Inter Press Service » Human Rights http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 25 Oct 2014 15:11:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 OPINION: The Front Line of Climate Change is Here and Nowhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-front-line-of-climate-change-is-here-and-now-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-front-line-of-climate-change-is-here-and-now-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-the-front-line-of-climate-change-is-here-and-now-2/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 15:11:24 +0000 Kaio Tiira Taula http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137377 Pacific Climate Warriors organised a canoe flotilla in Australia on Oct. 17 to protest against the Australian coal industry and call for action on climate change. Credit: Jeff Tan for 350.org

Pacific Climate Warriors organised a canoe flotilla in Australia on Oct. 17 to protest against the Australian coal industry and call for action on climate change. Credit: Jeff Tan for 350.org

By Kaio Tiira Taulu
TUVALU, Oct 25 2014 (IPS)

The fate of my country rests in your hands: that was the message which Ian Fry, representing Tuvalu gave at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen five years ago. This is also the message that the Pacific Climate Warriors have come to Australia to bring.

We have come here, representatives of 12 different Pacific island nations, which are home to 10 million people, to ask the people of Australia to reject plans to double Australia’s exports of coal and to become the biggest exporter of gas in the world.

We want Australia (and other industrialised countries which also rely on the burning and extraction of fossil fuels) to understand that for every kilo of coal which they dig, or every gas well they make, there is someone in the islands who is losing their home.“We want Australia (and other industrialised countries which also rely on the burning and extraction of fossil fuels) to understand that for every kilo of coal which they dig, or every gas well they make, there is someone in the islands who is losing their home”

My home, Tuvalu, is a series of three islands and six atolls halfway between Hawaii and Australia. Tuvalu is the fourth smallest country in the world and home to 11,000 people and most of us have been there for generations

Tuvalu, like many of our island neighbours, is living on borrowed time with climate change expected to displace over 300 million people worldwide before 2050. The displacement has already started to happen with thousands of my countrymen forced to leave by the rising King Tides and the long drought affecting our food supplies.

One family drew international attention when they became the first refugees to seek asylum in New Zealand based on grounds of climate change.

Aside from the humanitarian cost, there is also the loss to culture and diversity with several thousands of years of civilisation and history wiped from the face of the planet. And there is nothing that we can do about this except hope that you and your country will see the value of keeping our island above water and make the decision to turn away from fossil fuels.

This is the reason I have joined with the Pacific Climate Warriors to come to Australia and represent my country and our region.

For years our leaders have tried to convey our message in the halls of power to politicians, diplomats and whoever else would listen, but the arguments of economic growth have always taken precedence over the arguments for our survival.

I now come as an envoy to ask the people of Australia to please consider the plight of the 11,000 people in Tuvalu and the further millions in other Pacific islands and other low lying nations which may expect to be wiped out by climate change.

In my time in Australia I have heard plenty about the importance of the Australian coal industry and the jobs and economic growth that it generates, yet it is us in the islands who are paying the price with our land, our culture and our livelihoods. This hardly seems a fair price to pay when we gain nothing from this industry.

This is why it incenses me so much to hear that coal is good for humanity or coal will be the solution to poverty. Coal will benefit only the wealthy whereas it will be the poor, like us, who suffer.

This is why it is the ultimate insult to hear that wealthy corporations are acting in the interests of the world’s poor when they dig and burn coal.

The Australian people have the power to decide the fate of my country and others in the Pacific. You need to let your government know that you have considered the matter carefully that you choose human life over the digging and export of coal.

If you do not, you must be ready to open your borders for the flood of climate refugees who will end up on your doorstep.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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India’s Crusader Against Impunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/indias-crusader-against-impunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-crusader-against-impunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/indias-crusader-against-impunity/#comments Sat, 25 Oct 2014 12:01:25 +0000 Beena Sarwar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137372 Manoj Mitta speaks at MIT. Credit: Beena Sarwar

Manoj Mitta speaks at MIT. Credit: Beena Sarwar

By Beena Sarwar
BOSTON, Oct 25 2014 (IPS)

As senior Indian journalist Manoj Mitta was testifying before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the U.S. Congress last month about mass violence and impunity in India, President Barack Obama escorted India’s newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the Martin Luther King Memorial.

“They were just three miles away,” Mitta told IPS, commenting on the irony of this coincidence, remembering that the United States had banned Modi’s entry on the mass violence on his watch in 2002 leading to the killing of about 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat state.“We can no longer pass off the shielding of mass murderers as the ‘internal affairs’ of any country. " -- Manoj Mitta

“Why should the U.S. Congress hold a hearing on human rights violations in India?” asked one Boston-based Indian expatriate on hearing about this. “By that token, we can have hearings in India about racial killings in the USA.”

“Why not indeed?” responds Mitta, a senior editor with The Times of India in New Delh, speaking to IPS in Boston when he was here for a talk at MIT, one of several book talks at universities around the country.

Focusing on legal and public policy issues, transparency and judicial accountability, both his books dissect judicial inquiries into the deadliest instances of communal violence in India: “When a Tree Shook Delhi: The 1984 carnage and its Aftermath”, co-authored with the eminent lawyer H. S. Phoolka (2007), and “The Fiction of Fact-Finding: Modi and Godhra” (2014).

The Lantos Commission event titled “Thirty Years of Impunity“, in collaboration with the Sikh Coalition, commemorated the 1984 carnage of Sikhs in the aftermath of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination by her Sikh bodyguards. Over 2,500 Sikhs were massacred in Delhi alone in just three days.

There is also a class-based element to such mass-violence, notes Boston-based writer and poet Sarbpreet Singh, whose long poem “Kultar’s Mime” about the 1984 carnage is currently being performed in the U.S., Canada and India. “Most people who suffered and died were very poor.”

After Boston, New York, Ottawa and Toronto, the compelling show will be performed in India — Delhi (Oct. 30-Nov. 1), Chandigarh (Nov. 2), and Amritsar (Nov. 4), before heading to the U.S. west coast: Los Angeles (Nov. 20-23) and San Francisco Bay Area (Dec. 6-7).

A scene from Kultar's Mime. Credit: Sikh Research Institute - sikhri.org

A scene from Kultar’s Mime. Credit: Sikh Research Institute – sikhri.org

“The ongoing struggles for justice in India gain strength from expressions of solidarity from abroad,” said Mitta. “We can no longer pass off the shielding of mass murderers as the ‘internal affairs’ of any country. As Martin Luther King famously put it, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’.”

Mitta quotes an old Sanskrit saying, “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” (the world is one family) – which Modi also invoked in his speech before the United Nations General Assembly.

But Modi was speaking “in terms of commerce and business,” says Mitta. “With the world being increasingly globalised on the economic front, more than globalisation of the economy, we need a universalisation of human rights standards and practices.”

Mitta, who also addressed the British Parliament commemorating the 25th anniversary of the 1984 carnage five years ago, says he would like countries to talk about each other’s human rights violations.

“Those violations affect not just the country they take place in. There are also spin-off effects that impact other countries,” he says. “Like, an unstable Pakistan is bad for India, and violations in India are bad for America.”

“Human rights should remain on the agenda,” adds Mitta, who has written extensively on the undermining of the rule of law in India – patterns that are visible in other South Asian nations too.

“Could such a mass crime, in which rampaging mobs fatally attacked hundreds of people, have ever occurred in Washington DC?” he asks. “And could the perpetrators of mass murder have got away with it? Could the security forces in the USA have colluded with the mobs as blatantly as they did in Delhi.”

“Could your president have dared to justify the mass crimes, as Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi did, by declaring that when a big tree had fallen, the earth was bound to shake?” he asked in his presentation to the Lantos Commission.

Such questions would seem equally inconceivable about other leading capital cities too. Whatever the provocation, could there ever have been such massacres, at any rate post-World War II, in London, Paris, Berlin or Tokyo?”

Looking beyond liberal democracies, the scale of the bloodshed in Delhi 1984 is “perhaps comparable to what happened in Beijing five years later, during the Tiananmen Square massacre” – committed by security forces operating in a single-party political system.

In fact, the death toll of Delhi 1984 was similar to that of 9/11 – the big difference being that “9/11 was the result of sudden and unforeseen terror attacks, not mob violence that deliberately remained unchecked for three days. By any standards of the civilised world, Delhi 1984 is one of a kind, a monstrosity without a parallel.”

And yet, it took 23 years for the first book on this subject to be published – Mitta and Phoolka’s, in 2007. It was made possible by a new inquiry commission established in 2000 seeking to undo the damage caused by the earlier one that had held all its findings in secrecy and not given due hearing to survivors.

The new commission, headed by former Supreme Court judge G.T. Nanavati, conducted its proceedings in public and released many old records related to the 1984 carnage.

“India’s appalling lack of documentation culture, especially on human rights issues is clearly a deficiency that is another reason for the impunity,” believes Mitta.

In the case of 1984, there have been about 30 convictions for murder in 30 years. The Gujarat carnage of 2002 has seen some 200 convictions, due to the Supreme Court’s intervention. The SC transferred some high-profile cases out of Gujarat and appointed a Special Investigation Team (SIT) to look into some of the worst cases from 2002.

However, the SIT “balked at asking questions” or challenging Modi on any of his evasive or contradictory replies while examining him. Because of this “fact-fudging rather than fact-finding,” says Mitta, Modi ended up not facing trial, as recommended by the Supreme Court appointed amicus curiae.

It was only after the SIT exonerated him that Modi became the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. “The Supreme Court has yet to pronounce on Modi’s innocence or guilt.”

The Indian prime minister has called for a 10-year moratorium on caste and communal violence, urging Indians to stay focused on the challenges of economic development.

But Modi has taken no action or even condemn those who have since violated this moratorium by stepping up their hate speech. His “strategic silence” and “denial mode, pretending that there’s no escalation of religious tensions under his rule, effectively adds another layer of impunity,” says Mitta.

The bottom line, he adds: If it is allowed to continue, impunity for hate speech and violence in India will eventually impact U.S. corporations seeking to do business with India. Impunity affects all, whether it is for corporate corruption or human rights abuses.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: Water Shutoffs and Unintended Consequences – Lessons from Detroithttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-water-shutoffs-and-unintended-consequences-lessons-from-detroit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-water-shutoffs-and-unintended-consequences-lessons-from-detroit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-water-shutoffs-and-unintended-consequences-lessons-from-detroit/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 18:31:22 +0000 Patricia Jones http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137366 Jasmine Omeke and Mariel Borgman of the University of Michigan survey an abandoned lot on the east side of Detroit. Unpaid bills are often converted to liens against properties. Credit: University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment/cc by 2.0

Jasmine Omeke and Mariel Borgman of the University of Michigan survey an abandoned lot on the east side of Detroit. Unpaid bills are often converted to liens against properties. Credit: University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment/cc by 2.0

By Patricia Jones
CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts, Oct 24 2014 (IPS)

United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Right to Safe Drinking Water and Sanitation Catarina de Albuquerque and Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing Leilani Farha were in Detroit, Michigan Oct. 17-20.

What they saw and heard in a city struggling to emerge from historic bankruptcy were mass water shutoffs and conditions they described as “a perfect storm.” The U.N. experts issued a call for a national affordability standard that would protect the poorest and most vulnerable.The city of Detroit, the state of Michigan and nations worldwide are on the cusp of making decisions that will lock generations to come into trillions of dollars of water and sanitation infrastructure investments, requiring staggering increases in water rates to households, small businesses and communities.

After speaking to hundreds of consumers, local authorities, and City of Detroit water and sewerage utility staff, the U.N. experts reported the scale and impacts of the shutoffs as unprecedented in their experience.

Freedom of information act responses from the City of Detroit showed that in 2014, 27,500 water shutoffs took place. The utility was not able to say how many persons were affected, how many residences were vacant, nor the impacts of the mass water shut off programme.

How could this be? This was the United States. This was Detroit — in previous years, one of the nation’s thriving manufacturing cities. As the third largest water and sanitation public service provider in the United States, Detroit’s utility serves 40 percent of the state of Michigan’s population, similar to large urban utilities around the world.

The City of Detroit, the state of Michigan and nations worldwide are on the cusp of making decisions that will lock generations to come into trillions of dollars of water and sanitation infrastructure investments requiring staggering increases in water rates to households, small businesses and communities.

Detroit is the tipping point, and the lesson we must learn. Water is the great equaliser. Everyone must have access to survive.

Water availability, quality and affordability are increasingly global issues, in developing and developed countries and particularly within major urban areas like Detroit. More than half the world’s population now lives in a city.

The United States is similar to other countries in terms of urban water and sanitation service challenges, but unique for a few important reasons. First, the U.S. can bring economic resources to bear to solve these issues that are beyond the capacities of most developing countries.

Of equal importance, U.S. technical expertise and policy framework are well developed.

That said, the United States is also unique in problematic aspects. There are unintended consequences of a water shutoff in the U.S. Unpaid bills are often converted to liens against properties, and homes are being foreclosed upon as a result of unpaid water and sewerage bills.

In Detroit and other cities, tenants who have no control over upkeep of properties they are renting are burdened with escalating water bills due to unrepaired leaks. Residences can be condemned for unsanitary conditions.

Most disturbing, water shutoff is a de facto sign of neglect: by law, children may be removed from the custodial care of their parents and placed in state care.

In the U.S., due to the legacy of racial discrimination of the past and the legacy of poverty resulting from racial discrimination, the demographics of consumers negatively impacted by increasing water rates and shutoff programs are single female head of households, children, the disabled, the elderly and people of color.

In terms of urban water issues specifically, the United States shares with other countries significant gaps in understanding the contours of the problem– and in our policy framework to address it.

In the U.S., we do not know the extent of the problem or who is impacted. Neither health officials, utilities, local, state or federal governments are required to collect data. Nor do we have in place sufficient programmes to address the problem of lack of access by the poorest and most vulnerable.

There are few, if any, existing official data sources on the impact of water shutoffs. No utility in the U.S. — including Detroit — is required to assess a household before shutting off water service, to report on shutoffs with demographic data, or to assess the public health implications of shutoffs for children, elderly, disabled or chronically ill — precisely those for whom a water shutoff poses an extraordinary burden.

Fortunately, some states have adopted protections for certain populations against water shutoffs. In New England, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island prohibit water shutoffs to households with infants less than 12 months of age up to children under two years of age.

Some states and utilities have provisions for persons with chronic illness to delay a water shutoff with a medical certification.

These practices, along with their rate implications, should be researched as best practices and expanded.

Many Western democracies ban water shutoffs completely, including France, Great Britain, Russia, Ireland, Scotland and, most recently, Ecuador. Courts in Belgium and the Netherlands have found that water shutoffs violate human rights.

The U.S. and other countries can study how service providers in these countries use other collection procedures and affordability protections to ensure their own financial sustainability while still ensuring water access for lowest income consumers.

Where oversight is weak or non-existent at state or city levels, or where political conditions no longer afford the checks and balances of a two-party system, national governments must have a role, give guidance, and monitor water availability, quality and affordability, to ensure basic constitutional protections.

Constitutional protections must include due process, representation and continuing service for both disputed bills and low income consumers, while making arrangements for an affordable payment plan.

21st century challenges will add the overlay of increasingly more difficult environmental issues. What will define us is how we as a nation and as a world community respond to drought, flooding, water shortages, water contamination — and ensuring access to water as a human right.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Asia: So Close and Yet So Far From Polio Eradicationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/asia-so-close-and-yet-so-far-from-polio-eradication/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asia-so-close-and-yet-so-far-from-polio-eradication http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/asia-so-close-and-yet-so-far-from-polio-eradication/#comments Fri, 24 Oct 2014 06:41:05 +0000 IPS Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137358 A Pakistani child receives a dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for 80 percent of polio cases worldwide. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

A Pakistani child receives a dose of the oral polio vaccine (OPV). According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for 80 percent of polio cases worldwide. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By IPS Correspondents
KATHMANDU/PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Oct 24 2014 (IPS)

The goal is an ambitious one – to deliver a polio-free world by 2018. Towards this end, the multi-sector Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) is bringing out the big guns, sparing no expense to ensure that “every last child” is immunised against the crippling disease.

Home to 1.8 billion people, roughly a quarter of the world’s population, Southeast Asia was declared polio-free earlier this year, its 11 countries – Bangladesh, Bhutan, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Timor-Leste – joining the ranks of those nations that live without the polio burden.

United in the goal of eradicating polio, an infectious viral disease that invades the nervous system and can result in paralysis within hours, governments across the region worked hand in hand with community workers, NGOs and advocates to make the dream a reality.

“Pakistan has the highest [number of polio cases] among the three endemic countries worldwide." -- Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication with the WHO in Pakistan
According to GPEI, immunisation drives reached some 7.5 billion children over the course of 17 years, not just in city centres but also in remote rural outposts. During that time, the region witnessed some 189 nationwide campaigns that delivered over 13 billion doses of the oral polio vaccine (OPV).

High-performing countries like Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Bhutan eradicated polio a decade-and-a-half ago while India, once considered a stubborn hotbed for the disease, clocked its last case in January 2011, thus bringing about the much-awaited regional ‘polio-free’ tag.

But further north, dark clouds in the shapes of Afghanistan and Pakistan blight Asia’s happy tale. Together with Nigeria, these two nations are blocking global efforts to mark 2018 as polio’s last year on this planet.

Celebrating success from Nepal to the Philippines

For countries like Nepal, home to 27 million people, the prevalence of polio in other nations in the Asian region threatens its hard-won gains in stamping out the disease.

“There’s always fear that polio may see a resurgence as the disease hasn’t been eradicated everywhere,” said Shyam Raj Upreti, chief of the immunisation section of Nepal’s child health division (CDH).

Anxious to hold on to the coveted polio-free status, Nepal recently introduced the inactivated injectable polio vaccine (IPV) into its routine immunisation programme, the first country in South Asia to do so.

“While the oral polio vaccine has been the primary tool in polio eradication efforts, new evidence shows that adding one dose of IPV – given to children of 14 weeks by intramuscular injection – to the OPV [schedule], will maximise immunity to poliovirus,” Upreti explained.

He credits his country’s success to a high degree of social acceptance of the importance of child health in overall national development. “Female health volunteers play a key role in making the community understand why immunisation is important,” he said, adding that these volunteers provide services to some of the poorest segments of the population.

Between 1984 and 2011, Nepal’s immunisation coverage more than doubled from 44 to 90 percent. Ashish KC, child health specialist at UNICEF-Nepal, said that immunisation programmes didn’t stop even during the ‘people’s war’, a brutal conflict between the Maoists and the Nepali state that lasted a decade and killed 13,000 people.

“We understood that [we] needed a multi-sector approach, so service delivery was decentralised, and access was made easier,” KC told IPS. “Immunisation went beyond health, it became a part of [our] development plans.”

Such a mindset is also apparent in the Philippines, where the government recently decided to include the IPV into its national health plan, making it the largest developing country to do so.

According to a press release by Sanofi Pasteur, the multinational pharmaceutical company working closely with the Philippine government on its eradication initiatives, many Filipinos feel deeply about polio, having had a prime minister who was a survivor of the disease and lived with lifelong disabilities as a result.

“What’s striking about the Philippines is how strong a partnership there is around vaccinations,” said Mike Watson, vice president of vaccinations and advocacy at Sanofi Pasteur, referring to the unprecedented support shown by government officials and civil society at an event in Manila earlier this month that ended with several children receiving the IPV, the first of some two million children who will now be vaccinated every year.

“Getting the vaccine out to distribution centres on the smaller islands obviously poses a logistical challenge, but the Philippines has proven it’s really good at that,” Watson told IPS.

He added that strong networks of community health workers have enabled the Philippines to move into the “endgame”, the last stage in global eradication efforts that will require the 120 countries that aren’t currently using the IPV to introduce it by the end of 2016, representing one of the biggest and fastest vaccine introductions in history.

Over 5,700 km away from the Philippines, however, lives the lingering threat of polio, with thousands of children still at risk, and hundreds suffering from the debilitating results of the disease.

Pakistan’s polio troubles

This past June, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended a travel ban on all those leaving Pakistan without proof of immunisation, in a bid to prevent the spread of polio outside the country’s troubled borders.

But absent swift political action, travel bans alone will not staunch the epidemic.

A 2012 Taliban-imposed ban on the OPV has effectively prevented over 800,000 children from being immunised in two years, health officials told IPS.

In 2014 alone, Pakistan has recorded 206 cases of paralysis due to wild poliovirus, the most savage strain of the disease. Last week, 19 new cases of this strain were brought to the attention of the authorities.

“Pakistan has the highest [number of cases] among the three endemic countries worldwide,” Elias Durry, emergency coordinator for polio eradication with the WHO in Pakistan, told IPS.

The situation is most severe in the northern tribal areas, where the Taliban has used both violence and terror to spread the message that OPV is a ploy by Western governments to sterilise the Muslim population.

“The militancy-racked Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) accounts for 138 cases, while the adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) province has 43 cases,” Pervez Kamal, director of health in FATA, told IPS.

North Waziristan Agency has registered 69 cases, while the Khyber Agency and South Waziristan Agency are struggling with 49 and 17 cases respectively.

In a tragic development, an 18-month-old baby girl named Shakira Bibi has become the latest in a long line of polio victims. Her father, Shoiab Shah, told IPS that “Taliban militants” were responsible for depriving his daughter of the OPV.

In an unexpected twist, a military offensive aimed at breaking the Taliban’s hold over northern Pakistan has given health officials rare access to hundreds of thousands of residents in the tribal areas.

With close to a million people from North Waziristan Agency fleeing airstrikes and taking refuge in the neighbouring KP province, community health workers have been delivering the vaccine to residents of displacement camps in cities like Bannu and Lakki Marwat.

Still, this is only a tiny step towards overcoming the crisis.

Altaf Bosan, head of Pakistan’s national vaccination programme, said 34 million children under the age of five are in need of the vaccine but in 2014 alone “about 500,000 children missed their doses due to refusals by parents to [defy] the Taliban’s ban.”

The government has now elicited support from religious leaders to convince parents to submit to the OPV programme.

“Islamic scholars from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt [and] Afghanistan have issued a fatwa [edict], reminding parents that it is their Islamic duty to protect their children against disease,” Maulana Israr ul Haq, one of the signatories, told IPS.

According to the WHO, Pakistan is responsible for nearly 80 percent of polio cases reported globally, posing a massive threat to worldwide eradication efforts.

 

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Kashmir Flood Carries Away Humble Dreamshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kashmir-flood-carries-away-humble-dreams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kashmir-flood-carries-away-humble-dreams http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/kashmir-flood-carries-away-humble-dreams/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 17:51:43 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137349 Over 100,000 people in the north Indian state of Kashmir have been left homeless after a deadly flood on Sep. 7, 2014. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP

Over 100,000 people in the north Indian state of Kashmir have been left homeless after a deadly flood on Sep. 7, 2014. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP

By Athar Parvaiz
Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

Rafiqa Kazim and her husband Kazim Ali had a simple dream – to live a modest life, educate their four children and repay the bank-loan that the couple took out to sustain their small business.

Until early last month, their plan was moving along steadily but now Kazim says they have “hit a roadblock”, which took the form of deadly floods that swept through the north Indian Himalayan state of Jammu and Kashmir on Sep. 7, killing 281 people and destroying crops worth millions of dollars.

According to government estimates the overall damage now stands at some one trillion rupees (16 billion dollars), in what experts are calling the worst ever recorded flood in Kashmir’s history. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) said this was the first time the force was called upon to respond to such a severe flood in an urban area.

“I have no idea how to get things back to normal." -- Rafiqa Kazim, a flood victim residing just outside of Kashmir's capital, Srinagar
By the time the floodwaters had receded and the Jhelum River had returned to its usual steady flow, much of Kashmir’s capital Srinagar was underwater, with 140,000 houses destroyed and hundreds of thousands of others badly damaged.

It has been over a month, but families like the Kazims are only just starting to come to terms with the long-term impacts of the disaster as they move slowly out of makeshift camps, shelters and relatives’ homes to start picking up the pieces of their lives.

Making her way through the wreckage of her home in Ganderpora, 17 km northwest of Srinagar, Kazim points out the damage to their house and one acre of agricultural land. But in truth, her mind is elsewhere – on the 10X10-foot carpet that she and another weaver had been working on for over two months.

For Kazim, this carpet represents months of labour, and the promise of grand profits for a woman of her economic background: in a single year, she can earn up to 200,000 rupees (about 3,350 dollars) from carpet weaving and embroidery. In a country where the average annual income is about 520 dollars, according to the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), this is a tidy sum.

“As the announcement came on the community address system that flood waters were entering the village, our first instinct was to save ourselves and get to a safer place. In the process, we forgot everything else including the loom, the carpet, as well as our floor mats and bedding,” she explained.

Hajira Begam, a 49-year-old flood victim, rigs up a clay cover for an electric coil that will serve as her stove in the absence of a proper home and kitchen. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP

Hajira Begam, a 49-year-old flood victim, rigs up a clay cover for an electric coil that will serve as her stove in the absence of a proper home and kitchen. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IP

The loss of the loom could mean dark days ahead for the couple. Kazim only took up the practice of weaving and embroidering when Ali lost the use of his right arm due to a neurological disorder, preventing him from continuing with his job as a videographer.

Reluctant as he was to pass the onus of breadwinning onto his wife, Ali soon realized he had no choice. He sold his beloved camera, and pooled the money together with a 1,500-dollar loan to purchase the loom and various other tools Kazim would need to convert their home into a small handicrafts unit.

Their first order, for an eight-by-seven-foot carpet and assorted embroidered clothing items, brought the family nearly 1,250 dollars, which enabled them to pay their children’s school fees and set something aside for repayment of their loan.

Now, the floods have swept away their hopes of making ends meet, including the limited harvest from their small plot of farmland.

“I have no idea how to get things back to normal,” a dejected Kazim concluded, looking around at her three daughters and son. She is convinced that unless government support is forthcoming, families like hers will be looking at a bleak future.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked Wednesday’s Diwali holiday, a holy Hindu festival of light, with a visit to the affected areas, where hopes were running high that he would announce a generous aid package to flood victims.

In an already poor state – with 2.4 million out of a population of some 12 million people living below the poverty line – the impact of a natural disaster of this nature is gravely magnified, leaving the destitute far worse off than they were.

Things are particularly bad for farming families, who constitute 75 percent of the state’s population and lost some 512 million dollars worth of agricultural products in the floods. Some 300,500 hectares of crops were also destroyed, spelling trouble for landholding families who generally own just 0.67 hectares of farmland.

Women shoulder the burden

Until official assistance kicks in, women like Kazim will be forced to bear the brunt of the floods, since the responsibility of managing domestic affairs is seen throughout traditional Kashmiri society as a woman’s job.

In most of the flood-hit areas, it is the women who are fetching water for their families, cleaning homes of silt and mud, retrieving cooking utensils and generally making sure that life gradually returns to normal.

Finding clean drinking water is proving a particular challenge, with many sources such as wells and water supply tanks damaged and contaminated by debris washed up by the floodwaters, which reached heights of up to 25 feet in some areas according to the NDRF. For the average family, which consumes about 500 litres of water per day, this poses countless challenges on a daily basis.

In Haritara Rekhi-Haigam, a village located some 60 km north of Srinagar, IPS witnessed women struggling with all these challenges. Some residents told IPS that several women had been injured while attempting to fill their buckets from a water tanker, as scores of people jostled for a place in the line.

Many women in Haritara Rekhi-Haigam must now walk over four km each day for a single pitcher of water. IPS spoke with a group of young girls carrying heavy pots on their heads, who said they set out at daybreak for a return trip that lasts over five hours.

Women like 49-year-old Hajira Begam are coming up with unique solutions to their problems. She shows IPS the earthen insulation she has rigged up over an electric coil, which allows her to boil water to clean her cooking utensils.

She has also created a makeshift structure over a portion of the roadside that serves as her only shelter since the flood has washed her house away. She is one of some 100,000 people left homeless by the floods.

Women must also see to their children’s education, no simple task given that the floods damaged as many as 2,594 schools, with some 686 buildings left completely uninhabitable.

A school teacher named Nahida Begam told IPS that her family still has not found permanent housing, with some renters demanding as much as 423 dollars “for two rooms and a kitchen” she said. With a combined monthly income of about 900 dollars, and two children to educate, she and her husband cannot afford such a high rent.

With the water approaching, bringing with it the promise of weather that falls as low as minus ten degrees Celsius, “it is likely that people are going to die of cold in the coming months for want of shelter,” according to Mehbooba Mufti, president of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

And with the onset of winter, those with humble dreams like Rafiqa Kazim will be hunkering down to plan for a future that, for the time being, holds very little promise.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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Central Asia Hurting as Russia’s Ruble Sinkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/central-asia-hurting-as-russias-ruble-sinks/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:35:04 +0000 David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137344 By David Trilling and Timur Toktonaliev
BISHKEK, Oct 23 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Pensioner Jyparkul Karaseyitova says she cannot afford meat anymore. At her local bazaar in Kyrgyzstan’s capital, Bishkek, the price for beef has jumped nine percent in the last six weeks. And she is not alone feeling the pain of rising inflation.

Butcher Aigul Shalpykova says her sales have fallen 40 percent in the last month. “If I usually sell 400 kilos of meat every month, in September I sold only 250 kilos,” she complained.On Oct. 20 a “large player” also sold about 600 million dollars, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

A sharp decline in the value of Russia’s ruble since early September is rippling across Central Asia, where economies are dependent on transfers from workers in Russia, and on imports too. As local currencies follow the ruble downward, the costs of imported essentials rise, reminding Central Asians just how dependent they are on their former colonial master.

The ruble is down 20 percent against the dollar since the start of the year, in part due to Western sanctions on Moscow for its role in the Ukraine crisis. The fall accelerated in September as the price of oil – Russia’s main export – dropped to four-year lows. The feeble ruble has helped push down currencies around the region, sometimes by double-digit figures.

In Bishkek, food prices have increased by 20 to 25 percent over the past 12 months, says Zaynidin Jumaliev, the chief for Kyrgyzstan’s northern regions at the Economics Ministry, who partially blames the rising cost of Russian-sourced fuel.

In Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, remittances from the millions of workers in Russia have started to fall. In recent years, these cash transfers have contributed the equivalent of about 30 percent to Kyrgyzstan’s economy and about 50 percent to Tajikistan’s. As the ruble depreciates, however, it purchases fewer dollars to send home.

Transfers contracted in value during the first quarter of 2014 for the first time since 2009, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said last month, “primarily due” to the downturn in Russia. The EBRD added that any further drop “may significantly dampen consumer demand.”

“A weaker ruble weighs on [foreign] workers’ salaries […] which brings some pain to these countries,” said Oleg Kouzmin, Russia and CIS economist at Renaissance Capital in Moscow.

This month the International Monetary Fund said it expects consumer prices in Kyrgyzstan to grow eight percent in 2014 and 8.9 percent in 2015, compared with 6.6 percent last year. Kazakhstan and Tajikistan should see similar increases. A Dushanbe resident says he went on vacation for three weeks in July and when he returned food prices were approximately 10 percent higher. In Uzbekistan, the IMF said it expects inflation “will likely remain in the double digits.”

The one country unlikely to feel the pressure is Turkmenistan, which is sheltered from the market’s moods because it sells its chief export – natural gas – to China at a fixed price.

One factor that could sharply and suddenly affect the rest of the region is a policy shift at Russia’s Central Bank, which has already spent over 50 billion dollars this year defending the ruble. Some, like former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, have condemned efforts to prop up the currency, arguing that a weaker ruble is good for exports.

The tumbling ruble and the drop in the price of oil have helped steer Kazakhstan’s economy into a cul-de-sac, slowing growth projections, forcing officials to recalculate the budget, and suggesting the tenge is overvalued. The National Bank already devalued the currency by 19 percent in February.

On Oct. 21, National Bank Chairman Kairat Kelimbetov urged Kazakhs not to worry about another devaluation, but investors grumble that he said the same thing less than a month before February’s devaluation.

Another devaluation would send a distress signal to investors, says one Almaty banker. Astana “lost a fair bit of credibility last time,” the banker said on condition of anonymity, fearing new legislation designed to combat panic selling.

“They need to be much more careful about how they handle expectations going forward. And that is affecting how things are happening this time. People seem to be a lot more dollarised compared to a year ago and more hesitant to hold large tenge balances.”

“My personal position?” the banker added. “I’m not holding tenge.”

Meanwhile, a mystery investor has been propping up the tenge by selling hundreds of millions of dollars a day, according to Halyk Finance in Almaty. On Oct. 21 “a larger player, again offsetting the intraday trend, sold about 650 million dollars,” Halyk said in a note to investors.

On Oct. 20 a “large player” also sold about 600 million dollars, which kept the tenge stable at about 181/dollar. Observers believe the “large player” is a state-run company with ample reserves, but are mystified that the Central Bank refuses to comment and concerned that the interventions appear to be growing.

In Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, central banks have dipped into limited reserves to ease their currencies’ slides. Nevertheless, the Kyrgyz som has fallen by 12 percent against the dollar this year, the Tajik somoni by about 5 percent. The World Bank said this month it expects the somoni to sink further.

Renaissance Capital’s Kouzmin cautions against the bank interventions in Central Asia, which use up reserves and widen trade deficits. “It makes sense for the national banks of these countries to let currencies depreciate to some extent to keep national competitiveness,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Overall, the slowdown in Russia has long-term effects on Central Asia. “Portfolio investors look at the region as a whole. If you’re a CIS fund, the news on Russia has been bad and has caused the withdrawal of funds” from the region, said Dominic Lewenz of Visor Capital, an investment bank in Almaty. “So the trouble in Russia has hit things here.”

GDP growth projections have fallen markedly across the region, but nowhere near the levels seen during the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Everything, it seems, depends on Ukraine. Any worsening scenario there would have “far-reaching implications” for the region, possibly on food security, according to the EBRD.

Back at the bazaar in Bishkek, Orunbay Jolchuev was forced this month to increase by 15 percent what he charges for flour. But at least sales have not been affected. “We all need flour, we all need to eat bread, macaroni, dough,” Jolchuev said. “It’s not something people can cut back even if it becomes too expensive.”

Editor’s note:  David Trilling is EurasiaNet’s Central Asia editor. Timur Toktonaliev is a Bishkek-based reporter. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Halting Progress: Ending Violence against Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/halting-progress-ending-violence-against-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=halting-progress-ending-violence-against-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/halting-progress-ending-violence-against-women/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 16:09:52 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137345 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

As Juan Evo Morales Ayma, popularly known as ‘Evo’, celebrates his victory for a third term as Bolivia’s president on a platform of “anti-imperialism” and radical socio-economic policies, he can also claim credit for ushering in far-reaching social reforms such as the Bolivian “Law against Political Harassment and Violence against Women” enacted in 2012.

“In many countries women in the political arena, whether candidates to an election or elected to office, are confronted with acts of violence ranging from sexist portrayal in the media to threats and murder,” says the World Future Council (WFC), which monitors the gap between policy research and policy-making.

Speaking to IPS after the 2014 Future Policy Award for Ending Violence against Women and Girls ceremony, organised by WFC, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) and UN Women on Oct. 14, WFC founder Jacob von Uexkull told IPS that the Bolivian law “is a visionary law, particularly for protecting women against political harassment and violence.”“Achieving gender equality and ending violence against women and girls is a matter for both men and women ... violence against women is a human rights violation but also a social and public health problem, and an obstacle to development with high economic and financial costs for victims, families, communities and society as a whole” – Martin Chungong, IPU Secretary-General

“For the first time we introduced the category of what are called visionary laws which aim to curb violence against women in politics and other professions,” he said, adding that the passing of such a law in Bolivia is “very significant”, suggesting that other should emulate the Bolivian example.

The law against political harassment and violence against women was enacted in Bolivia by the Morales government following the assassination of Councillor Juana Quispe after she had complained about the abuse she suffered from other councillors and the mayor of her town. The law defines political harassment and political violence as criminal offences which carry imprisonment ranging from two to eight years depending on the magnitude of the offence.

The WFC, which promotes the world’s best laws and solutions for implementation by policy-makers in countries all over the world, chose to offer the “honourable mention” for the Bolivian law in the visionary category.

Based in Hamburg, Germany, the WFC was set up in 2007 to pioneer the campaign for the spread of best laws in different areas. Beginning in 2009, the WFC has been offering the Future Policy Award (FPA) for the strongest laws in the field of sustainable development.

The WFC identified the Belo Horizonte Food Security Programme in 2009 as the best law for the FPA to address the right to food. In 2010, the FPA went to Costa Rica for the best law to strengthen biodiversity. In 2011, it was awarded to Rwanda for its laws to protect forests, and in 2012 it was awarded to the Republic of Palau in the Pacific Ocean for the best laws to protect coasts.

Last year, the FPA went to the treaty for the prohibition of nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean.

With 2014 having been designated by WFC as the year for ending violence against women and girls, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says that governments must adopt a “comprehensive legal framework” that addresses violence against women, by “recognising unequal power relations between men and women” and advocating a “gender-sensitive perspective in tackling it.”

According to Martin Chungong, Secretary-General of IPU, the key message is that “achieving gender equality and ending violence against women and girls is a matter for both men and women.” Moreover, “violence against women is a human rights violation but also a social and public health problem, and an obstacle to development with high economic and financial costs for victims, families, communities and society as a whole.”

Michael Paymar (centre), member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, along with others behind the ‘Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence’  programme of Duluth, Minnesota, winner of this year’s gold Future Policy Award (FPA). Credit: Courtesy of World Future Council

Michael Paymar (centre), member of the Minnesota House of Representatives, along with others behind the ‘Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence’ programme of Duluth, Minnesota, winner of this year’s gold Future Policy Award (FPA). Credit: Courtesy of World Future Council

This year’s WFC gold award went to the “Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence” programme of the City of Duluth in the U.S. state of Minnesota. Among others, said von Uexkull, the “Duluth model” has a shared philosophy about domestic violence and a system that shifts responsibility for victim safety from the victim to the system.

The “Duluth model” has helped countries formulate laws and policies based on the principles of coordinated community response and paved the way for the intervention of criminal justice in cases of intimate partner violence.

Each year, an estimated 1.3 million women are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner.

According to von Uexkull, such violence entails huge human, social, and economic costs which are estimated to be around 5.18 percent of world GDP.

HBO (Home Box Office), a U.S. pay television network, has recently produced a documentary entitled Private Violence, which looks at domestic violence against women. In an interview with The Guardian, Cynthia Hill, the documentary’s director, said: “The thing that I did not know that was so revealing to me was that anywhere between 50 percent and 75 percent of domestic violence homicides happen at the point of separation or after [the victim] has already left [her abuser].”.

One of the biggest issues facing women and girls today in the world, says Nyaradzayi GumbonzvandaGeneral Secretary of the Young Women Christian Association (YWCA), is violence. “I see the violence against women as a manifestation of inequalities, disempowerment and exclusion,” Gumbonzvanda told IPS. “It is the accumulation of many realities that women find in their own lives, particularly that of social disempowerment.”

To highlight the importance of enforcing and implementing existing laws to eradicate violence against women, the WFC gave awards this year to Austria and Burkina Faso for their stringent implementation of laws to protect women against violence. “When the justice system and specialised service providers work hand in hand, real progress can be made,” said von Uexkull.

However, as countries are preparing to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, there is not a single country in the world where we have succeeded in eliminating violence against women, warns Gertrude Mongella, Secretary-General of the Beijing conference, former President of the Pan-African Parliament and WFC Honorary Councillor from Tanzania.

“Many countries now have laws that protect women from violence,” Mongella told participants at the FPA ceremony. “However, women who report violence often face a range of challenges, including resistance or disbelief from law enforcement officers, judges and lawyers.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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U.S. Contractors Convicted in 2007 Blackwater Baghdad Traffic Massacrehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-contractors-convicted-in-2007-blackwater-baghdad-traffic-massacre/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-contractors-convicted-in-2007-blackwater-baghdad-traffic-massacre http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-contractors-convicted-in-2007-blackwater-baghdad-traffic-massacre/#comments Thu, 23 Oct 2014 00:50:16 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137333 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Oct 23 2014 (IPS)

A federal jury here Wednesday convicted one former Blackwater contractor of murder and three of his colleagues of voluntary manslaughter in the deadly shootings of 14 unarmed civilians killed in Baghdad’s Nisour Square seven years ago.

The judge in the case ordered the men detained pending sentencing."To this day, the U.S. government continues to award Blackwater and its successor entities millions of dollars each year in contracts, essentially rewarding war crimes." -- Baher Azmy

The massacre, which resulted in a wave of popular anger in Iraq against the United States, and especially the army of private security contractors which it employed there, contributed heavily to the Iraqi government’s later refusal to sign an agreement with Washington to extend the U.S. military presence there.

It also sealed the reputation of Blackwater, a “private military” firm headed by Erik Prince, a right-wing former Navy Seal, as a trigger-happy mercenary outfit whose recklessness and insensitivity to local populations jeopardised Washington’s interests in conflict situations.

After the incident, the Iraqi government banned the company, which had a one-billion-dollar contract at the time to protect U.S. diplomats. Iraq’s parliament subsequently enacted laws making foreign contractors working in the country subject to Iraqi legal jurisdiction for criminal acts they committed.

It was Baghdad’s insistence in 2011 that such a condition also apply to all U.S. military forces that scotched a proposed Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would have permitted Washington to maintain thousands U.S. troops in Iraq after the Dec. 31, 2011 deadline for their final withdrawal.

“The verdict is a resounding affirmation of the commitment of the American people to the rule of law, even in times of war,” said Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case, after the Wednesday’s verdicts were announced.

“Seven years ago, these Blackwater contractors unleashed powerful sniper fire, machine guns and grenade launchers on innocent men, women and children. Today, they were held accountable for that outrageous attack and its devastating consequences for so many Iraqi families,” he said in a statement.

While praising the verdicts, some observers said that Blackwater itself should have been on trial. “(H)olding individuals responsible is not enough,” noted Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which represented Iraqi victims of the killings in a human-rights case against Blackwater that settled in 2010.

“Private military contractors …have engaged in a variety of war crimes and atrocities during the [2003 Iraq] invasion and occupation while reaping billions of dollars in profits from the war. To this day, the U.S. government continues to award Blackwater and its successor entities millions of dollars each year in contracts, essentially rewarding war crimes,” he said.

Wednesday’s verdicts, which confirmed initial findings by an FBI investigation carried out within two months of the massacre, are likely to be appealed to a higher court by the defendants’ attorneys who contend that the convoy they were leading had come under attack and that their clients were acting in self-defence at the time.

They are also likely to challenge the verdicts on the grounds that key evidence presented to the jury consisted of initial statements of what took place that were effectively “coerced” by interrogators who allegedly assured them that what they said would not be used in court. That issue has been bounced between courts since the Justice Department filed the case in 2010.

Altogether, 17 Iraqi civilians, including two boys aged nine and 11, were killed and 20 more injured when, on Sep. 16, 2007, a State Department convoy entered Baghdad’s busy Nisour Square with the armoured Blackwater vehicle in the lead.

While defendants and Blackwater itself insisted that the convoy came under attack, the FBI and prosecution contended there was no evidence to sustain such a conclusion.

According to the latter, the unit’s sniper, Nicholas Slatten, opened fire on a car which, according to the defence, had approached the Blackwater vehicle in a suspicious manner. Slatten’s shots, which killed the car’s driver, a medical student, triggered chaos throughout the circle.

In addition to Slatten, who was convicted of first-degree murder, a total of six members of the Blackwater team fired their weapons as they moved through the circle, according to the prosecution.

One team member, Jeremy Ridgeway, pleaded guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter in 2008 and served as a prosecution witness in the case. Charges against another defendant were dropped shortly afterwards. Several other team members also testified against the defendants.

Aside from Slatten’s conviction, three other guards Wednesday were found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, as well as various weapons offences.

The Justice Department had charged that they “unlawfully and intentionally, upon a sudden quarrel and heat of passion,” did commit voluntary manslaughter.”

If sustained, Slatten’s murder conviction requires a sentence of life imprisonment. Each count of voluntary manslaughter – and each of the other three defendants were convicted of multiple counts – can carry a prison sentence of up to 15 years.

The trial itself began earlier this summer and lasted two months. In addition to the Blackwater guards who testified for the prosecution, the Justice Department brought 30 Iraqi witnesses, including surviving family members who witnessed or were injured in the incident, to testify. Despite their dramatic and often wrenching accounts, the trial received relatively little media attention.

The verdicts were hailed by Paul Dickinson, an attorney who represented six of the families – including the nine-year-old victim, Ali Kinani, whose father was the first witness to testify for the prosecution in the current case — whose members were killed or injured in the massacre in a separate civil lawsuit filed against Blackwater in North Carolina in 2009. That case settled with an undisclosed compensation agreement in 2012.

“I am confident that my clients are pleased with today’s verdict, knowing that the men they alleged killed their family members have been brought to justice and held criminally accountable for their actions,” he told IPS in an email. “While a criminal conviction can never fully satisfy a family that lost a loved one, it does provide some closure for my clients.”

The verdict, he said, was “significant because it shows that government contractors who commit crimes abroad can be prosecuted in US courts for their criminal actions.”

Pratap Chatterjee, an investigative reporter who has focused on the operations of U.S. military contractors, including Blackwater, in Iraq and Afghanistan, agreed with that assessment, but, echoing CCR’s Asmy, stressed that it was “only one step of many that need to be taken in bringing justice to Iraq.”

“Many similar incidents have neither been investigated nor anyone prosecuted,” Chatterjee, who currently heads California-based Corpwatch, told IPS. “To this day, the private companies and their executives who turned Baghdad into a free-fire zone have yet to be charged.”

Earlier this summer, the New York Times reported that the State Department had initiated an investigation of Blackwater’s operations in Iraq just before the Nisour incident but had abandoned it after Blackwater’s top manager there issued an apparent death threat. According to a State Department memo of the conversation, the Blackwater official said “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq.”

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Destroys Its Own Weapons in Enemy Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-destroys-its-own-weapons-in-enemy-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-destroys-its-own-weapons-in-enemy-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/u-s-destroys-its-own-weapons-in-enemy-hands/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 23:13:01 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137330 The Security Council unanimously imposed sanctions on six individuals associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and with Al-Nusra Front (ANF), terrorist groups which now control parts of Iraq and Syria, in August. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

The Security Council unanimously imposed sanctions on six individuals associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and with Al-Nusra Front (ANF), terrorist groups which now control parts of Iraq and Syria, in August. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

When the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) captured a treasure trove of U.S. weapons from fleeing Iraqi soldiers last month, one of the rebel leaders with a morbid sense of humour was quoted as saying rather sarcastically: “We hope the Americans would honour their agreements and service our helicopters.”

As fighter planes continue attacking ISIL targets, some of the U.S. airstrikes are, paradoxically, aimed at U.S.-made helicopters, Humvees, armoured personnel carriers and anti-aircraft artillery guns originally supplied to the Iraqi armed forces and currently deployed by the rebel group.

Not surprisingly, they are all under U.S. warranties for maintenance, repair and servicing.

The whole military exercise has degenerated into a political farce compounded by last week’s airdrops of weapons to Kurdish forces battling ISIL, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), in Kobani, inside Syria.

The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that arms and ammunition parachuted from over 10,000 feet high above the skies – and known as Joint Precision Airdrop System (JPAD) – has not always reached the Kurds.

At least one of the malfunctioning parachutes, loaded with weapons, drifted into an area controlled by ISIL.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS recent reports suggest that weapons the U.S. military had dropped for the Kurds have been seized by ISIS forces.

“This left the U.S. military with the uncomfortable choice between allowing the ISIS forces to keep the weapons or trying to destroy the very weapons it had just dropped. They reportedly chose to destroy the weapons,” she said.

She said the U.S. military’s explanation of the operation was not reassuring.

Asked about U.S. weapons in the hands of ISIL, Rear Admiral John Kirby, spokesman for Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel, told reporters Tuesday: “I do want to add, though, that we are very confident that the vast majority of the bundles did end up in the right hands. In fact, we’re only aware of one bundle that did not. Again, we’ll – if we can confirm that this one is or isn’t, we’ll certainly do that and let you know.”

“Surely, the world’s foremost military can and should hold itself to a far higher standard,” said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

Michael Ratner, president emeritus of the New York-based Centre for Constitutional Rights, told IPS, “Where does at least an important part of this story begin: the story of U.S. arms ultimately winding up with U.S. enemies?”

He said ISIS using American-supplied arms is not a new story, but one would have thought the U.S. might learn a lesson.

“Stop giving or selling arms to the world, but particularly to militaries or groups that ultimately will turn against the United States or who are too weak to hold on to the weaponry,” said Ratner, who is president of the Berlin-based European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights.

He pointed out former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and his national security advisor armed the mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan as a means of pushing back the then Soviet Union.

“Ideology trumping common sense and with dire results, including ultimately 9/11 and the continuing wars we face today,” he said.

Asked whether the ultimate victors were defence contractors, Ratner told IPS, “Yes, surely the arms industry plays a role in wanting to sell more and more arms, but so does ideology and a country, the United States, that still remains, as Martin Luther King said, the greatest purveyor of violence in the world.”

According to the Washington-based Defence News, U.S arms sales to Iraq last year included 681 Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and 40 truck-mounted launchers, Sentinel radars, three Hawk anti-aircraft batteries with 216 Hawk missiles, 50 Stryker infantry carriers, 12 helicopters, and hundreds of millions of dollars worth of maintenance and logistical support for thousands of U.S.-made military vehicles.

Additionally, Washington has also struck arms deals for the sale of Hellfire missiles, M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades and ammunition – all worth billions of dollars.

How much of this will wind up with ISIL forces is anybody’s guess.

Goldring told IPS the U.S. government, once again, appears to have been slow to learn important lessons about the unintended consequences of its actions in the Middle East.

Having made a significant mistake by invading Iraq in 2003, the U.S. government recently compounded its error by presuming that the Iraqi military would be able to defend the country, she noted. As the Iraqi military collapses, the weaponry the U.S. military left behind is now finding its way to Islamic State militants.

Too often, she said, the U.S. government sells or gives weapons away in an attempt to attain short-term political or military gains.

“A policy reassessment that gives much more weight to the long-term risks that accompany open-ended transfers of weapons around the world is long overdue,” said Goldring.

“In addition, as by far the world’s largest arms exporter, the United States has a special responsibility to refrain from transferring weapons when they are likely to be used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law.”

She said excessive weapons flows vastly increase the risk of blowback, in which U.S. weapons may be used against its own military personnel. In theory, military contractors could profit from the market for replacing the captured weapons.

“But in reality, even though the contractors might benefit financially, it could be a public relations disaster for manufacturers if their weapons were used against U.S. military personnel,” Goldring said.

It is likely, she said, that a press account would mention the supplier early on in any account of U.S. weapons being used against our own personnel.

Ratner pointed out the United States did likewise in Libya supporting and arming some of the very forces that attacked the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. The invasion of Iraq was also a war crime, killing untold numbers in that country and unleashing violence throughout the region.

“Selling arms to Iraq for American companies was as easy as selling candy to little kids – and billions in weapons were sold to a country that had become, because of U.S. actions, unstable at its core,” he said.

Ratner said the United States allowed itself to believe it was really training an army when it was in fact training a kleptocracy. “No country with any sense would have loaded up the Iraq army with such weaponry. And the expected happened.”

As the U.S. backed an “awful sectarian president” in Iraq, he said, violence increased and weapons were everywhere – almost free for the taking. “So, ISIS and presumably other factions and groups are now well armed with U.S. weapons,” Ratner said.

As for arming the Kurds, that will be interesting, he said. “Will those weapons be turned on Turkey and what will the outcome of that war be?” he asked.

“Until and unless the U.S. understands that the answer to the world’s problems is not war and that arming the world will lead the U.S. to continuous wars and kill millions of innocent, we will not see an end to an increasingly unstable world.”

As was said by the prophet Hosea: They that sow the wind, reap the whirlwind.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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The Nagoya Protocol: A Treaty Waiting to Happenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/the-nagoya-protocol-a-treaty-waiting-to-happen/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:13:10 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137324 Tribal women handle flowers from the Mahua tree, indigenous to central India. India was one of the first countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Tribal women handle flowers from the Mahua tree, indigenous to central India. India was one of the first countries to ratify the Nagoya Protocol. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
PYEONGCHANG, Republic of Korea, Oct 22 2014 (IPS)

For over 20 years, Mote Bahadur Pun of Nepal’s western Myagdi district has been growing ‘Paris polyphylla’ – a Himalayan herb used to cure pain, burns and fevers.

Once every six months, a group of traders from China arrive at Pun’s house and buys several kilos of the herb. In return, Pun gets “a lump sum of 5,000 to 6,000 Nepalese rupees [about 50 dollars],” he tells IPS.

But ask Pun who these traders are and what they plan to do with bulk quantities of Paris polyphylla, listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and he stares blankly.

“This is a medicinal herb, so I assume they use it to make medicines,” is his only explanation.

“The Nagoya Protocol is a huge opportunity that can help [states] bring down the cost of biological conservation." -- CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza
In fact, trade in Paris polyphylla has been banned since it falls under the Annapurna Conservation Area, the largest protected area in Nepal covering over 7,600 square kilometres in the Annapurna range of the Himalayas.

From ancient times local communities have utilised the herb to cure a range of ills, but traders like those who come knocking at Pun’s door are either unaware or unconcerned that Paris polyphylla represents centuries of indigenous knowledge, and is thus protected under a little-known international treaty called the Nagoya Protocol.

Adopted in 2010 at the 10th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 10) in Japan, the agreement “provides a transparent legal framework for […] the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources.”

Designed to prevent exploitation of people like Pun by traders who buy traditional medicinal resources for a paltry sum before turning huge profits from the sale of cosmetics or medicines derived from these species, the treaty covers all genetic resources including plants, herbs, animals and microorganisms.

Impressive in its scope, the protocol has hitherto largely been confined to paper. This year, however, at the recently concluded COP 12, which ran from Oct. 6-17 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, scores of experts agreed to put the provisions of the treaty front and center in efforts to preserve biological diversity worldwide.

With support from 54 countries – four more than the mandatory 50 ratifications required to bring the treaty into effect – the Nagoya Protocol will now form a crucial component of the post-2015 development agenda, as the world charts a more sustainable path forward for humanity and the planet.

‘Biopiracy’

According to environmentalists and scientists, the Nagoya Protocol could help curb ‘biopiracy’, broadly defined as the misappropriation of traditional or indigenous knowledge through the system of international patents that primarily benefit large multinationals in developed countries.

For instance, a pharmaceutical company that develops and sells herbal-based medicines will now – under the terms of the protocol – be required to share a portion of its profits with the country from which the resources, or the traditional knowledge governing the resources, originate.

In turn, these earnings are expected to help low-income countries finance conservation efforts.

A clause on access also provides mechanisms for local communities or countries to limit or restrict the use or extraction of a particular resource.

These clauses guard against biopiracy of the kind that was witnessed in the 1870s when the British explorer Henry Wickham smuggled 70,000 rubber tree seeds from Brazil, which were subsequently dispatched as seedlings to plantations across South and Southeast Asia, thus breaking the Brazilian monopoly over the rubber trade.

Nearly a century later, in the 1970s, Brazil again fell victim to biopiracy when the U.S.-based pharmaceutical giant Squibb used venom from the fangs of the jararaca, a pit viper endemic to Brazil, in the creation of captopril, a medication used to treat hypertension.

The New York Times reported that the drug earned the company revenues of 1.6 billion dollars in 1991, but Brazil itself did not see a cent of these profits.

The potential success of the treaty hangs on the support it receives in the international arena. So far, two-thirds of the parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) have failed to ratify the protocol, representing what some have referred to as a “missed opportunity”.

“The Nagoya Protocol is a huge opportunity that can help the parties bring down the cost of biological conservation,” CBD Executive Secretary Braulio Ferreira de Souza told IPS, adding, however, that nothing will be possible until nations make the agreement legally binding.

Brazil, home to the world’s largest rainforest that is considered a mine of genetic resources, is yet to throw its weight behind the Nagoya agreement, a move experts say would benefit over three million indigenous people living in the Brazilian Amazon.

Roberto Cavalcanti, secretary for biodiversity in the Brazilian environment ministry, informed IPS that President Dilma Rousseff has submitted the legislation under an urgency provision, so it’s now in the top three pieces of legislation pending approval by Congress.

“We anticipate that with the approval of Brazil’s new domestic Access and Benefits Sharing (ABS) legislation, there will be a good environment for the ratification of the Protocol,” he added.

The government has already begun the task of informing local communities about the merits of the Nagoya Protocol and its economic benefits for generations to come.

The work is being done in collaboration with the environmental conservation organisation Grupo de Trabalho Amazonico, which is helping to educate communities around the country.

Since January this year, the organisation has helped over 10,000 locals put together a set of rules called Protocolo Communitaro (Community Protocols), which promotes preservation and sustainable use of forests and water sources, including medicinal plants and fish.

Missing skills

Unlike Brazil, several other countries are struggling to pave the way for ratification of the Protocol, largely due to a lack of technical and economic capacity.

This past June, the CBD organised a workshop in Uganda where several African states could learn more about the treaty and its ABS mechanism.

Countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), home to a huge reserve of genetic resources and biological diversity including the world’s second largest rainforest, attended the workshop and admitted to being constrained by financial and technical limitations in implementing international agreements.

Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Nayoko Ishii told IPS her office stands ready to increase financial support to developing countries that lack capacity.

The GEF’s 15-million-dollar Nagoya Protocol Implementation Fund (NPIF) has already begun to support global initiatives, including a 4.4-million-dollar project to help Panama operationalise the ABS mechanism.

However, Ishii added, demand for the support has to come from within.

“Every country has a different degree of capacity. People come to us with a plan to build a particular skill in a particular area and there are of course specific programs for that.

“But I would encourage them to look at the entire strategy as one big capacity building investment [and] use that money wisely, to better manage their protected area systems [and] their administrative structures,” she concluded. 

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Panama’s Indigenous People Want to Harness the Riches of Their Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/panamas-indigenous-people-want-to-harness-the-riches-of-their-forests/#comments Wed, 22 Oct 2014 00:00:58 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137302 Emberá dwellings in a clearing in the rainforest. The Emberá-Wounaan territory covers nearly 4,400 sq km and the indigenous people want to manage the riches of their forest to pull their families out of poverty. Credit: Government of Panama

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking to U.N. REDD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New window into security

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Climate change as exacerbating factor

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

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

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

Looking for solutions

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

By Farhang Jahanpour
OXFORD, Oct 21 2014 (IPS)

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

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

Farhang Jahanpour

Farhang Jahanpour

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

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

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

Therefore, his chosen title is full of Islamic symbolism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

By Beena Sarwar
BOSTON, Oct 20 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saad Farooq-IPS-Ahmadi 300

Saad Farooq

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From a new sectarian war every community stands to lose.

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

Editing by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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

By Yury Fedotov
VIENNA, Oct 17 2014 (IPS)

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

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

Courtesy of UNODC

Courtesy of UNODC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one was held responsible or punished for the deaths.

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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