focus on Girls Minds.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Women and Girls Imperative to Science & Technology Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/women-and-girls-imperative-to-science-technology-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-and-girls-imperative-to-science-technology-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/women-and-girls-imperative-to-science-technology-agenda/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 12:14:12 +0000 Lakshmi Puri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143822 Lakshmi Puri is UN Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director UN Women]]> Lakshmi Puri

By Lakshmi Puri
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 8 2016 (IPS)

Can you imagine an entire day without access to your mobile phone, laptop, or even to the internet? In our rapidly changing world, could you function without having technology at your fingertips?

Unfathomable for most of us, but across the world—especially for many in developing countries–using and accessing technology is not readily available, and certainly not a privileged choice. This is particularly true for women and girls.

In low- to middle-income countries, a woman is 21 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone than a man, and the divide is similar for Internet access. The possibilities of scientific and technological progress is almost limitless, yet women and girls are sorely missing in these fields, particularly as a creators and decision-makers in spheres that are transforming our everyday world.

In September 2015 the UN General Assembly declared 11 February the International Day for Women in Science. Coinciding with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals, or Agenda 2030, which are underpinned by science, technology and innovation (STI) and call for gender equality throughout, including under the standalone goal on gender equality, Goal 5, this Day has the potential to reverberate across the world.

Science and technology is not inherently elite, or about gadgets or toys. It is about our everyday. STI has the power to disrupt and shift trajectories as it increasingly influences all aspects of life today – from economic opportunity in STI sectors and the application of STI solutions within other productive sectors, including to help women grow business and social enterprise, to opportunity for greatly improving health outcomes (including sexual and reproductive health), energy, environment and natural resource management, and infrastructure development.

We see opportunity, particularly through information and communication technology, to enhance education, learning opportunities and skill development, for engagement with youth, for political participation and for women and girls to advocate for their interests, rights and social transformation.

Economic opportunities are abundant. The economic forecast in just a few STI sectors reveal staggering numbers. Estimates have shown that the value of climate change and clean technology sectors in the next decade amount to 6.4 trillion dollars, while the value of the digital economy in the G20 alone is 4.2 trillion dollars.

There is a huge opportunity gap in digitally skilled workers, amounting to 200 million workers, with estimates showing that up to 90% of formal sector jobs will require ICT skills. In energy and agriculture, 2.5 million engineers and technicians will be needed in sub-Saharan Africa alone to achieve improved access to clean water and sanitation.

Science and technology squarely underlie the enjoyment of human – and women’s – rights and are intrinsic to sustainable development, citizenship and personal empowerment. The SDG Gender Goal recognizes this reality by including a means of implementation indicator which directs the global community to “Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women.” (5b).

The ability of women to access, benefit from, develop and influence these sectors will directly impact whether we achieve our goals of Planet 50:50 by 2030. If women are left out of these 21st century revolutions, we will not achieve substantive gender equality.

The Financing for Development framework makes additional linkages between gender equality, women’s empowerment and science and technology. In establishing the Technology Mechanism – which will be guided by a High Level Panel, half of which are women – we have the opportunity to operationalize and promote learning and investment around these critical intersections.

The Commission on the Status of Women (2011, 2014) and the 20-year Review of the Beijing Platform for Action (2015) addressed this complex issue of girls and women in science and technology, and resulted in a series of recommendations on a path forward and needed investments. New, as well as established good practices were identified, but we face the urgent need to scale these success stories from all stakeholders and to connect ad hoc good approaches to each other to build more comprehensive pathways and solutions.

The 10 year review of the World Summit on the Information Society also resulted in increased commitments around gender equality and a role for UN Women. An Action Plan that synthesized priority gender and ICT commitments across a multitude of normative frameworks, including WSIS, was also presented to catalyze engagement of stakeholders. The urgent need for accelerated implementation of all of these commitments and recommendations cannot be understated.

Evidence shows, including in the recent World Bank Report on Digital Dividends, gains are not automatic. The number of women in STEM falls continuously from secondary school to university, laboratories, teaching, policy making and decision-making. There are great divides in women’s access to, participation and leadership within STI sectors, despite being on the frontlines of energy use, climate change adaptation, economic production, and holders of extensive traditional knowledge. In the formal sector of STI, women globally make up under 10 percent of those in innovation hubs and those receiving funding by venture capitalists, and only 5 percent of membership in national academies in science and technology disciplines.

There are similar low figures around women in research and development, publication, leadership in government and the private sector, and so on. The disconnect between women’s practical and regular interface with STI and their formal ability to take advantage of these sectors and in having their knowledge, perspectives and leadership valued is stark indeed.

The reasons for this disconnect are many, ranging from access to technology, to education and investment gaps, to unsupportive work environments, to cultural beliefs and stereotypes. Globally, girls start to self-select out of STEM courses in early secondary school. Societal attitudes and bias hinder girls’ participation, with science and technology often considered male domains.

But change is coming, slowly but steadily. On the ground, UN Women is working to further women and girl’s engagement in the field, with many programmes focused on leveraging the power of ICTs. We are running digital literacy and ICT skill development initiatives in countries including Jordan, Guatemala and Afghanistan, and we are supporting mobile payment and information systems for farmers and women in small business in Papua New Guinea and East Africa.

UN Women has also been supporting the development of mobile apps and games to raise awareness of violence against women and to support survivors in Brazil and South Africa. We have partnered with the International Telecommunications Union to launch a new global technology award that recognizes outstanding contributions from women and men in leveraging the potential of information technology to promote gender equality. At the policy level, we are engaged globally and nationally to promote girls and women in STEM.

On the International Day of Women and Girls in Science we must not only celebrate women’s incredible achievements in science, technology and innovation, but also galvanize the global community to do more to ensure that women’s participation in the formal sector is not the exception but becomes the rule, while in the informal sector where women’s ingenuity is the rule, that they are given recognition and support.

The International Day for Women in Science serves as an annual reminder and hold us to account on how we are advancing women in science, technology and innovation more broadly and critically for achieving gender equality and ultimately, all other development goals.

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Dying for the News: Media Call for Help from Gov’t and Public against Attackshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/dying-for-the-news-media-call-for-help-from-govt-and-public-against-attacks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dying-for-the-news-media-call-for-help-from-govt-and-public-against-attacks http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/dying-for-the-news-media-call-for-help-from-govt-and-public-against-attacks/#comments Mon, 08 Feb 2016 07:03:06 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143821 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/dying-for-the-news-media-call-for-help-from-govt-and-public-against-attacks/feed/ 0 Extremism Threatens Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/extremism-threatens-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=extremism-threatens-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/extremism-threatens-press-freedom/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 13:06:41 +0000 Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143811 Member journalists of Karachi Union of Journalists and Karachi Press Club stage a protest demonstration against flurry of attacks on press freedom and killing of journalists across Pakistan. The journalists are holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans “Attacks on Press Freedom Unacceptable”, “Long Live Press Freedom” and “Attempt to muzzle free press will be opposed”. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

Member journalists of Karachi Union of Journalists and Karachi Press Club stage a protest demonstration against flurry of attacks on press freedom and killing of journalists across Pakistan. The journalists are holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans “Attacks on Press Freedom Unacceptable”, “Long Live Press Freedom” and “Attempt to muzzle free press will be opposed”. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan , Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

Pakistan continues to remain one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, where frequent attempts to restrict press freedom are commonplace and challenges to expanding media diversity and access to information abound.

Tense and uncertain security conditions, looming risks of terrorism and extremism-related activities, rampant political influence and the feeble role of the country’s democratic institutions, including parliament and judiciary, constitute the main reasons behind the sorry state of press freedom in Pakistan.

To address this issue, editors and news directors of a large number of Pakistani newspapers and television channels formally established ‘Editors for Safety’, an organisation focused exclusively on issues pertaining to violence and threats of violence against the media.

The organization would work on a core philosophy that an attack on one journalist or media house would be deemed as an attack on the entire media. The body would also encourage media organizations to speak with one voice against the ubiquitous culture of impunity, where journalists in the country are being frequently attacked while perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

Former Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr. Javed Jabbar, welcomed the formation of Editors for Safety and said “today, militants alone do not target press freedom and journalists in the country. Political, religious, ethnic and the law enforcement agencies also attack them.”

In 2015, the country was ranked 159th out of 180 countries evaluated in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Pakistan has been a “frontline state” for almost four decades, which has polarised society and ruined people’s sense of security. Because of the Afghan war, the areas bordering Afghanistan, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and tribal areas in the country’s northwest region, are the most troubled areas for journalists to report from.

Media freedom across the country – and particularly in the terrorism-hit northwest region – has deteriorated over the last several years in part because of extremist groups who hurl threats to journalists for reporting their activities. Religious extremists go after media persons as they believe the latter do not respect their religion and harm it on the pretext of press freedom.

On March 28, 2014, Raza Rumi, a TV anchor, blogger and widely-acclaimed political and security analyst in Pakistan, narrowly escaped death when gunmen opened fire on his car in an attack that left his driver Mustafa dead. He moved to the U.S. soon after the attack on his life, which was triggered by his liberal and outspoken voice on politics, society, culture, militancy, human rights and persecution of religious minorities.

Last year on November 30, one journalist and three other employees of Lahore-based Din Media organization, which runs a TV channel and daily Urdu language newspaper, were killed when unknown miscreants lobbed a hand grenade on the office of the media organisation in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest urban city of 20 million people. The attack drew countrywide condemnation protests by journalists. The Prime Minister announced his pledge to bring those behind attack to the book and boost security measures for media offices and journalists.

Afzal Butt, president of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) told IPS,
“We have conveyed the deep concern of the journalist community about the deteriorating state of press freedom to the Prime Minister and federal and provincial information ministers. We have also reminded them of their commitments made for protecting lives of journalists and press freedom in the country. But it has fallen on deaf ears.”

International media watchdogs including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and RSF have kept highlighting the dismal state of press freedom in the country in their [annual] reports from time to time. Around 57 journalists have been killed in the line of the duty between year 1992 to 2015 and hundreds other harassed, tortured and kidnapped, according to recent data compiled by CPJ, a New York-based independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to the global defence of press freedom. In its 2015 report, CPJ ranked Pakistan as the sixth most deadly country for journalists.

Pakistan is ranked ninth out of 180 countries on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries, where journalists are slain and the killers go free.

“Incidents of threats, attacks and killings of journalists in Pakistan are the clear evidence of how critical the situation has become due to thriving culture of impunity,” said Mazhar Abbas, former deputy news director at the Ary News TV in Karachi and well-known champion of press freedom.

The good news is that the country has battled against impunity through judicial actions and institutionalisation of mechanisms to tackle this problem. For instance, two landmark convictions and arrests brought relief to the aggrieved families of slain TV journalists Wali Khan Babar, murdered in 2011 in Karachi, and Ayub Khattak, murdered in Karak district in conflict-prone Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan’s northwest.

The cases made progress thanks to relentless efforts by families of journalists, journalist unions and civil society pressure groups with cooperation from government and justice system, Khursheed Abbasi, PFUJ’s secretary general, said. The judicial commission set up to probe the attempt to murder Islamabad-based eminent television journalist Hamid Mir associated with the Geo News TV is part of this movement forward. Further to this was the announcement in April 2015 by the provincial government of Balochistan to establish two judicial tribunals to investigate six murder cases of journalists since 2011.

In another positive development, on March 9, 2015, the Islamabad High Court upheld the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of publisher of English newspaper Daily Times Mr. Salman Taseer, under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Qadri, his official guard in Islamabad in January 2010, killed Taseer, who was governor of Punjab province at that time.

“A free press is a fundamental foundation of sustainable and effective democracy. Any effort aimed at scuttling press freedom will only weaken democracy and democratic institutions,” warned journalist-turned Pakistani parliamentarian Mushahid Hussain Syed. He said that politicians need to realise that supporting endeavours for press freedom at any level would benefit the democratic political leaders themselves.

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Press Crackdown Is Likely to Worsenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/press-crackdown-is-likely-to-worsen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-crackdown-is-likely-to-worsen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/press-crackdown-is-likely-to-worsen/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 08:08:46 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143807 Ugandan journalist Andrew Lwanga, who is still recovering more than one year after allegedly being battered by a police commander while covering a protest. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Ugandan journalist Andrew Lwanga, who is still recovering more than one year after allegedly being battered by a police commander while covering a protest. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Uganda, Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

On October 2015, the day that Ugandan journalist Enoch Matovu, 25, was allegedly shot by the police for simply “doing my job”, the police had “run out of tear gas”, he claimed.

“So they had to use live bullets,” this journalist for broadcaster NTV Uganda told IPS. Matovu was injured in the head while covering the apparent vote rigging by contestants during the ruling party’s — National Resistance Movement (NRM) — elections in Mityana, central Uganda. “I only realised when I woke up in hospital what had happened,” he added.

Shockingly, since party elections in October, over 40 Ugandan journalists have been detained, beaten, had their tools and material taken, blocked from covering events and have lost employment, according to Robert Sempala, the National Coordinator for Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) Uganda. Two other journalists besides Matovu have allegedly been shot by the police.

Ahead of the February 18 elections, in which President Yoweri Museveni, 71, and already in power for 30 years, is standing, there’s a “likelihood” the press crackdown “is going to get worse”, said Sempala. “The contest is neck-to-neck,” he told IPS, adding there was “stiff competition” from the three-time presidential challenger Kizza Besigye and former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi. “According to our statistics, most of the victims have been those that cover either Besigye or Mbabazi, as opposed to the rest of the contestants,” he emphasised.

On January 20, Endigyito FM, a privately owned radio station in Mbarara, about 170 miles outside the capital Kampala, was shut down, purportedly over unpaid licence fees of $11,000. Mbabazi’s campaign team claimed that an interview with him two days earlier had been disrupted 20 minutes into the show, after officials from the Uganda Communications Commission stormed the building. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and others have called for the broadcaster to be allowed to resume operations.

In a January report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned of a media clampdown, saying radio reporters working in local dialects with an audience in rural areas particularly faced intimidation and threats from government. “Looking over the last decade, its clear that violations of press freedom have clearly increased during elections and also during times of political tension in Kampala,” Maria Burnett, HRW senior researcher for Africa, told IPS.

“For journalists working outside Kampala, in local languages, my sense is that media freedom has been very difficult during political campaigns and elections in recent times,” she added. Burnett said in terms of what is happening outside Kampala, HRW’s research indicated that “the patterns are fairly similar” to the 2011 elections: “Perhaps the only real difference is that some radio journalists are more able to state the pressure they are under and the problems they face, either via social media or other media platforms as the Kampala-based media houses expand coverage country-wide.”

Sempala said “on the whole” there were more cases of violations against the press outside Kampala, according to HRNJ’s statistics. Most journalists attacked anywhere in Uganda claim it is hard to get justice. “Each morning I wonder what to do,” said Andrew Lwanga, 28, a cameraman with local WBS station, who was assaulted last year by the then Kampala district police commander Joram Mwesigye, leaving him with horrific injuries and unable to work. His equipment was also damaged.

“I loved covering the election so much. I would love to be out there,” he added. He is now fund-raising for a spinal operation in Spain — Ugandan doctors told him he had no option but to go abroad – and spends his days sitting in a lounge, watching his colleagues on the TV doing what he most wants to be doing.

Lwanga, a journalist of eight years, was injured while covering a small demonstration involving a group called the Unemployed Youths of Uganda in January 2015. Online, there is footage of Mwesigye assaulting Lwanga, of the cameraman falling down and then being led away by police, holding his head and crying in pain. “Now I can’t walk 50 metres without crutches,” said Lwanga, who has a visible scar on one side of his head and a bandage on one hand. “For the past 90 days I haven’t been able to sleep more than 40 minutes… All of this makes me cry,” he added.

More than a year after the assault, Lwanga’s case is dragging on. Mwesigye has been charged with three counts including assault and occasioning bodily harm, and suspended from his role. But at the last hearing, when Lwanga had to be carried into court by two others, it was revealed that the journalist’s damaged camera – an important exhibit – had disappeared and still hasn’t been found. “(The police) are trying to protect Joram, he wants to retain his job and he (has) always confronted me saying ‘you’re putting me out of work’,” said the cameraman.

Recently, Museveni pledged to financially help this journalist. But Lwanga said he hadn’t received any communication as yet when the money was coming. The last state witness in the trial was due to be heard on February 4 but has been adjourned to the 29th. Despite his ordeal, if he eventually has the operation and recovers, Lwanga said he will get back to work: “I miss my profession”.

Matovu is back at work, but still suffers a lot of headaches after his alleged attack, and admitted “sometimes I’m scared to do my job” “The police are not doing anything about this, only my bosses,” he said of his case.

Sempala said so far HRNJ had only managed to take “a few” cases involving journalists being assaulted to court. More advocacy is required to put pressure on police to investigate cases, he said. Burnett said it was “important that journalists who are physically attacked by police share their stories and push for justice”.

Police spokesperson Fred Enanga told IPS that Lwanga’s case was an “isolated” one, but the fact that police had “managed” to charge Mwesigye was “one very good example” that the authorities did not take human rights breaches against journalists lightly. “Over the years there’s been this very good working relationship with the media,” insisted Enanga.

(End)

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Women of Haitian Descent Bear the Brunt of Dominican Migration Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/women-of-haitian-descent-bear-the-brunt-of-dominican-migration-policy/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 02:49:07 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143793 Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Two women selling fruit, grains and vegetables in the Little Haiti street market in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. They allowed their picture to be taken but preferred not to talk about their situation. Fear is part of daily life for Haitian immigrants in this country. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

By Ivet González
SANTO DOMINGO, Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

A middle-aged woman arranges bouquets of yellow roses in a street market in Little Haiti, a slum neighbourhood in the capital of the Dominican Republic. “I don’t want to talk, don’t take photos,” she tells IPS, standing next to a little girl who appears to be her daughter.

Other vendors at the stalls in the street market, all of them black women, also refuse to talk. “They’re afraid because they think they’ll be deported,” one woman whispers, as she stirs a pot of soup on a wood fire on the sidewalk.

That fear was heightened by the last wave of deportations, which formed part of the complicated migration relations between this country and Haiti – the poorest country in the Americas, with a black population – which share the island of Hispaniola.

According to official figures, the Dominican Republic’s migration authorities deported 15,754 undocumented Haitian immigrants from August 2015 to January 2016, while 113,320, including 23,286 minors, voluntarily returned home.

“This process has a greater impact on women because when a son or a daughter is denied their Dominican identity, the mothers are directly responsible for failing to legalise their status,” said Lilian Dolis, head of the Dominican-Haitian Women’s Movement (MUDHA), a local NGO.

“If the mother is undocumented then the validity of her children’s documents is questioned,” she told IPS.

“And in the case of Haitian immigrant women, it’s not enough to marry a Dominican man even though the constitution grants them their husband’s nationality,” said Dolis, whose movement emerged in 1983. “That right is often violated.”

The latest migration crisis broke out in 2013 when a Constitutional Court ruling set new requirements for acquiring Dominican citizenship.

The aspect that caused an international outcry was the fact that the verdict retroactively denied Dominican nationality to anyone born after 1929 who did not have at least one parent of Dominican blood, even if their births were recorded in the civil registry.

This affected not only the children of immigrants, but their grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.

Tens of thousands of Dominicans of Haitian descent were left in legal limbo or without any nationality, international human rights groups like Human Rights Watch complained.

In response to the international outrage, the Dominican government passed a special law on naturalisation that set a limited period – May 2014 to February 2015 – for people born to undocumented foreign parents between 1929 and 2007 to apply for citizenship.

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

Antonia Abreu, one of the few street vendors who agreed to talk to IPS about the harsh reality faced by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic, at her street stall where she sells flowers in the Little Haiti neighbourhood in Santo Domingo. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

But only 8,755 people managed to register under this law.

At the same time, the authorities implemented a national plan for foreigners to regularise their status, from June 2014 to June 2015.

Under this plan, 288,466 undocumented immigrants, mainly of Haitian descent, applied for residency and work permits. But only about 10,000 met all the requirements, and only a few hundred were granted permits.

Since August, the police have been carrying out continuous raids, and undocumented immigrants are taken to camps along the border, to be deported to Haiti.

“Most Haitian women work outside the home; very few can afford to be homemakers,” said Antonia Abreu, a Haitian-Dominican woman who has sold floral arrangements for parties, gifts and funerals in the Little Haiti market for 40 years.

Abreu, known by her nickname “the Spider”, said “women sell clothes or food, they apply hair extensions, they’re domestic employees and some are sex workers. Many are ‘paleteras’ (street vendors selling candy and cigarettes) who suffer from police abuse – the police take their carts and merchandise when they don’t have documents.”

“Those who work as decent people have integrated in society and contribute to the country,” she told IPS.

Among the unique mix of smells – of spices, open sewers, traditional foods and garbage – many women barely eke out a living in this Haitian neighbourhood market, selling flowers, prepared foods, fruit and vegetables, clothing, household goods and second-hand appliances.

The small neighbourhood, which is close to a busy commercial street and in the middle of the Colonial City, Santo Domingo’s main tourist attraction, has been neglected by the municipal authorities, unlike its thriving neighbours.

No one knows exactly how many people live in Little Haiti, which is a slum but is virtually free of crime, according to both local residents and outsiders.

Most of the people buying at the market stalls in the neighbourhood are Haitian immigrants, who work in what are described by international rights groups as semi-slavery conditions.

The street market is also frequented by non-Haitian Dominicans with low incomes, in this country of 10.6 million people, where 36 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to World Bank figures from 2014.

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

A Haitian immigrant in the rural settlement of Mata Mamón in the Dominican Republic, where she works as a ‘bracera’ or migrant worker in agriculture. Haitian women who work on plantations in this country are invisible in the statistics as well as in programmes that provide support to rural migrants, activists complain. Credit: Dionny Matos/IPS

“Undocumented immigrants can’t work, study or have a public life,” Dolis said. “They go directly into domestic service or work in the informal sector. And even if they have documents, Haitian-Dominican women are always excluded from social programmes.”

In this country with a deeply sexist culture, women of Haitian descent are victims of exclusion due to a cocktail of xenophobia, racism and gender discrimination, different experts and studies say.

“They are made invisible,” said Dolis. “We don’t even know how many Haitian-Dominican women there are. The census data is not reliable in terms of the Dominican population of Haitian descent, and the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) survey is out-of-date.”

The activist was referring to the last available population figures gathered by the National Survey on Immigrants carried out in 2012 by the National Statistics Office with UNFPA support.

At the time, the survey estimated the number of immigrants in the Dominican Republic at 560,000, including 458,000 born in Haiti.

The lack of up-to-date statistics hinders the work of Mudha, which defends the rights of Haitian-Dominican women in four provinces and five municipalities, with an emphasis on sexual and reproductive rights.

The movement is led by a group of 19 women and has 62 local organisers carrying out activities in urban and rural communities, which have reached more than 6,000 women.

Mudha says the Dominican authorities have never recognised the rights of women of Haitian descent. “They’ve always talked about immigration of ‘braceros’ (migrant workers), but never ‘braceras’ – that is, the women who come with their husbands, or come as migrant workers themselves,” Dolis said.

Since the mid-19th century Haitians have worked as braceros in the sugarcane industry, the main engine of the Dominican economy for centuries. But today, they are also employed in large numbers in the construction industry, commerce, manufacturing and hotels.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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“A Fair Day’s Wage for a Fair Day’s Work?”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/a-fair-days-wage-for-a-fair-days-work/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-fair-days-wage-for-a-fair-days-work http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/a-fair-days-wage-for-a-fair-days-work/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 14:45:42 +0000 Francesco Farne http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143790 According to the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy estimates, three out of four Bangladeshi workers in Italy work in the tertiary sector. 23,3% of them are employed in the hotel, restaurant and catering sector.  Credit: Simba Shani Kamaria Russeau/IPS

According to the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy estimates, three out of four Bangladeshi workers in Italy work in the tertiary sector. 23,3% of them are employed in the hotel, restaurant and catering sector. Credit: Simba Shani Kamaria Russeau/IPS

By Francesco Farnè
Rome, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

“During the first months in Italy, I always prayed for rain. I spent hours checking the weather forecast” said Roni, a 26 year old graduate from a middle-income family in Bangladesh. His father, a public servant and his mother a home maker, Roni had to sell umbrellas on the streets of Rome for more than a year before finding a summer job by the sea at a coffee shop, popularly known as a ‘bar’ in Italy.

In a recent interview with IPS, Roni explained that in 2012, he left his country, like many other Bangladeshis, in search of better opportunities in Europe. “I decided to leave for economic reasons; it was impossible to get a job in Bangladesh, even though I am a University graduate. I had heard that many friends and relatives made a fortune in Italy and wanted to be like them”, said Roni.

According to ISTAT 2015 (Italian National Institute of Statistics) estimates, there are more than 138.000 Bangladeshi nationals legally residing in Italy – a 9 % increase compared to 2014. Like Roni, many in the Bangladeshi community play a significant role in the Italian economy as part of the labour force. In particular, 75.6% of Bangladeshi workers in Italy are employed in the service sector.

Additionally, more than 20.000 Bangladeshi entrepreneurs were registered as business owners in 2013, according to the “Annual report on the presence of immigrants – The Bengali Community” issued by the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.

Roni describes the process of getting a visa as very complex. “There are two kinds of visas, one for agricultural workers and one for all the others. The former is quite easy to obtain and costs less, about € 8.000, while for the latter, the one I obtained, a sponsor residing in Italy is required and the cost is over € 12.000.”


“I paid my sponsor directly, and he completed all the required documentation”, he continued, “and once he obtained the nullaosta (clearance), I could apply for my visa at the Embassy of Italy in Bangladesh. I was lucky as it took only three months for the documents to be ready. Many other people have to wait much longer and deal with and pay two or three in between agents to connect them with the sponsor.”

Although it is widely known that the Bangladeshi migrants look out for each other, Roni says that getting support from the established Bangladeshi community has been a challenge. “Since the day I arrived, I sensed a lack of solidarity, fraternity and belonging within my national community. [Those] now in a position to help others seem to forget that once they were the ones in need. It looks like they forget their immediate past and think they are not like this anymore and therefore don’t want to do anything with them”, said Roni.

“No one helped me with my job search nor gave me any indication on where to buy umbrellas to sell, nor helped me with the language, as I did not speak Italian. My sponsor just helped me find a place to sleep – a room shared with nine other strangers I had to pay for myself – and that’s it”, he continued.

After 18 months of search, Roni has now found a job in a restaurant and is much happier. In addition, he has a contract which will enable him to renew his residency permit.

He earns more than €1000 per month, enough to send some money home. Roni explained that remittances are an integral part of his “mission” here in order to help his family back home, since his father retired. As he needs over €400 per month for his own survival in Italy, he is able to send home between €400 and €600 per month. His family uses the money for subsistence and for rent.

Indeed, after China, Bangladesh is the second country of destination of remittances from Italy, amounting to €346.1 million in 2013 (7.9% of all remittances), according to the Annual report by the Italian Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.

When asked for details of his contract, Roni revealed that even though he is contracted for six hours of work each day, he works for 10 hours or more for the same wage, and, days of leave or sickness do not count as working days.

Roni claims he is paid less than other workers with different nationalities. Although Roni’s terms of employment appeared to be better than those of other migrant workers, it nevertheless disregards many of the employment rights regarding remuneration, sick-leave, and weekly working hours outlined in the many directives set out by the EU Commission.

“This is not only about bad bosses exploiting migrants”, said Roni, “we, as migrant workers have to stand up for our rights and stop accepting these humiliating conditions. As long as there is another migrant willing to accept unfair conditions, my attempts to fight for a better contract and for workers’ rights will be in vain.”

“I think government policies to protect workers are good”, he continued. “It is not a matter of policies, it is how they are implemented to make sure that laws are respected. In fact, after government officials carried out an inspection at my workplace, we were immediately hired, gaining formal access to basic welfare and social protection measures.”

Roni concluded by making an appeal to his own people: “let’s help each other and put our strengths together. Do not forget to help the newcomers, as it will pay off! I myself had helped two Bangladeshi nationals hosting them at my place and paying the rent for them. They will repay me as soon as they get jobs. Solidarity will lead to a win-win situation and it is the only way to improve our condition.”

Roni is just one of the many faces representing the migration crisis Italy is facing today. With the weakest suffering the worst consequences of the crisis, from a policy perspective, there is no doubt that an integrated EU approach will be the only effective way to face the issue. This is especially true when attempting to ensure implementation and enforcement of the social welfare laws, human rights and labour rights laws.

At both the national and local level, Italian institutions, as well as non-governmental organizations, have a key role to play. They must raise awareness and enhance understanding of these issues. Workers must be aware of their “labour and employment rights, social and welfare rights, and where to seek assistance”, as stated by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in its publication “Protecting the rights of migrant workers: a shared responsibility”.

All of this can significantly help create long-lasting legislative changes that are needed in the employment sector to ensure that migrants rights are protected. Finally, Italian institutions and civil society organisations should demand stricter controls by the authorities to ensure that existing laws are actually enforced and implemented, as suggested by Roni.

(End)

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Cameron at large: Want Not to Become a Terrorist? Speak Fluent English!http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/cameron-at-large-want-not-to-become-a-terrorist-speak-fluent-english/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 11:57:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143783 A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011.  Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronboy/5562337245/ | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

A plaque targeting Prime Minister David Cameron, as demonstrators protest in Oxford Street, London, 26 March 2011. Credit: Mark Ramsay | Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/neutronboy/5562337245/ | Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

By Baher Kamal
Cairo, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

“Do you speak English fluently? No? Then you risk to become a terrorist!.” IPS posed this dilemma to some young Muslim women living in Cairo, while explaining that this appears to be UK prime minister David Cameron’s formula to judge the level of Muslim women’s risk to fall, passively, into the horrific trap of extremism.

Here you have some answers: “He must be kidding, I can’t believe that…,” says Egyptian university student Fatima S.M.

“This is just insulting! What does language have to do with such a risk?,” responds Fakhira H. from Pakistan who is married to an Egyptian engineer.

“This pure colonialism, Cameron still dreams of the British Empire,” reacts Nigerian Afunu K. who works at an export-import company in Cairo.

“Oh my God! We knew that Muslim women are victims of constant stigmatisation everywhere, in particular in Western countries… But I never expected it to be at this level,” said Tunisian translator Halima M.

Of course this is not at all about any scientific survey-just an indicative example of how Muslim women from different countries and backgrounds see Cameron’s recent surprising statement: Muslim women who fail to learn English to a high enough standard could face deportation from the UK, the prime minister said on 18 January.

Cameron suggested that poor English skills can leave people “more susceptible” to the messages of groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (DAESH).

“After two and a half years they should be improving their English and we will be testing them,” the UK prime minister stated. “We will bring this in October and it will apply to people who have come in on a spousal visa recently and they will be tested.”

Cameron’s comments came as his Conservative government launched a $28.5 million language fund for Muslim women in the United Kingdom as part of a drive to “build community integration.”

Current British immigration rules require that spouses be able to speak English before they arrive in the UK to live with their partners. “…They would face further tests after two and a half years in the UK, said Cameron, before threatening them: “You can’t guarantee you will be able to stay if you are not improving your language.”

The number of Muslim living in the UK is estimated to be around 2.7 million out of Britain’s total population of 64 million.

The British government estimates that around 190,000 Muslim women (about 22% of the total) living in the UK speak little or no English.

“… If you are not able to speak English, not able to integrate, you may find, therefore, you have challenges understanding what your identity is, and therefore you could be more susceptible to the extremist message,” the UK prime minister affirmed.

Cameron further explained that a lack of language skills could make Muslims in the U.K. more vulnerable to the message of extremist groups. “I am not saying there is some sort of causal connection between not speaking English and becoming an extremist, of course not,” he said.

Significantly, Cameron’s cabinet did not ratify last summer the so-called Istanbul Convention, a pan-European convention establishing minimum standards for governments to meet when tackling violence against women. The UK had signed up on this Convention three and a half years ago. The Convention entered into force eighteen months ago.

The UK prime ministers’ statements came under fire in his own country.

This is about a “dog-whistle politics at its best,” said the UK Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron.

Cameron’s idea is “lazy and misguided”… a “stereotyping of British Muslim communities,” reacted Sayeeda Warsi, former Conservative Party co-chair. “I think it is lazy and sloppy when we start making policies based on stereotypes which do badly stigmatise communities.”

Andy Burnham, the Home Affairs spokesman for the Labour Party shadow cabinet, accused Cameron of a “clumsy and simplistic approach” that is “unfairly stigmatising a whole community.”

“Disgraceful stereotyping,” said Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the UK-based Ramadhan Foundation.

These are only a few selected reactions of a number of figures who have the chance for their voices to be heard.

But imagine you are a Muslim woman and live in the United Kingdom. Like any other woman, you already face many daily hurdles in this world of flagrant gender inequality.

Then recall that these challenges are augmented by the fact that you are a foreigner. Your religion in this case puts additional heavy stigmatisation weight in your mind and on your shoulders.

What would you think?

(End)

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Turkey descends into civil war as conflict in southeast escalateshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/turkey-descends-into-civil-war-as-conflict-in-southeast-escalates/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turkey-descends-into-civil-war-as-conflict-in-southeast-escalates http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/turkey-descends-into-civil-war-as-conflict-in-southeast-escalates/#comments Thu, 04 Feb 2016 05:57:17 +0000 Joris Leverink http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143780 The bullet-ridden Fatih Paşa Mosque in the heart of Diyarbakir's historical Sur district, which was heavily damaged in clashes between Turkish armed forces and local militant youths. Credit: Joris Leverink/IPS

The bullet-ridden Fatih Paşa Mosque in the heart of Diyarbakir's historical Sur district, which was heavily damaged in clashes between Turkish armed forces and local militant youths. Credit: Joris Leverink/IPS

By Joris Leverink
ISTANBUL, Turkey, Feb 4 2016 (IPS)

The latest footage to come out of Sur, the historical district in Diyarbakir that has been under total lock down by Turkish armed forces for the past sixty days, shows a level of devastation one would sooner expect in Syria. In more ways than one – empty streets lined with debris, bombed-out buildings, tanks and soldiers shooting at invisible assailants – the situation in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeastern regions resembles a war zone.

The Turkish government maintains that it is engaged in a fight against terror. However, the security operations are characterized by a disproportionate use of violence, whereby entire towns and neighborhoods are cut off from the outside world with civilians trapped inside their homes for weeks on end. This has led to calls by international human rights organizations to end the collective punishment of an entire population for the acts of a small minority.

At its second general congress in late January, the key political representative of the Kurdish population in Turkey, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, stressed its determination to seek a peaceful solution to the violent conflict. “If politics can play a role, weapons are not necessary. Where there’s no politics, there will be
weapons,” Selahattin Demirtaş, the co-chair of the party summarized the situation.

From autonomy to conflict

In the spring of 2013 hopes were high for a political solution to the decades-old violent conflict between the Turkish state and its Kurdish minority, represented on the battlefield by the leftist Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. After years of fighting and tens of thousands deaths, both parties appeared determined to bring the war to an end and engage in peace talks. For almost 2.5 years the fighting ceased. The precarious peace came to an end in the summer of 2015.

As a spillover from the war in Syria, tensions between the Kurds in Turkey and the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, reached a boiling point. In Syria, local Kurds had been fighting off a number of Turkey-backed jihadist and Syrian opposition groups – most prominently the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS. When Kurdish groups in Turkey became the target of two ISIS-linked suicide attacks – in Diyarbakir in June, and Suruç in July – it was the AKP that was held responsible for the onslaught.

The ceasefire broke down and violence escalated quickly. Turkey launched air raids against PKK targets in northern Iraq, in response to which security forces inside Turkey were attacked by Kurdish militants. Having lost their trust in the Turkish state to properly address Kurdish grievances concerning the right to speak and be educated in their mother tongue, to practice their own religion, to be represented politically and to protect the natural environment of their historical homelands, many Kurds instead turned to the ideology of “democratic confederalism”.

Developed by the jailed leader of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, democratic confederalism promotes the autonomy of local communities and a decentralization of the state.

When towns and neighborhoods across the Kurdish regions of Turkey started declaring their autonomy in the wake of the re-escalated conflict, the Turkish state under the leadership of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded by sending in the army and declaring dozens of so-called curfews that in practice amount to military sieges. Besides hundreds of casualties among the army and Kurdish militants, around two hundred civilians are believed to have been killed in the past six months.

Bleak prospects for peace

After the HDP became the first party with roots in the Kurdish freedom movement to pass the exceedingly high electoral threshold of 10 per cent at the parliamentary elections in June – and again at the snap elections in November – it has come under severe pressure from the political establishment. President Erdogan personally suggested that the HDP representatives ought to be stripped from their immunity so that they could be prosecuted for supporting terrorism.

Nonetheless, the party refuses to succumb to the intimidation and has consistently called for a peaceful and democratic solution to the conflict. “Despite all the oppression, a new democratic model is emerging,” HDP co-chair Figen Yüksedağ said in her speech at the congress. “This model continues to gain support, even while under attack. The HDP has a historical responsibility to bring this project to a successful end.”

Her co-chair Demirtaş added the warning that “If we fail to produce a solution for the end of the violence, it is the end of politics in Turkey.” Unfortunately, prospects for a political solution are bleak. Mayors and political representatives of the towns and districts where the population has called for autonomy are prosecuted and jailed. At the same time President Erdogan warned that, “It should be known that we will bring the whole world down on those who seek to establish a state within a state under the name of autonomy and self-governance.”

Prime Minister Davutoğlu recently vowed to continue the military operations until “our mountains, plains and towns are cleansed of these killers.” This type of uncompromising discourse from the country’s two most powerful political leaders instills little hope that the government is prepared to return to the negotiation table any time soon. The Kurds, both at home and across the border in Syria, are seen as the biggest threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey, and to stop this perceived threat no price is too high.

In the same way that Turkey has refused to allow the Syrian Kurds a seat at the negotiation table in Geneva, it is refusing to enter into dialogue with the Kurds at home.

The multiple references to Syria in this article are no coincidence; if the Turkish government continues to ignore all but a military solution to the current unrest, there is a very real threat that part of the country will soon resemble its southern neighbor.

The HDP’s invitation is there. In the words of co-chair Demirtaş: “Dialogue and negotiation should be the method when the public is under threat. Strengthening democracy is the only way to save Turkey from disaster.”

(End)

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Media Come Together to Discuss Safety of Journalists, Fight Against Impunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/media-come-together-to-discuss-safety-of-journalists-fight-against-impunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=media-come-together-to-discuss-safety-of-journalists-fight-against-impunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/media-come-together-to-discuss-safety-of-journalists-fight-against-impunity/#comments Wed, 03 Feb 2016 06:33:10 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143766 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Feb 3 2016 (IPS)

Amid continuing attacks on journalists, media representatives from around the world will meet in the French capital this week to discuss how to reinforce the safety of those working in the sector.

Organized and hosted by the United Nations cultural agency, UNESCO, this “unprecedented” meeting between media executives and the agency’s members states on Feb. 5 is an attempt to “improve the safety of journalists and tackle impunity for crimes against media professionals”, UNESCO said.

Journalism is one of the deadliest professions in the world. Credit AD Mckenzie/IPS

Journalism is one of the deadliest professions in the world. Credit AD Mckenzie/IPS

“As everyone knows, the problem has been increasing over the past five years of killing of journalists in different parts of the world, and the UN system as a whole has become more concerned about this in parallel,” said Guy Berger, director of UNESCO’s Division of Freedom of Expression and Media Development.

He told IPS that the UN has been putting “a lot of effort” into trying to get more action against these killings and that UNESCO has been working to create greater cooperation among various groups concerned with journalists’ safety.

But Berger said that the conference wanted to focus on what media organizations themselves could do “to step forward” and bring attention to the matter.

The day-long meeting – titled “News organizations standing up for the safety of media professionals” – will “foster dialogue on security issues with a view to reducing the high number of casualties in the profession”, UNESCO said.

The number of media workers killed around the world totaled 112 last year, according to the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), whose president Jim Boumelha will speak at the conference.

The IFJ, which represents some 600,000 members globally, said that among the deaths, at least 109 journalists and media staff died in “targeted killings, bomb attacks and cross-fire incidents”. This number marks a slight decrease from 2014 when 118 media personnel were killed.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a group that defends freedom of expression, said in its report that the deaths were “largely attributable to deliberate violence against journalists” and demonstrates the failure of initiatives to protect media personnel.

The slayings included those of cartoonists working for the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. Following those attacks, UNESCO organized a conference then as well, under the heading “Journalism after Charlie”.

In the year since, many other media workers have lost their lives, in both countries at peace and those experiencing civil war.

Calling on the UN to appoint a special representative for the safety of journalists, RSF’s Director General Christophe Deloire says that the creation of a specific mechanism for enforcing international law on the protection of journalists is “absolutely essential”.

Deloire will present a safety guide for journalists at the conference, in association with UNESCO. This is part of the aim to “share good practices on a wide range of measures including safety protocols in newsrooms … and innovative protective measures for reporting from dangerous areas”, according to the UN agency.

Some 200 media owners, executives and practitioners from public, private and community media are expected to attend the conference, UNESCO said.

“The diversity of media represented, in terms of geography, size and type of threat encountered, is unprecedented and should contribute to the conference’s ability to raise awareness of and improve preparedness for the full range of dangers the media face worldwide,” the agency added.

Berger will moderate the first session, while debates in the second will be led by Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent for the broadcaster CNN and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Freedom of Expression and Journalism.

Diana Foley, founder and president of the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, is also scheduled to be among the speakers. The institution honours the work of American journalist James Foley, her son, who was abducted while covering the Syrian war and brutally killed by his captors in 2014.

One of the conference’s high-level sessions will focus on “ending impunity together” and will comprise “dialogue” between the media industry and UNESCO member states, according to the programme.

UNESCO says it has been advocating and implementing measures to improve the safety of journalists and to end impunity for crimes against media workers. The agency’s Director-General issues press releases to condemn the killing of journalists and media workers, for instance.

In addition, UNESCO publishes a biennial report that takes stock of governments’ replies to the organization’s request for information about “actions taken to pursue the perpetrators of these crimes”.

In its 2015 report, “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development”, UNESCO noted that some member countries were not submitting requested updates on investigations into attacks against the media. However, the response rate had still risen to 42 percent (24 out of 57 countries) from 22 percent in 2014.

One of the issues not on the agenda at the conference is the number of UNESCO member states that imprison journalists or attempt to suppress freedom of expression. Experts acknowledge that this is also a topic that needs addressing, but some say that a distinction between the issues needs to be made.

“You can have freedom of the press and journalists are not safe,” Berger told IPS. “And in other places, you can have a lack of freedom of the press, and journalists are safe, even if they face consequences under laws that may be out of line with international standards.”

He said that governments have “the primary responsibility to protect everybody and to protect their rights,” but that not all governments live up to this task.

“That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t,” he added. “If you sign up to these international declarations, you actually have to match your words with your actions.”

The public, too, could be more aware of the challenges that media workers face and support the calls for safety and protection.

“Nobody wants to be out of line with public opinion, and the stronger public opinion is, the more governments actually see that it’s important to act,” Berger said. “Governments need journalists, even if they don’t like them, and they need them to be safe.”

(End)

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UN Hails Myanmar’s Historic New Parliamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/un-hails-myanmars-historic-new-parliament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-hails-myanmars-historic-new-parliament http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/un-hails-myanmars-historic-new-parliament/#comments Tue, 02 Feb 2016 21:23:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143762 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 2 2016 (IPS)

When U.Thant of Burma (now Myanmar) was elected UN Secretary-General back in November 1962, he was the first Asian to hold that post after Trygve Lie of Norway and Dag Hammarskjold of Sweden.

The appointment was also a historic moment for Asia, which waited for 45 long years for the second Asian to hold that position: Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, the current UN Secretary-General, who was elected in January 2007.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar in November 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar in November 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

An equally important event took place in Myanmar last November when it held nation-wide elections, the first after decades of military rule, which were hailed by the United Nations as “a significant achievement in Myanmar’s democratic transition.”

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was forced to spend nearly 15 years under house arrest by a military government, emerged the leader of the largest political party: the National League for Democracy (NLDP) party.

On Tuesday, Myanmar’s first freely-elected parliament in decades met in the capital of Naypyidaw — and at least over 110 of the NLDP’s 390 members in the new parliament are former political prisoners.

But constitutionally, Aung San Suu Kyi, is barred from holding the post of President, despite the NLD’s parliamentary majority, primarily because her children who were born in UK are treated as foreigners. Her late husband was a British scholar.

Asked about the historic opening of parliament, UN Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said: “It’s another extremely important step in the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.”

Dr Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka’s former Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS the gradual transition to democracy in Myanmar must be welcomed.

But the transition has to occur through a measured process, he said.

“Myanmar has not enjoyed a UK style (or an Indian style) democracy for a long time. It will take a while for a successful transition to be consolidated.’

“We know from recent experience that a Western style democracy cannot be superimposed on a country inexperienced in democracy. It is to be remembered that its territorial integrity will be a priority for Myanmar while divisive ethnic tensions will need to be carefully managed as it slowly absorbs the new political experience,” said Kohona.

Ban said the United Nations “has long been involved in Myanmar’s transition after more than 50 years of military rule”, appointing a Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the issue.

In 2007, he set up the “Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar,” a consultative forum of 14 countries to assist him in his efforts to spur change in the South-East Asian nation.

Over the years, he has welcomed the release of political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself. In 2010 he voiced concern over the decision to dissolve 10 political parties, including the NLD, ahead of the previous elections that November.

The United States, which imposed rigid economic and military sanctions on Myanmar for lack of a democratically elected government, for its treatment of political prisoners and its human rights violations, has begun easing some of these restrictions.

Since 2012, the US has provided over $500 million in support of Myanmar’s reform process, including implementation of the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement and efforts to increase the participation of civil society and women in the peace process.

At a press conference in the Naypyitaw last month, US Deputy Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said the US welcomes the positive statements from President Thein Sein and from the leadership of the military congratulating the NLD and pledging to respect the result of the elections.

It is also encouraging that Aung San Suu Kyi has met with President Thein Sein and Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing to discuss the upcoming political transition.

“We know there are still many challenges ahead,” Blinken said.

“Broad-based economic growth must be nurtured and it must be sustained. The national reconciliation process must continue.”

He also said that remaining political prisoners must be released and human rights protected for all, no matter their ethnicity or religion.

Reforms need to continue until an elected civilian government is truly sovereign and all the country’s institutions answer to the people.

“The United States will work in close partnership with the new government to support its efforts to achieve these goals,” he declared.

He said the US has also discussed Myanmar’s economic challenges, including the incoming government’s focus on improving conditions for those who live and work off the land.

“The United States will continue to promote responsible investment by our companies in Myanmar, which we believe is strengthening new local businesses and industries and building human capital, not just extracting resources.”

“We talked about the peace process and political dialogue between the government and ethnic nationalities. The United States will do whatever the stakeholders in this historic effort believe will be helpful to aid in its success. Meanwhile, we urge an end to offensive military operations and unfettered humanitarian access to civilians in need,” he added.

The US is particularly concerned about discrimination and violence experienced by ethnic and religious minorities, including the Rohingya population in Rakhine State.

Ban said he is regretfully aware that a large number of voters from minority communities, in particular the Rohingya, were denied the right to vote and some were disqualified as candidates,” the statement noted.

Encouraged by the statements of political and military leaders and other relevant actors, as Myanmar begins the process of forming its next government, the UN chief has urged all national stakeholders to maintain a calm atmosphere and uphold human rights and the rule of law.

“There is much hard work that remains ahead on Myanmar’s democratic journey and towards making future elections truly inclusive,” he said, underscoring that the people and leaders of Myanmar have it within their power to come together to build a better future for their country, “a future where peace and development take firm root on the foundations of inclusivity, respect and tolerance, where the human rights of all are protected regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or gender, and where no one is marginalized, vulnerable, and discriminated against.”

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Women’s Rights First — African Summithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-rights-first-african-summit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=womens-rights-first-african-summit http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/womens-rights-first-african-summit/#comments Mon, 01 Feb 2016 15:33:37 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143743 Mahawa Kaba Wheeler during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler during a press conference in Addis Ababa. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

By Baher Kamal
CAIRO, Feb 1 2016 (IPS)

Despite the enormous challenges facing Africa now, the leaders of its 1.2 billion plus inhabitants have decided to spotlight the issue of Human Rights With a Particular Focus on the Rights of Women in their 26th summit held in Addis Ababa on 21-31 January this year. Why?

In an interview to IPS, Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission (AUC), explains that time has come to act to alleviate the multitude of barriers to gender equality: “These include, among others, economic exclusion and financial systems that perpetuate the discrimination of women; limited participation in political and public life; lack of access to education and retention of girls in schools; gender-based violence, harmful cultural practices, and exclusion of women from peace tables either as lead mediators or part of negotiating teams of conflicting parties,” she argued.

The African Union believes that removing these barriers that impede women from fully enjoying their human rights can empower the continent, she added. Asked about women’s social, economic and political role in the continent, the Director of Women, Gender and Development says that Africa is at a turning point emerging as “one of the fastest growing developing regions in the world, registering economic growth levels ranging from 2 per cent-11 per cent.”

“Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in business, agriculture, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid work at home. But they also remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation,” explained the Director.

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Mahawa Kaba Wheeler, Director of Women, Gender and Development at the African Union Commission. Photo: Courtesy of the African Union Commission

Women’s socio-economic disadvantages are reflected in pervasive violence, gender inequalities in earned income, property ownership, access to services including health and education as well as time use. To date, women in Africa, like women elsewhere, have not been included as full, equal and effective stakeholders in processes that determine and impact on their lives, Kaba Wheeler said.

“For example, women continue to have less access to education than men; they have less employment and advancement opportunities; their role and contribution to national and continental development processes are not always recognised nor fully rewarded; and they continue to be conspicuously absent from crucial decision-making positions,” she elaborated.

Kaba Wheeler also explained that the focus on these rights is an opportunity for the AU to take stock of how far it has come in addressing some of the impediments to women’s full enjoyment of their human rights.

This is also meant “to assess the extent of implementation of its gender and women’s rights instruments, consolidate the gains already made over the years and consider future priority areas of action to accelerate the effective and efficient implementation of commitments made on gender equality and women’s empowerment, ” she stated.

Kaba Wheeler recalls that the theme for the 26th African Union Summit in January 2016 derives from the declaration of 2016 as the “African Year of Human Rights, with a Particular Focus on the Rights of Women,” as this year marks “important milestones” in the continental and global women’s agenda for gender equality and women empowerment.

Among others, continentally, it is the 30th anniversary of the coming into force of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights in 1986 and the beginning of the second phase of the African Women’s Decade 2010-2020.

“Globally, 2016 commemorates 36 years since the adoption of The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), described as the international bill of rights for women, and the 21st anniversary of the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, which is the key global policy on gender equality.”

Regarding the main reasons why African women still face such huge hurdles, Kaba Wheeler cited a number of factors that create barriers between the present condition and gender equality in Africa: “Key amongst those is that African culture is largely patriarchal. Because of this, family control and decision-making powers belong to males. Since decision-making powers belong to males, the ability to make policy as well as the power to influence social norms also belongs to males.”

Consequently, she adds, “the male policy makers often maintain a firm grip on the traditional, gender-specific roles. This creates a sort of self-serving cycle, from which Africa is not yet free. Not unlike the women in many western states, the traditional role of women in Africa is that of the home-maker.”

As for women’s political participation in Africa, Kaba Wheeler explained to IPS that a huge progress has been made in the participation of women in politics since the transformation of the Organization of African Unity to the African Union.

In fact, she says, 15 African states rank in the top 37 amongst world classification for women’s participation in national parliaments with more than 30 per cent: Rwanda (63.8 per cent) , Seychelles (43.8 per cent), Senegal (42.7 per cent), South Africa (42 per cent), Namibia (41 per cent), Mozambique (39.6 per cent), Ethiopia (38.8 per cent), Angola (36.8 per cent ), Burundi (36.4 per cent ), Uganda (35 per cent) , Algeria (31 per cent) , Zimbabwe (31.5 per cent), Cameroon (31.3 per cent), Sudan (30.5 per cent ) and Tunisia (31.3 per cent).

But while Rwanda is the world leader in women’s parliamentary representation, it is lagging behind when it comes to women in executive positions. It is overtaken by Cape Verde, which has the highest number of women occupying ministerial positions in Africa. Out of 17 government ministers in Cape Verde, 9 are women, amounting to 52.9 per cent representation, Kaba Wheeler adds.

“It should also be noted that out of 54 African Heads of State and Government, three are women – the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; the President of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, and the Interim President of the Central Africa Republic, Catherine Samba Panza.”

In this regard, Kaba Wheeler explains that the AU envisions a 50 per cent representation of women in decision-making and member states are expected to use that as the yardstick. On that note, the AU adopted the gender parity principle at its first summit in 2001.

“To date, the AU is the only multilateral body that has maintained gender parity at its topmost decision-making level. In addition to the chairperson of the AUC, there are five women and five male commissioners and efforts are made to allow for the gender parity principle to percolate other AU organs and institutions such as the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights as well as the African Court- where women are in the majority, ” according to Ms Wheeler.

The AU recognises that, with women being half of the African population, achievement of gender parity would create a ripple effect through many sectors of society as more women would be inspired to aim for leadership positions.

“Not only would having women in leadership positions lead to a better quality of life for women themselves, but also for their families in general and children in particular. There can be no true democracy in a country where women are underrepresented in decision making positions,” she emphasised.

But while acknowledging the great strides that have been achieved in women’s political participation, women still continue to experience significant discrimination related to their participation in public and political life.

In some AU member states, she adds, national legislation and constitutions adversely affect women’s participation in public and political life by limiting their participation through exclusionary or discriminatory clauses.

“In Africa, structural impediments to gender equality are embedded within the constitutional texts, containing provisions that specifically subjugate constitutional equality to religious principles or exclude family and customary law from constitutional non-discrimination.”

Although many of the same constitutions articulate a commitment to gender equality, the exclusion of personal or customary law from constitutional protection can severely undermine that commitment to equality, because many issues that commonly affect women are located within the legal spheres regulated by these customary and personal legal systems, Kaba Wheeler underlined.

Asked to further develop on the situation of African women whose role is key in the field of food production, agriculture and food security, Kaba Wheeler explains that their contribution does not match the benefits they derive from the sector in general and little investment is directed to benefit them.

“While African women produce more than 60 per cent of agriculture, constitutes over 50 per cent of the rural population and remain the main custodians of food security, there is very little investment in their lot to yield commensurate results, tap their resources and help them unleash their potential.”

Although they spend 80 per cent of their time either in agricultural production and auxiliary process including informal sector business, their contribution to food production, family care and welfare activities as well as in the informal sector is not captured in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and unaccounted for in the Statistics of National Accounts, says Kaba Wheeler.

“In addition to women not owning land, they have no access to agricultural infrastructure including land rights, modern farming technology, farm inputs, credit, extension services and training. Majority of them have no access to physical infrastructure also because they are based in rural areas with no access to good roads, water, electricity among others.”

In that regard, she adds, even when they produce agricultural crops, they lack access to markets and loose most of their outputs between the farm and the market through wastage, or sell their produce to middle men at a throw away price due to the high transportation costs.

“Because of the majority of women do not own land, they produce the bulk of the agricultural produce as tenants on the land they still have no land rights on the land and also no inheritance rights.”

Access to land for women remains one of the critical impediments to women’s economic, social and political empowerment in Africa.

According to the Seventh Report of the AUC Chairperson on the Implementation of the AU-SDGEA (Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa), African women own roughly 1 per cent of the land, despite farming and producing most of the food from the land.

Dual application of laws-customary and civil/common laws, conflict of various laws, as well as inadequate harmonisation of family laws- in relationship to marriages and inheritance, land rights, and property laws is a major issue across Africa, Kaba Wheeler explains.

On the other hand, the lack of equal opportunity in education, particularly higher education is responsible for the low levels of women in the job market, including in the formal agricultural sector… Most of the women in the job market occupy low cadre job which earn little income compared to their male counterparts, says Ms Wheeler.

As a result, women have no disposable income and are not able to accumulate any savings and generate investible income. Majority of them are therefore, predominantly in the agricultural sector where they are predominantly involved in producing food for the family and the meagre income they generate from selling surplus food does not lift them from poverty. Women constitute the majority of people in our continent who live below US $1 a day.

Regarding women’s health, Kaba Wheeler explains that in Africa, gender related challenges manifest themselves in various ways including with unacceptably high maternal, new born and child morbidity and mortality: “Maternal health status is indeed a key indicator not only of the status of women but also of the health status (and well being) of society as a whole. The 2012 Status Report on Maternal New born and Child Health of the AU Commission noted that globally, more than half a million women die each year due to pregnancy and childbirth related causes. ”

Some specific data: 99 per cent of these deaths were identified to occur in developing countries, of which 50 per cent occur in Africa (specifically outside the North African region). For every death, at least another 20 women suffer illnesses or injuries related to childbirth or pregnancy.

“The lifetime risk of dying during pregnancy and childbirth in Africa (excluding North Africa) is 1 in 22 women, compared with about 1 in 8,000 women in the developed world. Furthermore evidence abounds that 80 per cent of those deaths could be prevented by simple, low-cost and quality interventions.”

(End)

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