Inter Press Service » Human Rights http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:06:36 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 To Defend the Environment, Support Social Movements Like Berta Cáceres and COPINHhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/to-defend-the-environment-support-social-movements-like-berta-caceres-and-copinh/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 19:06:36 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140238 Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

Berta Cáceres. Courtesy of the Goldman Prize

By Jeff Conant
BERKELEY, California, Apr 20 2015 (IPS)

The 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for Central and South America has been awarded to Berta Cáceres, an indigenous Honduran woman who co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, known as COPINH.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the events that earned Cáceres the prize it is this: to defend the environment, we must support the social movements.COPINH’s leadership has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Like many nations rich in natural resources, Honduras, in the heart of Central America, is a country plagued by a resource curse. Its rich forests invite exploitation by logging interests; its mineral wealth is sought by mining interests; its rushing rivers invite big dams, and its fertile coastal plains are ideal for the industrial cultivation of agricultural commodities like palm oil, bananas, and beef.

Honduras is also the most violent country in the Western Hemisphere. The violence is largely linked to organised crime and to a political oligarchy that maintains much of the country’s wealth and power in a few hands. With the country’s rich resources at stake, environmental defenders are frequently targeted by these interests as well.

Some of the best preserved areas of the country fall within the territories of the Lenca indigenous people, who have built their culture around the land, forests and rivers that have supported them for millennia.

In 1993, following the 500th anniversary of Colombus’ “discovery of America,” at a moment when Indigenous Peoples across the Americas began to form national and international federations to reclaim their sovereignty, Lenca territory gave birth to COPINH, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras.

In the 22 years since, COPINH’s leadership in the country’s popular struggles has made it a driving force in preserving the country’s cultural and environmental heritage – and earned it the ire of loggers, dam-builders, palm oil interests, and others whose wealth depends on the depredation of the natural world and its defenders.

Since the early 1990’s, COPINH has forced the cancellation of dozens of  logging operations; they have created several protected forest areas; have developed municipal forest management plans and secured over 100 collective land titles for indigenous communities, in some cases encompassing entire municipalities.

Most recently, in the accomplishment that won Berta Caceres, one of COPINH’s founders, the Goldman Environmental Prize, they successfully pressured the world’s largest dam builder, the Chinese state-owned company Sinohydro, to pull out of the construction of a complex of large dams known as Agua Zarca.

Berta became a national figure in Honduras in 2009 when she emerged as a leader in the movement demanding the re-founding of Honduras and drafting of a new constitution. The movement gained the support of then-president Manuel Zelaya, who proposed a national referendum to consider the question.

But the day the referendum was scheduled to take place, Jun. 28, 2009, the military intervened.  They surrounded and opened fire on the president’s house, broke down his door and escorted him to a former U.S. military base where a waiting plane flew him out of the country.

The United Nations and every other country in the Western Hemisphere (except Honduras itself) publicly condemned the military-led coup as illegal. Every country in the region, except the United States, withdrew their ambassadors from Honduras. All EU ambassadors were withdrawn from the country.

With the democratically-elected president deposed, Honduras descended into increasing violence that continues to this day. But the coup also gave birth to a national resistance movement that continues to fight for a new constitution.  Within the movement, Berta and COPINH have devoted themselves to a vision of a new Honduran society built from the bottom up.

Since the 2009 coup, Honduras has witnessed a huge increase in megaprojects that would displace the Lenca and other indigenous communities. Almost 30 percent of the country’s land is earmarked for mining concessions; this in turns creates a demand for cheap energy to power the future mining operations.

To meet this need, the government approved hundreds of dam projects. Among them is the Agua Zarca Dam, a joint project of Honduran company Desarrollos Energéticos SA (DESA) and Chinese state-owned Sinohydro, the world’s largest dam developer. Slated for construction on the Gualcarque River, Agua Zarca was pushed through without consulting the Lencas—and would cut off the supply of water, food and medicine to hundreds of Lenca familes.

COPINH began fighting the dams in 2006, using every means at their disposal: they brought the case to the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, lodged appeals against the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the private sector arm of the World Bank which agreed to finance the dams, and engaged in non-violent civil disobedience to stop the construction.

In April 2013, Cáceres organised a road blockade to prevent DESA’s access to the dam site. For over a year, the Lenca people maintained a heavy but peaceful presence, rotating out friends and family members for weeks at a time, withstanding multiple eviction attempts and violent attacks from militarised security contractors and the Honduran armed forces.

The same year, Tomás Garcia, a community leader from Rio Blanco and a member of COPINH, was shot and killed during a peaceful protest at the dam office. Others have been attacked with machetes, imprisoned and tortured. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice.

In late 2013, citing ongoing community resistance and outrage following Garcia’s death, Sinohydro terminated its contract with DESA. Agua Zarca suffered another blow when the IFC withdrew its funding, citing concerns about human rights violations. To date, construction on the project has come to a halt.

The Prize will bring COPINH and Honduras much-needed attention from the international community, as the grab for the region’s resources is increasing.

“This award, and the international attention it brings comes at a challenging time for us,” Berta told a small crowd gathered to welcome her to California, where the first of two prize ceremonies will take place.

“The situation in Honduras is getting worse. When I am in Washington later this week to meet with U.S. government officials, the President of Honduras will be in the very next room hoping to obtain more than one billion dollars for a series of mega-projects being advanced by the governments of Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, and the United States — projects that further threaten to put our natural resources into private hands through mines, dams and large wind projects.

“This is accompanied by the further militarisation of the country, including new ultra-modern military bases they are installing right now.”

Around the world, the frontlines of environmental defence are peopled by bold and visionary social movements like COPINH and by grassroots community organizers like Berta Cáceres.

“In order to fight the onslaught of dams, mines, and the privatisation of all of our natural resources, we need international solidarity,” Berta told her supporters in the U.S. “When we receive your solidarity, we feel surrounded by your energy, your hope, your conviction, that together we can construct societies with dignity, with life, with rebellion, with justice, and above all, with joy.”

If the world is to make strides toward reducing the destructive environmental and social impacts that too often accompany economic development, we need to do all we can to recognise and support the peasant farmers, Indigenous Peoples, and social movements who daily put their lives on the line to stem the tide of destruction.

Learn more about Berta Cáceres and COPINH in this video celebrating her Goldman Prize award.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Giving African Artists Their Nameshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/giving-african-artists-their-names/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=giving-african-artists-their-names http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/giving-african-artists-their-names/#comments Sun, 19 Apr 2015 07:18:28 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140219 By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Apr 19 2015 (IPS)

Quick now, can you name a famous African sculptor from the 1800s or even the early 20th century?

Anyone able to answer positively is part of a select minority – most museum-goers have become used to seeing traditional African carvings without knowing the name of the artist.

Artwork by Kuakudili on display at the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition, currently running at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, where visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Artwork by Kuakudili on display at the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition, currently running at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris, where visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

But some experts are taking steps to change this, with the most extensive exhibition devoted to identifying Africa’s expert sculptors now on in Paris at the Quai Branly Museum – a venue devoted to the indigenous art of Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas that is sometimes criticised for having “colonial undertones”.

The exhibition, titled ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’, features nearly 330 historical and contemporary works and artefacts, and runs until Jul. 26. It comes at a time when the market for traditional African art is at its highest in decades, with pieces fetching record prices, amid debate about whether these objects should be “returned” to Africa.

The show pays tribute to the remarkable artistry of the sculptors, who were often given the title of “master” in their homeland; and the timeless splendour of some of the objects will help to explain the current collecting craze. But the exhibition may also add fuel to the discussion about who should own works that reflect a region’s cultural heritage.

“Art really has no fatherland,” says the exhibition’s co-curator Eberhard Fischer, an ethnologist and Director Emeritus of the Rietberg Museum in Zurich, Switzerland.

“The interest of the artist might not be the same as the interest of the nation. Museums are responsible to the artist, and should honour them in the right way,” he added. “African art, European art, Indian art should be seen all over the world. We’re in the 21st century.”

He told IPS that what was “special” about the exhibition is the attempt to reveal the creators “behind the masterpieces”, in contrast to the objects being presented in a general context as tribal art created by anonymous makers.“Too often considered in the West as an artisanal production only involved in ritual activities, African art – just like Western art – is produced by individual artists whose works display great artistic and personal skill” – Notes to the ‘Masters of Sculpture from Ivory Coast’ exhibition

“My aim is to put these masters on a pedestal and to say ‘these were great men’,” Fischer said. “They were never given the same status as Western artists, and it’s time their individual skills were highlighted.”

In the notes to the exhibition, Fischer and co-curator Lorenz Homburger state that “African sculpture has a central place in the history of art”, and they indicate that the identification of traditional artists contributes to the recognition of this role.

“Too often considered in the West as an artisanal production only involved in ritual activities, African art – just like Western art – is produced by individual artists whose works display great artistic and personal skill,” the curators stress.

The Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire) was one of the most important regions for African art production, and the exhibition “invites” visitors to discover the different “masters” of the various ethnic groups – artists who were held in “high esteem” by their communities. Some sculptors are designated only by their region, but many others do have names that are now becoming known.

Museum-goers will learn about Sra (“the creator”) who was born circa 1880 and died in 1955. He was the most famous sculptor of western Ivory Coast, according to the curators, creating “prestige objects and masks for many Dan and Mano chieftains in Liberia and for important members of the Dan and We community in Ivory Coast.”

Sra was renowned for his female figures, and visitors can admire these objects as well as his striking mother-and-child depictions. One of his contemporaries, Uopié, came from a different area but was also part of the Dan culture – in north-western Ivory Coast – and produced “bewitchingly beautiful” smiling masks, of the kind known as déanglé.

Putting a face and name to unsung African artists – photo of Kuakudili, an Ivory Coast artist who carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people. Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Putting a face and name to unsung African artists – photo of Kuakudili, an Ivory Coast artist who carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people. Cubism. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Alongside the objects, the curators give verbal snapshots of the artists whom they have been able to name: Tompieme was a “small, rather athletic, cheerful man” who was a successful farmer as well as singer and musician; Si was a hunter and youth instructor who, for many decades “circumcised boys and led the initiation camp … where he showed his initiates the art of carving.”

Then there is Tame (circa 1900 to 1965), a “handsome young man, a successful wrestler and the lover of many women.” He was the nephew of Uopié, who taught him to carve.  While there is no picture to allow visitors to judge Tame’s purported good looks for themselves, the exhibition does provide a photo of Kuakudili, the first Ivory Coast artist to have his “own face” in the show.

A picture of this sculptor is available thanks to Hans Himmelheber, a German anthropologist, art collector and Fischer’s step-father, who met the artist in 1933. The photo shows Kuakudili as a thin, serious man. He carved sacred masks both for masquerade dancers in neighbouring villages as well as for his own people, and in his work, visitors can see the forms that inspired Western artists such as Picasso, Braque and other adherents of Cubism.

Away from the exhibition, masks such as these and other objects from “African masters” are currently in great demand on the international art market, especially in Paris, New York and Brussels.

Jean Fritts, director for African and Oceanic Art at the Sotheby’s auction house, says that the median price for African art has doubled over the past decade.

“There has been tremendous growth since 1999,” she told IPS. “Part of this is related to a broader appreciation of African art.”

It is also related to some of the first collectors dying, and their heirs selling the objects, dealers have said. Many pieces have come from former colonialists in Belgium, for instance, and museums as well as private collectors are snapping up the objects that they believe were acquired by “honest” means.

Fritts said that 25 percent of the art on the market is being bought by collectors in the Middle East, with some of the works destined for the Louvre Abu Dhabi as well as the National Museum of Qatar, set to open in 2016.

In Africa, businesspeople such as Congolese entrepreneur Sindika Dokolo have also been buying on the market, with the aim of bringing some of Africa’s art back home. Dokolo had a representative at a recent Sotheby’s auction in Paris, where a coveted mask fetched 3.5 million euros (it went to another bidder).

Regarding the identity of the artists, Fritts and other dealers acknowledged that there is an “issue” because historically there has not been “much data collected about the carver”.

Given that provenance and exhibition history are important for art collectors (along with artistic quality and “rarity”), the Quai Branly show may help to add value to objects identified as being carved by a particular “master”. Fischer, the curator, sees no problem with that.

“A lot of these art pieces are sold as antiques and this is a wrong concept,” he says. “The market wants to keep them in some cloud of anonymity, but why shouldn’t African art fetch the same high prices that collectors pay for Western art? These artists have not been honoured enough.”

He sees the exhibition as the first step for these artists to have a place in prestigious museums such as the Louvre in Paris. Perhaps one day, Sra will be as internationally known as Picasso.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: Paying Real Tribute to All Victims of War and Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-paying-real-tribute-to-all-victims-of-war-and-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-paying-real-tribute-to-all-victims-of-war-and-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-paying-real-tribute-to-all-victims-of-war-and-conflict/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:39:23 +0000 Christian Guillermet and Puyana David http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140173

In this column, Christian Guillermet Fernández* and David Fernández Puyana* describe the background to negotiations on a United Nations declaration on the right to peace.

By Christian Guillermet Fernández and David Fernández Puyana
GENEVA, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

The international community will have a great opportunity to jointly advance on the world peace agenda when a United Nations working group established to negotiate a draft U.N. resolution on the right to peace meets from Apr. 20 to 24 in Geneva.

In July 2012, the Human Rights Council (HRC) of the United Nations adopted resolution 20/15 on the “promotion of the right to peace” and established the open-ended working group to progressively negotiate a draft United Nations declaration on the right to peace.“Present generations should ensure that both they and future generations learn to live together in peace and brotherhood with the highest aspiration of sparing future generations the scourge of war and ensuring the maintenance and perpetuation of humankind”

High on the agenda of the working group has been giving a voice to victims of war and conflict.

Chaired by Ambassador Christian Guillermet, Deputy Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva, the working group has been conducting informal consultations with governments, regional groups and relevant stakeholders to prepare a revised text on the right to peace.

This text has been prepared on the basis of the following principles:

  • the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, such as the peaceful settlement of disputes, international cooperation and the self-determination of peoples.
  • elimination of the threat of war.
  • the three pillars of the United Nations – peace and security, human rights and development.
  • eradication of poverty and promotion of sustained economic growth, sustainable development and global prosperity for all.
  • the wide diffusion and promotion of education on peace.
  • strengthening of the Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace.
Christian Guillermet Fernández, Deputy Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva and Chairperson/Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Peace

Christian Guillermet Fernández, Deputy Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva and Chairperson/Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Peace

The draft Declaration on the right to peace solemnly invites all stakeholders to guide themselves in their activities by recognising the supreme importance of practising tolerance, dialogue, cooperation and solidarity among all human beings, peoples and nations of the world as a means to promote peace through the realisation of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular the right to life and dignity.

To that end, it recognises that present generations should ensure that both they and future generations learn to live together in peace and brotherhood with the highest aspiration of sparing future generations the scourge of war and ensuring the maintenance and perpetuation of humankind.

The main actors on which the responsibility rests to make reality this highest and noble aspiration of humankind are human beings, states, United Nations specialised agencies, international organisations and civil society. They are the main competent actors to promote peace, dialogue and brotherhood in the world.

It follows that everyone should be entitled to enjoy peace and security, human rights and development. In this case, entitlement is used to refer to the guarantee of access of every human being to the benefits derived from the three U.N. pillars – peace and security, human rights and development.

This draft Declaration could not have been achieved without the extensive cooperation and valuable advice received in recent years from academia and civil society. In fact, this process has involved consultations with prestigious professors of international law from over ten universities and research centres.

In particular, the Chairperson-Rapporteur has written papers – some of which will be published in the near future – in cooperation with other experts in prestigious journals of international relations and law on the different aspects on peace. He has also contributed to the Research Guide on Peace recently prepared by the Library of the United Nations in Geneva.

Since the beginning of the negotiation process, the working group has based its approach on the TICO approach – transparency (T), inclusiveness (I), consensual decision-making (C) and objectivity (O) – and a little realism.

Consensus is a process of non-violent conflict resolution in which everyone works together to make the best possible decision for the group. Consensus is the tendency not only in international relations, but the United Nations.

For important issues affecting the life of millions of people, the United Nations, including its multiple entities and bodies, works on the basis of multilateralism with the purpose of reaching important consensual decisions.

The working group on the right to peace will meet as the United Nations is commemorating its 70th anniversary and the most important message that should be given is the adoption by consensus of a declaration which, among others, pays real tribute to all victims of war and conflict. (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. 

* Christian Guillermet Fernández is Deputy Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the United Nations in Geneva and Chairperson/Rapporteur of the Working Group on the Right to Peace.
* David Fernández Puyana is Legal Assistant of the Chairperson/Rapporteur, Permanent Mission of Costa Rica in Geneva.

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Tribunal Ruling Could Dent “Monster Boat” Trawling in West African Watershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tribunal-ruling-could-dent-monster-boat-trawling-in-west-african-waters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tribunal-ruling-could-dent-monster-boat-trawling-in-west-african-waters http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/tribunal-ruling-could-dent-monster-boat-trawling-in-west-african-waters/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 07:35:37 +0000 Saikou Jammeh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140214 Bakau fish market, The Gambia. The plight of Gambian and other West African artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better following an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Photo credit: Ralfszn - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

Bakau fish market, The Gambia. The plight of Gambian and other West African artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better following an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Photo credit: Ralfszn - Own work. Licensed under GFDL via Wikimedia Commons

By Saikou Jammeh
BANJUL, The Gambia, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

It was five in the afternoon and Buba Badjie, a boat captain, had just brought his catch to the shore. He had spent twelve hours at sea off Bakau, a major fish landing site in The Gambia.

Inside the trays strewn on the floor bed of his wooden boat were bonga and catfish. Scores of women crowded around, looking to buy his catch.

“This is just enough to cover my expenses,” he tells IPS, indicating the squirming silvery creatures. “I went up to 20-something kilometres and all we could get was bonga.

“I spent more than 2,500 dalasis (60 dollars) on this one trip,” he confessed.

Badjie, 38, is not a native Gambian. Originally from neighbouring Senegal, he came here as a teenager looking for work. But the sea he has been fishing for almost two decades is no longer the same, he says somberly.

“This trade is about win and loss,” he added. “But nowadays, we have more losses. Recently, I went up to 50-something kilometres to another fishing ground but still no catch.

“The problem is the variations in the weather pattern. Also, we encounter huge commercial trawlers in the waters. Sometimes, they threaten to kill us when we confront them. When we spread our nets, they ruin them.”

But Badjie’s plight and that of thousands of other artisan fishers could soon see a change for the better.“The problem of oversized fleets using destructive fishing methods is a global one and the results are alarming and indisputable” – Greenpeace

In an historic ruling by the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea – the first of its kind by the full tribunal – the body affirmed that “flag States” have a duty of due diligence to ensure that fishing vessels flying their flag comply with relevant laws and regulations concerning marine resources to enable the conservation and management of these resources.

Flag States, ruled the tribunal, must take necessary measures to ensure that these vessels are not engaged in illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) fishing activities in the waters of member countries of West Africa’s Sub-Regional Fisheries Commission (SFRC). Further, they can be held liable for breach of this duty. The ruling specifies that the European Union has the same duty as a state.

West African waters are believed to have the highest levels of IUU fishing in the world, representing up to 37 percent of the region’s catch.

“This is a very welcome ruling that could be a real game changer,” World Wildlife Fund International Marine Programme Director John Tanzer was reported as saying. “No longer will we have to try to combat illegal fishing and the ransacking of coastal fisheries globally on a boat by boat basis.”

The SRFC covers the West African countries of Cape Verde, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal and Sierra Leone.

The need for an advisory opinion by the Tribunal emerged in 1993 when the SRFC reported an “over-exploitation of fisheries resources; and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing of an ever more alarming magnitude.” Such illegal catches were nearly equal to allowable ones, it said.

Further, “the lost income to national economies caused by IUU fishing in Wet Africa is on the order of 500 million dollars per year.”

The apparent theft of West Africa’s fish stocks has been denounced by various environmental groups including Greenpeace, which described “monster boats” trawling in African waters on a webpage titled ‘Fish Fairly’.

“For decades,” Greenpeace wrote, “the European Union and its member states have allowed their industrial fishing fleet to swell to an unsustainable size… In 2008, the European Commission estimated that parts of the E.U. fishing fleet were able to harvest fish much faster than stocks were able to regenerate.’’

“The problem of oversized fleets using destructive fishing methods is a global one and the results are alarming and indisputable.”

Unofficial sources told IPS that there are forty-seven industrial-sized fishing vessels currently in The Gambia’s waters, thirty-five of which are from foreign fleets.

Meanwhile, artisanal fishers, on whom the population depends for supply, say they are finding it hard to feed the market. Prices have risen phenomenally and shortages in the market are no longer a rarity.

“Our waters are overfished,” said Ousman Bojang, 80, a veteran Gambian fisher.

Bojang learnt the fishing trade from his father when he was young, but later switched gears to become a police officer.

After 20 years, he retired and returned to fishing. Building his first fishing boat in 1978, he became the president of the first-ever association of fishers in the country.

“Fishing improved my livelihood,” he told IPS. “While I was in the service, I could not build a hut for myself. Now, I have built a compound. I’ve sent my children to school and all of them have graduated.

“I transferred my skills to them and they’ve joined me at sea. I have 25 children; 10 boys and 15 girls. All the boys are into fishing. Even the girls, some know how to do hook and line and to repair net.”

Other hopeful trends for the artisanal fishers include the recognition by the Africa Progress Panel, headed by former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, that illegal fishing is a priority that the continent must address.

Another is the endorsement by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations of guidelines which seek to improve conditions for small-scale fishers.

Nicole Franz, fishery planning analyst at FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture department in Rome, told IPS that the small-scale fisheries guidelines provide a framework change in small-scale fisheries. “It is an instrument that looks not only into traditional fisheries rights, such as fisheries management and user rights, but it also takes more integrated approach,” she said.

“It also looks into social conditions, decent employment conditions, climate change, disaster risks issues and a whole range of issues which go beyond what traditional fisheries institutions work with. Only if we have a human rights approach to small-scale fisheries, can we allow the sector to develop sustainably.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris    

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Instead of Scaling up Funding for Education, Major Donors Are Cutting Backhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/instead-of-scaling-up-funding-for-education-major-donors-are-cutting-back/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=instead-of-scaling-up-funding-for-education-major-donors-are-cutting-back http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/instead-of-scaling-up-funding-for-education-major-donors-are-cutting-back/#comments Sat, 18 Apr 2015 03:11:20 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140210 A child stands outside a classroom at a rural school in Nicaragua. Credit: Oscar Navarrete /IPS

A child stands outside a classroom at a rural school in Nicaragua. Credit: Oscar Navarrete /IPS

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2015 (IPS)

Despite commitments by the international community to achieve universal primary education by 2015, funds for education have been decreasing over the past ten years, according to a report released Friday by the global advocacy campaign ‘A World at School’.

Figures from a Donor Scorecard show that nine of the top 10 donor governments, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and France, have been reducing their aid since 2010. Norway is the only major donor that showed a five-percent increase in education funding over the past four years.

The scorecard will be presented on the first day of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)’s spring meetings, scheduled to run from Apr. 17-19 in Washington DC, to highlight the need for international financial institutions (IFIs) to target their funds towards nations with the most number of out-of-school children, and specifically towards hard to reach populations.

According to the report, “In 2011, the bank provided 20 percent — the smallest share — of its total aid to basic education to low-income countries. More than 70 percent of funding went to countries with less than 20 percent of the out-of-school population.

Sarah Brown, co-founder of A World at School, remarked that it is “unacceptable” that aid for basic education has fallen every year since 2010, which means that “just when leaders should have been stepping up to achieve the 2015 target, they were pulling back.”

According to the Donor Scorecard, while investments in health have risen by 58 percent, those in education have fallen by 19 percent.

The report comes in the wake of worldwide “attacks” on education in 2014 and 2015, with war, conflict and terrorism destroying schools and interrupting the education of thousands of school going kids in places like Kenya, Pakistan, Syria, the Central African Republic and Gaza. The kidnapping of students in Nigeria and South Sudan are also major causes for concern.

According to a report released recently by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), about 58 million children are out of schools, and 100 million children do not complete primary education.

The UNESCO document also says education is still under-financed, affecting the poorest children, as many governments are not prioritising education as part of their national budgets.

There is an annual financing gap of 22 billion dollars over the 2015-2030 period for achieving quality pre-primary, primary and lower secondary education in lower- and middle-income countries, the report stated.

Campaigners with A world at School are calling for concrete aid strategies for basic education, which include the creation of a humanitarian fund for financing education in emergencies, and increasing aid initiatives for children in war-torn countries.

As Brown explained, “It is crucial that we reverse the decline in funding for education. The alternative is leaving 58 million children behind, particularly those hit hardest by conflict and emergencies, such as Syrian refugees and children out of school in countries affected by Ebola.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Foreign Fighter Recruits: Why the U.S. Fares Better than Othershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 20:13:37 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140205 Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 25,000 fighters seeking to wage “jihad” or an Islamic holy war have left home to join terrorist networks abroad.

The foreign fighters, mostly bound for Islamic extremist groups like the Syria-based al-Nusra Front and the self-titled Islamic State (also in Iraq), come from more than 100 countries worldwide, according to a United Nations report released earlier this month.“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated." -- analyst Emile Nakhleh

While the highest numbers are from Middle Eastern and North African countries, Western countries have also seen foreign recruits.

Out of the top 15 source-Western countries listed in February by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (I.C.S.R.), France, as well as Germany and the United Kingdom have had the highest numbers (1,200 and 500-600 respectively). Only 100 foreign fighters have come from the United States.

Why has the U.S. seen such a lower number of recruits compared to its Western European allies?

Integration vs. alienation

“In this country, the law enforcement authorities have worked much more closely with Muslim communities so that now, some elements within the Muslim community follow the phrase ‘see something, say something,’” Emile Nakhleh, who founded the Central Intelligence Program’s (C.I.A.) Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, told IPS.

“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated,” said Nakhleh, a scholar and expert on the Middle East who retired from the C.I.A. in 2006.

While the majority of Muslims worldwide reject violent extremism and are worried about increasing rates in their home countries, American Muslims—an estimated 2-6 million who are mostly middle class and educated—reject extremism by larger margins than most Muslim publics.

A 2011 Pew Survey of Muslim Americans, the most current of its kind, found more than eight-in-10 American Muslims saw suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets as never justified (81 per cent) or rarely justified (5 per cent) to defend Islam from its enemies. That’s compared to a median of 72 per cent of Muslims worldwide saying such attacks are never justified and 10 per cent saying they are rarely justified.

Unlike their European counterparts, Muslim Americans come from more than 77 home countries, in contrast with Western European countries where Muslims are mainly from two or three countries.

Muslims in America—who make up a smaller percentage relative to the population than their counterparts in France and the U.K.— are also not dominated by a particular sect or ethnicity.

A 2007 Pew Survey also found that Muslim Americans were more assimilated into American culture than their Western European counterparts.

A majority of Muslim Americans expressed a generally positive view of the larger society and said their communities are excellent or good places to live. Seventy-two percent of them agreed with the widespread American opinion that hard work can help you succeed.

Western European Muslims are conversely generally less well off and frustrated with the lack of economic opportunities.

Ripe for recruitment

An estimated 1,200 fighters have left France to become jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to the U.K.-based I.C.S.R., which has been tracking fighters in the Iraqi-Syrian conflicts since 2012. More British men have joined Islamic extremist groups abroad than have entered the British armed forces.

Ideologically centered recruitment—particularly online and through social media—and discontent with perceived domestic and foreign policies affecting Muslims, are the primary causes of Islamic radicalisation in Western countries, especially where Muslim communities are isolated from others.

The sense of alienation, especially among the youth of Muslim immigrants, mixed with antipathy toward their country’s foreign policy makes some Muslims prime targets for foreign recruiters.

“Algerian French-Muslim immigrants or South Asian Muslims in the U.K. feel excluded and constantly watched and tracked by the authorities,” said Nakhleh.

While surveillance programmes targeting Muslims are also in effect in the U.S.—more than half of the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 said government anti-terrorism policies singled them out for increased surveillance and monitoring—Muslim Americans have not expressed the same level of discontent with their lives as those in Western European countries such as France and the United Kingdom.

Indeed, the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 who reported discrimination still expressed a high level of satisfaction with their lives in the United States.

Conversely, French Muslims in particular complain of religious intolerance in the generally secular society.

The French law banning Islamic face coverings and burqas, which cover the entire body, resulted in a series of angry protests and clashes with police. Muslim groups have also complained of increasing rates of violent attacks since the ban became law in 2010.

A nine-month pregnant woman was beaten last month in southern France by two men who tore off her veil, saying “none of that here.” Another Islamophobic attack in 2013 resulted in a French Muslim woman in Paris suffering a miscarriage.

Obama embraces U.S. Muslims

But the U.S. government has been working to prevent its Muslim communities from feeling discriminated against and isolated.

Throughout his two terms in office, U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly distinguished between Islamic extremism and Islam as a religion.

“We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with those who have perverted Islam,” said Obama Feb. 18 at the White House-hosted Summit to Counter Violent Extremism.

He has also encouraged religious tolerance while calling for Muslim community leaders to work more closely with the government in rooting out homegrown extremism.

“Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding,” said Obama.

“If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient,” he said.

The Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris, where two gunmen executed 11 staffers at the Charlie Hebdo magazine for what they considered deeply offensive portrayals of Islam, have put Western countries on heightened alert for so-called “lone-wolf” attacks, where individuals perpetuate violence to prove a point or for a cause.

The U.S. has not seen a similar major terror attack since April 2013, when two Chechnyan-American brothers deployed pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others.

But with sophisticated foreign-terrorist recruitment efforts on the rise, Washington has increased its counter-terrorism measures at home and worldwide.

While the Islamic State and similar groups could plan attacks on U.S. soil if they see the U.S. as directly involved in their battles, according to Nakhleh, their primary goal at the moment is to recruit foreigners as combatants.

“The more Western Jihadists they can recruit, the more global they can present themselves as they seek allegiances in Asian countries, and in North Africa,” he said.

“This is how they present themselves as a Muslim global caliphate.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Struggles to Cope with New Humanitarian Crisis in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 19:05:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140203 On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is providing humanitarian aid to over 50 million refugees worldwide, is struggling to cope with a new crisis in hand: death and destruction in Yemen.

In an urgent appeal for 274 million dollars in international aid to meet the needs of some 7.5 million people affected by the escalating conflict, the U.N.’s Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw said Friday, “The devastating conflict in Yemen takes place against the backdrop of an existing humanitarian crisis that was already one of the largest and most complex in the world.”“Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence." -- U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric

“Thousands of families have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting and air strikes. Ordinary families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel – basic requirements for their survival,” he warned.

Asked about the severity of the crisis in relation to the humanitarian disaster in Syria where over 220,000 have been killed in a continuing civil war, Jens Laerke, the Geneva-based spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS, “We tend not to compare crises.”

“We have just launched the flash appeal [for 274 million dollars] and hope the response will be generous,” he said.

Responding to a question, he said: “There is, to my knowledge, no current plans for a humanitarian pledging conference for Yemen.”

Last month, a U.N. pledging conference on humanitarian aid to Syria, hosted by the government of Kuwait, raised over 3.8 billion dollars.

But the United Nations is appealing for more funds to reach its eventual target of 8.4 billion dollars by the end of 2015.

According to the United Nations, the conflict in Yemen escalated significantly last month, spreading to many parts of the country. Air strikes have now affected 18 of Yemen’s 22 governorates. And in the south, conflict has continued to intensify, particularly in Aden, where widespread fighting continues, including in residential neighbourhoods.

“Hospitals, schools, airports and mosques have been damaged and destroyed across the country and there are reports of serious violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law,” the U.N. statement said

The conflict is taking a significant toll on civilians: 731 people were killed and 2,754 injured, including a large number of civilians.

The number of food insecure people has increased from 10.6 million people to 12 million; at least 150,000 people have been displaced; food prices have risen by more than 40 percent in some locations; and fuel prices have quadrupled. Lack of fuel and electricity has triggered a breakdown in basic water and sanitation services, according to the latest figures from OCHA.

“The humanitarian community in Yemen continues to operate and deliver assistance, including through Yemeni national staff and national partners,” said Van Der Klaauw. “But to scale up assistance, we urgently need additional resources. I urge donors to act now to support the people of Yemen at this time of greatest need.”

The most urgent needs include medical supplies, safe drinking water, protection, food assistance as well as emergency shelter and logistical support, he said.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, “Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence.”

He said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others have managed to get planes in. Bit it’s very difficult in an active combat zone, he added.

“We will continue… we will continue to do what we can and bring aid in to alleviate the suffering of the people of Yemen.”

“What is obviously critical in order to enable our humanitarian colleagues and our humanitarian partners to do their work is for all the parties involved in this to halt the violence and to create an atmosphere, not only where they can go back to the political table, but also to allow humanitarian aid to go in,” he added.

A coalition of Arab nations, led by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, has continued with its air attacks on Yemen, where the country’s president has been ousted by rebel forces.

Early this week, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution by 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia), placing an embargo on arms and related materiel to rebel forces, primarily the Houthis.

The Council demanded that all warring parties, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end the violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threatened the political transition.

The 14 members of the Council also demanded that the Houthis withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al Hussein, appealed to the warring parties to ensure that attacks resulting in civilian casualties are promptly investigated and that international human rights and international humanitarian law are scrupulously respected.

The High Commissioner said a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities. The High Commissioner also warned that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities would amount to a war crime.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Women Farmers Rewrite Their History in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/women-farmers-in-patagonia-rewrite-their-history-in-chile/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 17:08:55 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140197 From left to right: Nancy Millar, Blanca Molina and Patricia Mancilla on Molina’s small farm near the town of Valle Simpson in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. The three women belong to the only rural women’s association in the Patagonia wilderness, which has empowered them and helped them gain economic autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

From left to right: Nancy Millar, Blanca Molina and Patricia Mancilla on Molina’s small farm near the town of Valle Simpson in the southern Chilean region of Aysén. The three women belong to the only rural women’s association in the Patagonia wilderness, which has empowered them and helped them gain economic autonomy. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
VALLE SIMPSON, Chile, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 100 women small farmers from Chile’s southern Patagonia region have joined together in a new association aimed at achieving economic autonomy and empowerment, in an area where machismo and gender inequality are the norm.

Patricia Mancilla, Nancy Millar and Blanca Molina spoke with IPS about the group’s history, and how the land, craft making and working together with other women helped them to overcome depression and situations of abuse, and to learn to trust again.

“We have at last obtained recognition of rural women,” said Mancilla, president of the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia. “Peasant women have learned to appreciate themselves. Each one of our members has a history of pain that she has managed to ease through working and talking together.”

“We have learned to value ourselves as women and to value our work, thanks to which our members have been able to send their children to university,” added Mancilla, the head of the association created in 2005.

Mancilla lives on a small family farm in Río Paloma, 53 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the southern Chilean region of Aysén. Her house doesn’t have electricity, but thanks to a generator she produces what she most likes to make: homemade cheese from cow’s milk.

She is also exploring the idea of family agrotourism, although thyroid cancer has forced her to slow down.

In her three years as the head of the association, she has worked tirelessly to build it up and organise the collective activities of the nearly 120 members.

Mancilla and the other members are proudly waiting for the inauguration of the Aysén Rural Women’s Management Centre in a house that they are fixing up, which they obtained through a project of the regional government, carried out by the Housing and Urban Development Service.

The centre will serve as a meeting place, where the women can share their experiences, learn and receive training, and as a store where they can display and sell their products. The members of the association hold a weekly fair on Wednesdays, where they sell what they produce.

The craftswomen who belong to the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia in southern Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of their own community centre, where they will exhibit and sell their products. Meanwhile they sell them in public fairs and the locales of other women’s organisations in the Aysén region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

The craftswomen who belong to the Association of Peasant Women of Patagonia in southern Chile are eagerly awaiting the opening of their own community centre, where they will exhibit and sell their products. Meanwhile they sell them in public fairs and the locales of other women’s organisations in the Aysén region. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Sustainable production in untamed Patagonia

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least densely populated in Chile, home to just 105,000 of the country’s 17.5 million people. It is a wilderness area of great biodiversity, cold, snowy winters, swift-running rivers, innumerable lakes, fertile land and abundant marine resources.

Patagonia covers 1.06 million square kilometres at the southern tip of the Americas; 75 percent of it is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

It is a region of diverse ecosystems and numerous species of flora and fauna, some of which have not yet even been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered “huemul” or south Andean deer.

And according to environmental experts it is one of the planet’s biggest freshwater reserves.

Behind its stunning landscapes, Aysén, whose capital is located 1,629 km south of Santiago, conceals one of the country’s poorest areas, where 10 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

Patagonian activists are seeking to make the region a self-sustaining life reserve.

“We want what we have to be taken care of, and for only what is produced in our region to be sold,” said Mancilla. “There are other pretty places, but nothing compares to the nature in our region.

“We still eat free-roaming chickens, natural eggs; all of the vegetables and fruit in our region are natural, grown without chemicals,” she said.

Farmers like Molina grow organic produce, using their own waste as fertiliser. The association is the only organisation of rural women from Chile’s Patagonia region to sell only ecologically sustainable products.

Blanca Molina proudly holds up a young squash, grown organically in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

Blanca Molina proudly holds up a young squash, grown organically in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique, the capital of the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

“Some say this isn’t good land for planting, but I know it’s fertile,” said Molina. “I’m always innovating, planting things to see how they grow. Thank god that everything grows well in this soil. I’ve found that out for myself and I can demonstrate it,” she said, pointing to her crops.

With her own hands she built four greenhouses that cover a large part of her land in Valle Simpson, 20 km from Coyhaique.

She points one by one to the fruits of her labour: pumpkins, artichokes, cucumbers, cabbage and even black-seed squash, not commonly grown in such cold regions.

She said the land fills her with life, and especially now, as she tries to pull out of the deep depression that the death of two of her children plunged her into – a tragedy she prefers not to discuss.

“It’s the land that has pulled her up,” said Mancilla, smiling at Molina standing by her side.

Forced autonomy

Despite the traditional machismo, women in Patagonia have always had to shoulder the burden of growing and managing their family’s food, taking care of the livestock, tending the vegetable garden and fruit trees, chopping wood, running rural tourism activities, and making crafts, besides their childcare and household tasks.

“Patagonian women had to give birth without hospitals, they had to raise their children when this was an inhospitable territory, but they also managed the social organisation in the new communities that emerged here,” social activist Claudia Torres told IPS.

“The men worked with the livestock or timber, and left home twice a year for four or five months at a time. So women got used to managing on their own and not depending on their men, in case they didn’t come back.”

Despite that central role played by women, “when government officials would go to the countryside, they would always talk to the men,” Patricia Mancilla said.

“They didn’t understand that behind them were the women, who were key to the success of production,” she added.

The look on the faces of these three women, all of them married and with children of different ages, changes as they walk around their land, where wonderful aromas arise from their crops in the plots surrounded by the Patagonian hills.

They have known each other since they and another small group of women founded the association over a decade ago, with support from the Programme for the Training of Peasant Women, backed by an agreement between the Institute of Agricultural Development and the Foundation for the Promotion and Development of Women, two government institutions.

The programme, created in 1992, has the aim of supporting women from smallholder families, to help boost their income by means of economic and productive activities in rural areas. So far, 20,000 women have benefited from the programme.

Molina said that with the help of the programme, “women now have more rights and bring in their own incomes to help put food on the table.”

Millar, who makes crafts in wool, leather and wood in Ñirehuao, 80 km from Coyhaique, concurred. “Rural women have been empowered and are learning their rights,” she said.

The three agreed that Aysén is a region where machismo or sexism has historically been very strong. “That’s still true today, but we are gradually conquering it,” Mancilla said.

They said they ran into the strongest resistance to their association, in fact, inside their homes.

“In the great majority of our cases, (our husbands) would quip ‘so you’re leaving the house?’ and when we would return they would say ‘what were you doing? Just wasting time’,” Mancilla said.

But despite the initial resistance, their husbands are now proud of them, because they see what their wives have achieved. “Now they accompany us – especially when we roast a calf,” one of the three women said with a laugh.

The challenge they are now facing “is to have a hectare of our own, for the organisation, to do the training there, and to buy a truck so we can easily go to the local markets and be available when women need a ride, especially the older women,” Mancilla said.

Water woes

But there is a bigger challenge: to gain their own water rights so they don’t have to depend on a company to obtain the water they need.

Chile’s Water Code was put into effect by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990). It made water private property, giving the state the authority to grant water use rights to companies, free of charge and in perpetuity.

It also allows water use rights to be bought, sold or leased, without taking use priorities into consideration.

“Why should we pay for water rights if people were born and raised in the countryside and always had access to water?” asked Mancilla. “Why should small farmers pay more taxes?”

The women said that each member throws everything into their products.

“Everything we do, we do with love: if we make cheese, we do it with the greatest of care; you want it to be good because your income depends on it. Nancy’s woven goods, Blanca’s vegetables – we do it all with passion,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Q&A: Iranian Balochistan is a “Hunting Ground” – Nasser Boladaihttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/qa-iranian-balochistan-is-a-hunting-ground-nasser-boladai/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 09:43:27 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140191 View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

View of Zahedan, administrative capital of the troubled Iranian Sistan and Balochistan region whose population “has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
GENEVA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

Nasser Boladai is the spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. IPS spoke with him in Geneva, where he was invited to speak at a recent conference on Human Rights and Global Perspectives in his native Balochistan region.

Could you draw the main lines of the CNFI?

There are 14 different groups under the umbrella of the CNFI: Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baloch, Kurds Lors and Turkmen … all of which share a common cause vow for a federal and secular state where each one´s language and culture rights are respected.

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI), an umbrella movement aimed at expanding support for a secular, democratic and federal Iran. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The CNFI is meant to be a vehicle for all of us as there are no majorities in the country, we are all minorities within a multinational Iran. Today´s is a regime based on exclusion as it only recognises the Persian nation and Shia Islam as the only confession.

Which poses a biggest handicap in Iran: a different ethnicity or a religious confession other than Shia Islam?

Iran’s population is a mosaic of ethnicities, but the non-Persian groups are largely located in the peripheries and far from the power base, Tehran.

Elements within the opposition to the regime claim that religion is not an issue and some centralist groups would support a federal state, but not one based on nationalities. The ethnical difference is doubtless a bigger hurdle in the eyes of those centralist opposition groups as well as from the regime.

Iran appears to have been unaltered by turmoil in Northern Africa and the Middle East region over the last four years. Is it?

In 2007 we had several meetings in the European Parliament. Our main goal was to convey that, if any change came to Iran, it should not be swallowed as happened with [Ayatollah] Khomeini in 1979.“Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear” – Nasser Boladai, spokesperson of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran (CNFI)

In May 2009 there were demonstrations against the regime in Zahedan before the controversial elections but the timing could not have been worse for a change. Mir-Hussein Moussavi was leading the so called “green movement” against [incumbent President Mahmoud] Ahmadineyad but he had no real intention of diverting from Khomeini´s idea.

Among others, the green movement failed because the people´s disenchantment was funnelled into an electoral dispute, but also because that movement did not include the issue of nationalities in its programme.

However, the changes in North Africa and the Middle East will have a positive psychological effect on the Iranian psyche in the long run in the sense that they can see that a tyrannical system cannot stay forever.

Islamic extremism of any kind, no matter if it comes from the Ayatollahs or ISIS [Islamic State], cannot solve the people´s problems so both are condemned to disappear.

Hassan Rouhani replaced Mahmoud Ahmadineyad in the 2013 presidential elections. Was this for the good?

Not for us. Since he took power there have been more executions and more repression. Rouhani is not only a mullah; he has also been a member of the Iranian security apparatus for over 16 years.

The death penalty continues to be applied in political cases, where individuals are commonly accused of “enmity against God”. Iran´s different nations´ plights have not yet been discussed. They have often promised language and culture rights, jobs for the Baloch, the Kurds, etc., but we´re still waiting to see these happen.

You come from an area which has seen a spike of Baloch insurgent movements who seemingly subscribe a radical vision of Sunni Islam.

It´s difficult to know whether they are purely Baloch nationalists or plain Jihadists as their speech seems to be winding between both in their different statements.

However, insurgency against the central government in Iran has a long tradition among the Baloch and we have episodes in our recent history where even Shiite Baloch were fighting against Tehran, an eloquent proof that their agenda was a national one, completely unrelated to religion.

Paradoxically, Tehran is to blame for the rise of Sunni extremism in both Iranian Kurdistan and Balochistan. Both nations are mainly Sunni so they empowered the local mullahs; they were brought into the elite through money and power to dissolve a deeply rooted communist feeling among the Kurds and the Baloch.

Khomeini just stuck to a policy which was introduced in the region by the British. They were the first to politicise Islam as a tool against Soviet expansion across the region.

You once said that Iranian Balochistan has become “a hunting ground”. Can you explain this?

It´s a hunting ground for the Iranian security forces. Even a commander of the Mersad [security] admitted openly that it had been ordered to kill, and not to arrest people.

As a result, many of our villages have suffered house-to-house searches which has emptied them of youth. The latter have either been killed systematically or emigrated elsewhere.

The fact that our population has decreased threefold since the times of the Pahlevis speaks volumes about the situation in our region.

Human Rights Watch has further documented the fact that the Baloch populated region has been systematically divided by successive regimes in Tehran to create a demographic imbalance.

Less than a century ago, our region was called “Balochistan”. Later its name would be changed to “Balochistan and Sistan”, then “Sistan and Balochistan”… The plan is to finally call it “Sistan” and divide it into three districts: Wilayat, Sistan and Saheli.

How do you react to the claims of those who say that Iran also played a role in the creation of ISIS, similar to Tehran’s backing of Al Qaeda in Iraq to tear up the Sunni society and prevent it from sharing power in post-2003 Iraq?

The theocratic regime in Iran indirectly supports extremist religious forces and, at the same time, manipulates them to control and deter them from becoming moderate and uniting with moderate religious, liberal or democratic forces in Iran.

The Iranian and Pakistani governments cooperate in the building and using of the extremist groups to first, create controlled instability in Balochistan, and second, to create false artificial political dynamics in the form of Islamic extremists to obstruct and distort Baloch struggles for sovereignty and self-determination.

They also try to change the Baloch liberal and secular culture, which is based on moderate Islam, into an extremist version of their own creation of fundamentalist Islam.

Balochistan’s geopolitical location allows access to the sea, something that the Islamic groups need. Balochistan’s division between Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan enables the groups to communicate with each other across the borders and move to and from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran to the Arabian Peninsula and beyond.

With the support and tacit consent of both Iranian and Pakistani government, they also use the region to transport fighters and suicide bombers to the Arab countries and other locations in the world. From there, financial help is brought to extremist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Sexual Violence in Conflict “The Contemporary Moral Issue” Says United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 08:54:23 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140190 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

Impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in war must end, said Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, who presented to the U.N. Security Council the Secretary-General’s 2015 report on the issue on April 15.

Speaking to the Council, Bangura said, “The history of war zone rape has been a history of denial. It is time to bring these crimes, and those who commit them, into the spotlight of international scrutiny.”

Calling on Council member states, Bangura remarked that sexual abuse is used in war as a tool to terrorise, displace victims and establish power, by state and non-state actors, as well as militia rebel groups.

Hamsatu Allamin, from the “Working Group on Women, Peace and Security”, a Nigerian NGO, urged the Council to find concrete solutions.

“Women’s meaningful participation in peace and security processes must be a core component of any effort to effectively reduce and address incidents of conflict-related sexual violence,” she said.

The U.N. report acknowledges for the first time the impacts of the “use of sexual rape as a war tactic upon women, girls, but also men and boys, by extremist armed groups – providing a list of 45 suspected parties – in countries such as Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria.”

The study, which analysed the situation in 19 war torn countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and Middle East, described sexual violence as a “truly global crime”, coming in the form of abuse, sexual slavery, forced marriage, and nudity.

Sexual violence is also used as an instrument of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, the report noted. It highlighted the risks for LGBT individuals, which are targeted by armed groups which seek to impose social control and “morality”.

In a previous talk at the U.N. earlier in the week, Bangura told the press that including women into the peacebuilding and peacemaking framework would be a strong step forward in offering them the possibility to increase their power and role in conflict societies.

Progress is being made, Bangura explained, as in the past two years the international community has cooperated with the African Union, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, and will soon with the League of Arab States. Also a number of regional organizations have appointed envoys on women, peace and security.

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

 

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Fears Grow for Indigenous People in Path of Massive Ethiopian Damhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/fears-grow-for-indigenous-people-in-path-of-massive-ethiopian-dam/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 00:04:11 +0000 Chalachew Tadesse http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140183 Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”. The Kwegu people living around it are under threat from the massive Gibe III Dam project, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. Credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”. The Kwegu people living around it are under threat from the massive Gibe III Dam project, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects. Credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Chalachew Tadesse
ADDIS ABABA, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

A United Nations mission is due to take place this month to assess the impact of Ethiopia’s massive Gilgel Gibe III hydroelectric power project on the Omo River which feeds Lake Turkana, the world’s largest desert lake, lying mostly in northwest Kenya with its northern tip extending into Ethiopia.

The report of the visit by a delegation from the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) from Ethiopia’s state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC) comes amid warnings by Survival International that the Kwegu people of southwest Ethiopia are facing severe hunger due to the destruction of surrounding forests and the drying up of the river on which their livelihoods depend.

The UK-based group linked the Kwegu’s food crisis to the massive Gibe III Dam and large-scale irrigation taking place in the region, which are robbing the Kwegu of their water and fish supplies.

The dam, one of Africa’s largest hydropower projects, is nearly 90 percent completed, according to a government press release, and could start generating electricity following the rainy season in August.

Construction of the dam has raised concerns for the much admired Lower Omo Valley and Lake Turkana, which are UNESCO’s World Heritage sites, although Lake Turkana is not now on the “endangered” list. The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is being built on the Omo River which provides more than 90 percent of Lake Turkana’s water.

The Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally diverse places in the world and archaeological digs have found human remains dating back 2.4 million years. Lake Turkana, believed to be four million years old, has been called “the Cradle of Mankind”.

UNESCO had previously failed to convince the Ethiopian government to halt the dam’s construction to allow independent impact assessment. The government countered that it had conducted a joint assessment with an international consultancy firm funded by the World Bank.

Their findings suggested that the dam would regulate the water flow rather than having negative effects on Lake Turkana, FBC quoted Alemayehu Tegenu, Ethiopia’s Minister of Water and Energy, as saying last month.

The Ethiopian government’s claims are highly contested, however. Several credible sources indicate that the projects would have significant implications on the livelihoods of 200,000 indigenous people in the Turkana area and Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley, including the Mursi, Bodi, Kwegu and Suri communities.Since its [Gibe III Dam] inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Ethiopia’s water-intensive commercial plantations on the Omo River could reduce the river’s flow to Lake Turkana by up to 70 percent, The Guardian newspaper reported. Lake Turkana is home to at least 60 fish species and sustains several sea and wild animals, the main source of livelihood for the Turkana community. Commercial plantations may also pollute the water with chemicals and nitrogen run-off.

Fears are growing that the dam will result in resource depletion thereby leading to conflict among various communities in the already fragile Turkana ecosystem. According to a recent report by the UK-based Sustainable Food Trust, “large-scale crop irrigation in dry regions causes water depletion and soil salination.”

“This place will turn into an endless, uncontrollable battlefield,” Joseph Atach, assistant chief at Kanamkuny village in Turkana, told The Guardian. Reduction in fishery stocks would have “massive impacts for the 200,000 people who rely on the lake for their livelihoods,” said Felix Horne, Human Rights Watch researcher for Ethiopia, thereby leaving them in precarious situations.

The Gibe III hydroelectric plant is also expected to irrigate the state-owned Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme and other foreign commercial large-scale cotton, rice and palm oil farms appropriated through massive land enclosures.

According to information from UNESCO, the Kuraz Sugarcane Scheme could “deprive Lake Turkana of 50 percent of its water inflow” thereby resulting in an estimated lowering of the lake level by 20 metres and a recession of the northern shoreline by as much as 40 km.

In an email response to IPS, Horne estimated that “between 20 and 52 percent of the water in the Omo River may never reach Lake Turkana depending on the irrigation technology used.”

Horne downplayed the significance of UNESCO’s planned assessment, saying that most credible sources indicate that the filling of the dam’s artificial lake combined with the reduction from downstream water flows caused by planned irrigated agriculture will greatly reduce the water going into the lake.

Yared Hailemariam, a Belgium-based former Ethiopian opposition politician and human rights activist, concurred. The main threat to Lake Turkana, he said, was the planned water-consuming sugarcane plantations. “In light of this”, Yared told IPS via Skype, “UNESCO’s future negotiations with the government should primarily focus on the sugarcane plantations instead of the reduction of the size of the hydro-dam.”

Since its inception in 2006, international human rights groups have repeatedly accused the Ethiopian government of driving indigenous minority ethnic groups out of the Lower Omo Valley and endangering the Turkana community.

Three years ago, Human Rights Watch warned that the Ethiopian government is “forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations” in a process that has come to be known as “villagisation”.

Asked about the government’s methods of evicting indigenous communities from their ancestral homes, Horne said that “direct force seen in the early days of the relocation programme has been replaced by the threat of force, along with incentives, including access to food aid if individuals move into the new villages.”

Meanwhile, the Kenyan government’s stance has come under scrutiny. Horne and Argaw Ashine, an exiled Ethiopian environmental journalist and correspondent for the East African Nation Media Group, worry that the Kenyan government may have already agreed with the Ethiopian government to purchase electricity from Gibe III at a discounted price.

Reports show that Kenya could obtain more than 300MW of electricity from the Gibe III hydroelectric plant.

“The Kenyan government is more concerned with the energy-hungry industrial urban economy rather than the marginalised Turkana tribe,” said Argaw.

With the livelihoods of some of indigenous communities depending on shifting crop cultivation of maize and sorghum on the fertile Omo River flood lands, Horne fears that the regulation of the water flow will reduce nutrient-rich sediments necessary for crop production.

“The situation with the Kwegu is extremely serious,” Elizabeth Hunter, an Africa Campaign Officer for Survival International, is reported as saying. “Survival has received very alarming reports that they are now starving, and this is because they hunt and they fish and they grow plants along the side of the river Omo. All of this livelihood now, right as I speak, is being destroyed.”

She went on to say that “the plantations, particularly the sugar cane plantations, the Kuraz project which is a government-run project is going to need a lot of water. So they’re already syphoning off water into irrigation channels from the river.”

Since 2008, land grabs and plantations owned by foreign corporations have gobbled up an area the size of France, according to the Sustainable Food Trust, and the government plans to hand over twice this amount over the next few years.

The Gibe III hydro-power project, with its potential to double the current electric power generating capacity of the country, is a key part of Ethiopia’s five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) that aims at making Ethiopia a middle-income country by 2025.

However, serious concerns abound as to how modernisation and development should accommodate the interests and values of indigenous communities.

Yared and Argaw criticise the government’s “non-inclusive and non-participatory policy planning and implementations.” Argaw also argued that what has been done in the Lower Omo Valley was “largely a top-down political decision without joint consultation and planning involving the concerned communities.”

“The government can’t ensure sustainable development while at the same time disregarding the interests and needs of lots of marginalised local populations,” said Argaw, adding that the Ethiopian government wants indigenous peoples to be “wage labourers in commercial farms sooner or later.”

Edited by Lisa Vives/Phil Harris

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Rural Women in Latin America Define Their Own Kind of Feminismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 23:50:33 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140182 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/rural-women-in-latin-america-try-to-define-their-own-kind-of-feminism/feed/ 1 Investigation Tears Veil Off World Bank’s “Promise” to Eradicate Povertyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/investigation-tears-veil-off-world-banks-promise-to-eradicate-poverty/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 22:39:25 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140180 Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by World Bank-funded projects in the last decade were from Africa and Asia. Credit: Abdurrahman Warsameh/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 16 2015 (IPS)

An expose published Thursday by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and its media partners has revealed that in the course of a single decade, 3.4 million people were evicted from their homes, torn away from their lands or otherwise displaced by projects funded by the World Bank.

Over 50 journalists from 21 countries worked for nearly 12 months to systematically analyse the bank’s promise to protect vulnerable communities from the negative impacts of its own projects.

"The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.” -- Kate Geary Oxfam’s land advocacy lead
Reporters around the world – from Ghana to Guatemala, Kenya to Kosovo and South Sudan to Serbia – read through thousands of pages of World Bank records, interviewed scores of people including former Bank employees and carefully documented over 10 years of lapses in the financial institution’s practices, which have rendered poor farmers, urban slum-dwellers, indigenous communities and destitute fisherfolk landless, homeless or jobless.

In several cases, reporters found that whole communities who happened to live in the pathway of a World Bank-funded project were forcibly removed through means that involved the use of violence, or intimidation.

Such massive displacement directly violates the Bank’s decades-old Twin Goals of “[ending] extreme poverty by reducing the share of people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day to less than three percent of the global population by 2030 [and] promote shared prosperity by improving the living standards of the bottom 40 percent of the population in every country” – goals that the Bank promised to “pursue in ways that sustainably secure the future of the planet and its resources, promote social inclusion, and limit the economic burdens that future generations inherit.”

Far from finding sustainable ways of closing the vast wealth gaps that exist between the world richest and poorest people, between 2009 and 2013 “World Bank Group lenders pumped 50 billion dollars into projects graded the highest risk for “irreversible or unprecedented” social or environmental impacts — more than twice as much as the previous five-year span.”

The investigation further revealed, “The World Bank and its private-sector lending arm, the International Finance Corp., have financed governments and companies accused of human rights violations such as rape, murder and torture. In some cases the lenders have continued to bankroll these borrowers after evidence of abuses emerged.”

Nearly 50 percent of the estimated 3.4 million people who were physically or economically displaced by large-scale projects – ostensibly aimed at improving water and electricity supplies or beefing up transport and energy networks in some of the world’s most impoverished nations – reside in Africa, or one of three Asian nations: China, India and Vietnam.

Between 2004 and 2013, the World Bank, together with the IFC, pledged 455 billion dollars for the purpose of rolling out 7,200 projects in the developing world. In that same time period, complaints poured in from communities around the world that both the lenders and borrowers were flouting their own safeguards policies.

In Ethiopia, for instance, reporters from the ICIJ team found that government officials siphoned millions of dollars from the two billion dollars the Bank poured into a health and education initiative, and used the money to fund a campaign of mass evictions that sought to forcibly remove two million poor people from their lands.

Over 95,000 people in Ethiopia have been displaced by World Bank-funded projects.

Financial intermediaries

In a report released earlier this month, Oxfam claimed that the “International Finance Corporation has little accountability for billions of dollars’ worth of investments into banks, hedge funds and other financial intermediaries, resulting in projects that are causing human rights abuses around the world.”

In the four years leading up to 2013, Oxfam found that the IFC invested 36 billion dollars in financial intermediaries, 50 percent more than the sum spent on health and three times more than the Bank spent on education during that same period.

The new model, of pumping money into an investment portfolio in financial intermediaries, now makes up 62 percent of the IFC’s total investment portfolio, but the “painful truth is that the IFC does not know where much of its money under this new model is ending up or even whether it’s helping or harming,” Nicolas Mombrial, head of Oxfam International’s Washington DC office, said in a statement on Apr. 2.

Investments made to what the Bank classifies as “high-risk” intermediaries have caused conflict and hardship for thousands on palm oil, sugarcane and rubber plantations in Honduras, Laos, and Cambodia; at a dam site in Guatemala; around a power plant in India; and in the areas surrounding a mine in Vietnam, according to Oxfam’s research.

In response to widespread criticism over such lapses, the Bank is now in the process of overhauling its safeguards policy, but officials say that instead of making vulnerable communities safer, the new policy will only serve to increase their risk of displacement.

Citing current and former Bank employees, the ICIJ investigation claims, “[The] latest draft of the new policy, released in July 2014, would give governments more room to sidestep the Bank’s standards and make decisions about whether local populations need protecting.”

In a response to the ICIJ investigation released today, Oxfam’s land advocacy lead Kate Geary stated, “ICIJ’s findings echo what Oxfam has long been saying: that the World Bank Group – and its private sector arm the IFC in particular – is sometimes failing those people who it aims to benefit: the poorest and most marginalised […].

“It’s not just Oxfam and the ICIJ who say this – these disturbing findings are backed up by the Bank’s own internal audits which found, shockingly, that the Bank simply lost track of people who had to be “resettled” by its projects. President Kim himself has acknowledged this as a failure – and he’s right. The situation is simply untenable and unconscionable. Enough is enough.”

She stressed that the Bank must “provide redress through grant funding to those people it has displaced and left worse off […], enact urgent and fundamental reforms to ensure that these tragedies are not repeated [and] revise its ‘Action Plan on Resettlement’, released just last month by Kim in response to the critical audits, because it is inadequate to stem the terrible results of the worst of these projects.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Call for a Modern ‘Legal Arsenal’ to Fight All Crimeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/call-for-a-modern-legal-arsenal-to-fight-all-crimes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=call-for-a-modern-legal-arsenal-to-fight-all-crimes http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/call-for-a-modern-legal-arsenal-to-fight-all-crimes/#comments Thu, 16 Apr 2015 00:14:57 +0000 Jaya Ramachandran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140167 By Jaya Ramachandran
VIENNA, Apr 16 2015 (IPS)

A modern ‘legal arsenal’ comprising the rule of law is the best weapon to combat crime and terror and to end the vicious circle of poverty, according to experts gathered in Doha, Qatar, for the Apr. 12-19 United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, organised by the Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

The International Organization for Victim Assistance has calculated that investing 0.1 per cent of the global gross domestic product in planning, training, developing, implementing and evaluating actions to prevent crime and bolster criminal justice systems would free up one trillion dollars by 2030 and would save hundreds of thousands of lives while fostering sustainable development.

UNODC said in a press release simultaneously issued in Vienna and Doha on Apr. 15 that several speakers from terrorism-afflicted States had shared their perspective on how to address the causes of that scourge.

To halt the spread of groups like Al-Qaida and Da’esh, and their crimes against humanity, the press release said, Iraq’s representative pleaded for a strategy that must include Security Council action and a guarantee of the implementation of that body’s resolutions.

It would also require stepping up international cooperation, particularly on freezing flows of funds and foreign fighters, and promoting the battle against organised crime groups operating behind “shell” companies.

Libya’s representative appealed for international assistance to recover its plundered assets, bolster border control and support his government’s endeavours to simultaneously promote stability while fighting against the presence of Da’esh. As Libya was a gateway to Europe, he said, what was happening in his country would have an impact on States around the world.

In fact, no country could claim to combat terrorism on its own, the press release quoted Morocco’s representative saying. He emphasised that international cooperation was essential. His country had introduced several reforms with the aim of creating a “legal arsenal” to tackle various forms of crime, including terrorism, smuggling of migrants and money-laundering, as well as to address the unique challenge of foreign fighters.

The best addition to that arsenal was regional and international cooperation, he said, noting that UNODC had the potential to help track down States that harboured terrorists and criminals or contributed to their activities.

Continuing, he highlighted that success in crime prevention and criminal justice did not depend on the number of security forces, but on the adoption of effective means to respond to multifaceted threats in a way that respected human rights. As such, Morocco had adopted a multi-pronged approach in its public policy to combat terrorist groups by “drying up” their funding through strong mandatory measures and protecting the country’s religious environment from excesses.

A number of speakers also called for action to make similar processes easier. Representing another view, the UNODC said, a speaker for Amnesty International called on the Congress to address human rights violations that resulted from “overzealous” policing, as well as the punishment of women, marginalised individuals, the poor and those transgressing social norms.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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Europe’s Unregulated Lobbying Opens Door to Corruption, Says Rights Grouphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/europes-unregulated-lobbying-opens-door-to-corruption-says-rights-group/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europes-unregulated-lobbying-opens-door-to-corruption-says-rights-group http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/europes-unregulated-lobbying-opens-door-to-corruption-says-rights-group/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 23:48:34 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140162 By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

Lobbying is an integral part of democracy, but multiple scandals throughout Europe demonstrate that a select number of voices with more money and insider contacts can come to dominate political decision-making – usually for their own benefit.

In a report titled ‘Lobbying in Europe: Hidden Influence, Privileged Access’ released Apr. 15, Transparency International said that the lack of clear and enforceable rules and regulations is to blame and called for urgent lobbying reform.

The report from the global civil society coalition against corruption found that of 19 European countries assessed, only seven have some form of dedicated lobbying law or regulation, allowing for nearly unfettered influence of business interests on the daily lives of Europeans.

“In the past five years, Europe’s leaders have made difficult economic decisions that have had big consequences for citizens,” said Elena Panfilova, Vice-Chair of Transparency International. “Those citizens need to know that decision-makers were acting in the public interest, not the interest of a few select players.”

Using international standards and emerging best practice, the report examines lobbying practices as well as whether safeguards are in place to ensure transparent and ethical lobbying in Europe and three core European Union institutions – European Commission, European Parliament and Council of the European Union.

Slovenia comes out at the top with a score of 55 percent, owing to the dedicated lobbying regulation in place, which nevertheless suffers from gaps and loopholes. Cyprus and Hungary rank at the bottom with 14 percent, performing poorly in almost every area assessed, especially when it comes to access to information.

Eurozone crisis countries Italy, Portugal and Spain are among the five worst-performing countries, where lobbying practices and close relations between the public and financial sectors are deemed risky.

Noting that the three E.U. institutions on average achieve a score of 36 percent, Transparency International said that “this is particularly worrying, given that Brussels is a hub of lobbying in Europe and decisions made in the Belgian capital affect the entire region and beyond.”

According to the report, none of the European countries or E.U. institutions assessed “adequately control the revolving door between public and private sectors, and members of parliament are mostly exempt from pre- and post-employment restrictions and ‘cooling-off periods’, despite being primary targets of lobbying activities.”

“Unchecked lobbying has resulted in far-reaching consequences for the economy, the environment, human rights and public safety,” said Anne Koch, Transparency International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia. The research highlights problematic lobbying practices across a wide range of sectors and industries in Europe, including alcohol, tobacco, automobiles, energy, finance and pharmaceuticals.

“Unfair and opaque lobbying practices are one of the key corruption risks currently facing Europe,” said Panfilova. “European countries and E.U. institutions must adopt robust lobbying regulations that cover the broad range of lobbyists who influence – directly or indirectly – any political decisions, policies or legislation. Otherwise, the lack of lobby control threatens to undermine democracy across the region.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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EU Inaction Accused of Costing Lives in the Mediterraneanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/eu-inaction-accused-of-costing-lives-in-the-mediterranean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-inaction-accused-of-costing-lives-in-the-mediterranean http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/eu-inaction-accused-of-costing-lives-in-the-mediterranean/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 19:08:23 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140159 Boat carrying asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo credit: UNHCR/L.Boldrini

Boat carrying asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo credit: UNHCR/L.Boldrini

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

“The unbearable number of lives lost at sea will only grow if the European Union does not act now to ensure search-and-rescue operations across the Mediterranean,” Human Rights Watch warned Apr. 15.

The international human rights organisation was reacting to reports that as many as 400 migrants may have died in the Mediterranean sea over the past weekend, according to witness accounts collected by the Save the Children charity among the more than 7,000 migrants and asylum seekers rescued by the Italian Coast Guard since Apr. 10.

Noting that 11 bodies have been recovered so far from one confirmed shipwreck over the past few days, Judith Sunderland, acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch said that “if the reports are confirmed, this past weekend would be among the deadliest few days in the world’s most dangerous stretch of water for migrants and asylum seekers.”

Many of those rescued over the weekend remain on Italian vessels as authorities scramble to find emergency accommodation, and Human Rights Watch said that the lack of preparation for arrivals was entirely preventable because many had predicted that 2015 would be a record year for boat migration.

“Other E.U. countries have shown a distinct lack of political will to help alleviate Italy’s unfair share of the responsibility,” according to the human rights organisation.

The European Union’s external border agency, Frontex, launched Operation Triton in the Mediterranean in November 2014, as Italy downsized its massive humanitarian naval operation, Mare Nostrum, which has been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives.

Triton’s geographic scope and budget is far more limited than Mare Nostrum, and the primary mandate of Frontex is border control, not search and rescue.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as many as 500 migrants and asylum seekers have died already in the Mediterranean in 2015, a 30-fold increase over recorded deaths in the same period in 2014.

However, said Human Rights Watch, if the reports of hundreds more dead over the past few days are confirmed, the death toll in just over three months would be nearly 1,000 people, and that number is likely to rise as more migrants take to the seas during the traditional crossing season in the spring and summer months. The death toll for all of 2014 was at least 3,200 people.

The European Commission is to present a “comprehensive migration agenda” to E.U. member states in May but some of the proposals, while cloaked in humanitarian rhetoric about preventing deaths at sea, raise serious human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said.

These include setting up offshore processing centres in North African countries, outsourcing border control and rescue operations in order to prevent departures, and increasing financial assistance to deeply repressive countries like Eritrea, one of the key countries of origin for asylum seekers attempting the sea crossing, “without evidence of human rights reforms.”

While some proposals contain elements that could potentially address root causes of irregular migration or provide safe alternatives for migrants, Human Rights Watch said that the proof of their success will rest on whether they respect the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, rather than simply stop the flow.

Early signs of intent suggest that rather than building the capacity to protect, the emphasis will be on enhancing and outsourcing containment mechanisms to prevent departures, and “it’s hard not to see these proposals as cynical bids to limit the numbers of migrants and asylum seekers making it to E.U. shores,” Sunderland said.

“Whatever longer term initiatives may come forth, the immediate humanitarian imperative for the European Union is to get out there and save lives.”

Meanwhile, the debate around immigration in Italy has taken on xenophobic tones in some quarters, with the leader of Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League, Matteo Salvini, calling on all local authorities to resist “by any means” requests to accommodate asylum seekers, and saying that his party is ready to occupy buildings to prevent arrivals.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Acid Attacks Still a Burning Issue in Indiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/acid-attacks-still-a-burning-issue-in-india/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 04:32:46 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140150 Thousands of young women around the world who have survived acid attacks are forced to live with physical, psychological and social scars. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Thousands of young women around the world who have survived acid attacks are forced to live with physical, psychological and social scars. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

Vinita Panikker, 26, considers herself “the world’s most unfortunate woman”.

Three years ago, a jealous husband, who suspected her of having an affair with her boss at a software company, poured a whole bottle of hydrochloric acid on her face while she was asleep. The fiery liquid seared her flesh, blighting her face almost entirely while blinding her in one eye.

"It is far less tangible but the discrimination – from friends, relatives and neighbours – hurts the most." -- Shirin Juwaley, an acid attack survivor and founder of the Palash Foundation
What remains today of a once pretty visage is a disfigured and taut stretch of burnt skin with nose, lips, and eyelids flattened out almost completely. Despite spending 10,000 dollars on 12 reconstructive surgeries and two eye operations, the acid attack survivor is still partially blind.

From earning a five-figure salary as a software professional, Panikker today ekes out a living as a cook at a local non-profit. “My life has taken a 180-degree turn,” she tells IPS. “From a successful career woman, I’m now a social reject with neither resources nor family to call my own.”

Acid attacks in India have ravaged the lives of thousands of young women whose only fault was that they repudiated marriage proposals, rejected sexual advances from men they didn’t fancy, or were caught in the crossfire of domestic disputes.

In India’s patriarchal society, men who take umbrage at being spurned turn to acid as a retributive weapon.

“Acid attacks severely damage and burn skin tissue, often exposing and even dissolving the bones,” explains Rohit Bhargava, senior consultant dermatologist with Max Hospital in Noida, a suburban district in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, where 185 out of 309 acid attacks reported in 2014 took place.

“Long-term consequences include blindness, permanent scarring of the face and body, disability and lifelong physical disfigurement,” the doctor tells IPS.

But some survivors, whose appearance changes overnight, say the psychological scars are the ones that take longest to heal. There are social ramifications too, as the attacks usually leave victims disabled in some way, thereby increasing their dependence on family members for even the most basic daily activities.

Shirin Juwaley, an acid attack survivor who launched the Palash Foundation to address social reintegration and livelihood alternatives for people with disfigurement, says social exclusion is far more painful than any physical injury inflicted on an acid attack victim. “It is far less tangible but the discrimination – from friends, relatives and neighbours – hurts the most,” she tells IPS.

In 1998, Juwaley’s husband doused her with acid after she sought a divorce. Despite several police complaints, he still roams free, while Juwaley has had to painfully piece her life back together again.

Today she has a busy schedule, and travels the world addressing conferences and symposia on the social, financial and psychological impact of acid burns. Her organisation also studies the social exclusion of people who live with altered bodies.

Slow progress on legal deterrents

The Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI), a London-based charity, tentatively estimates that some 1,000 acid attacks occur every year in India. However, in the absence of official statistics, campaigners put the true figure even higher: at roughly 400 every month.

“The fear of reprisals inhibits many women from coming forward to report their ordeal,” explains Ashish Shukla, a coordinator at Stop Acid Attacks, a Delhi-based non-profit that has rehabilitated and empowered over 100 acid attack victims since its inception in 2013.

“In India, acid attacks are even worse than rape as the victims, who are usually female, are subjected to humiliation on a daily basis. Most of the women are shunned and ostracised […],” explains Shukla.

The activist adds that public and government apathy results in a double victimisation of the survivors. “They are forced to repeatedly appear in court, recount their trauma, and [visit] doctors even as they grapple with their personal tragedy of physical disfigurement, loss of employment and social discrimination,” elaborates the activist.

As per the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act 2013, a person convicted of carrying out an acid attack in India can be sentenced to anything from 10 years to life imprisonment.

The Supreme Court ruled on Jul. 16, 2013, that all states regulate the sale of easily available substances like hydrochloric, sulfuric, or nitric acids – common choices among perpetrators – adding that buyers must provide a photo identity card to any retailer, who in turn should record each customer’s name and address.

However, most retailers IPS spoke to demonstrated complete ignorance of the law. “This is the first time I’m hearing about this ruling,” Suresh Gupta, owner of Gupta Stores, a small, family-owned outfit in Noida, tells IPS.

Campaigners say that this horrific form of gender-based violence will not end until the government makes it much harder for offenders to procure their weapon of choice; currently, one-litre bottles of acid can be purchased over the counter without a prescription for as little as 33 cents.

The Supreme Court has condemned the Centre for failing to formulate a strong enough policy to curb acid sales. In early April, the Court directed private hospitals to treat acid attack survivors free of cost, and additionally ruled that states must take action against medical facilities that fail to comply with this directive.

Experts say India should take a leaf out of the books of neighbouring Pakistan and Bangladesh by firming up implementation of existing laws. In Bangladesh, acid assaults have plummeted from 492 cases in 2002 to 75 last year, according to ASTI, since the government introduced the death penalty for acid attacks.

Stiffer legislation in Pakistan has resulted in a 300-percent rise in the number of women coming forward to report the crime.

Progress in India has been slower, although the state governments of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh have set a good precedent by funding the entire cost of medical treatment for some acid attack survivors.

Ritu Saa is one such example. The 20-year-old who had to give up her studies following an acid attack in 2012 by her cousin is today a financially independent woman. She works at the Cafe Sheroes’ Hangout, an initiative launched by the Stop Acid Attacks campaign in the city of Agra in Uttar Pradesh, which employs several survivors.

“The campaign and the government have really helped me a lot,” Saa tells IPS. “Today, I have a job, a decent salary, good food, accommodation and am standing on my own feet.”

While acid attacks have traditionally been perceived as a problem involving male perpetrators and female victims, advocates say that attacks on men are also surging, with a third of all cases reported each year involving males embroiled in property or financial disputes.

Rights activists and campaigners contend that until the government formulates and enforces a multi-pronged approach to ending this grisly practice, scores of people in this country of 1.2 billion remain at risk of suffering a fate that some say is worse than death.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Kenya Orders Somali Refugee Camp Sheltering Thousands to Movehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/kenya-orders-somali-refugee-camp-sheltering-thousands-to-move/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenya-orders-somali-refugee-camp-sheltering-thousands-to-move http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/kenya-orders-somali-refugee-camp-sheltering-thousands-to-move/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 17:07:22 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140147 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is sheltering over 600,000 refugees from war-torn Somalia, has been ordered by Kenyan authorities to relocate the camp in three months.

“We have asked the UNHCR (the U.N. Refugee Agency) to relocate the refugees in three months, failure to which we shall relocate them ourselves,” said Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto in a statement Saturday.

“The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa,” he said, referring to the university that was attacked by Somali militants on Apr. 2.

Dadaab, the camp near the border with Somalia, is the largest refugee camp in Africa.

Macharia Munene, professor of international relations at the United States International University-Africa, said the logistics of moving hundreds of thousands of refugees across the border would be “a tall order”.

But he said there were now safe areas within Somalia from where the al Shabab armed group had been chased out by African Union forces in recent years.

“Kenya is in an emergency situation… Each country has an obligation to look after its people first,” he told Reuters.

In an effort to reassure Kenyans that the government is concerned with their safety, Kenya has been building a 440-mile wall along the entire length of the border with Somalia to keep out al Shabab militants.

But according to security and policy analyst Abdulahi Boru Halakhe, the strategy is ill-conceived. “Building the wall assumes that all al-Shabab members come from Somalia and ignores the group’s cells in Kenya and easy routes through neighboring Uganda and Tanzania,” he wrote in an opinion for Al Jazeera news.

“In fact, the suspected mastermind of the Garissa attack was a Kenyan schoolteacher from the town, and one of his accomplices was a son of a Kenyan government official.”

Joshua Meservey of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center expressed his view that Kenya was scapegoating the mostly Muslim refugees for their own security failings.

Further, suggested Mohamed Abdi, a refugee at the camp, moving the camp inside Somalia would boost al-Shabab’s recruitment efforts among the camp’s impoverished men, whose livelihoods would be threatened if their homes are displaced.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR claims it has not received any official communication from Kenyan authorities but rejects the apparent effort to use the refugees as scapegoats.

“Blanket measures that target people based on nationality or membership of a group will only cause suffering to innocent people and are usually ineffective,” said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards. Three months, he added, is not realistic for such a relocation.

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Togolese Candidates Hope for Change in Upcoming Pollshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/togolese-candidates-hope-for-change-in-upcoming-polls/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=togolese-candidates-hope-for-change-in-upcoming-polls http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/togolese-candidates-hope-for-change-in-upcoming-polls/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 16:57:00 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140145 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

Togolese opposition leaders are issuing calls for change – the mantra of President Barack Obama – as they seek the end of the 50-year dynasty of the Gnassingbe family in Togolese politics.

Originally scheduled for Apr. 15, a presidential election will take place Apr. 25 after voter lists are checked as ordered by the Economic Community of West African States. Over 3.5 million voters are eligible to vote out of a population of nearly seven million.

Opposition parties said the list includes thousands of people who have registered twice and are likely to vote for the incumbent president.

President Faure Gnassingbe’s main challenger is Jean-Pierre Fabre, heading up the Combat for Political Change party, who faces a difficult political landscape made up of 37 ethnic groups – the main ones being the Ewe in the south (40 percent of the population), the Kotokolis in the center and the Kabye people in the north (22 percent). The Ewe straddle the Togo-Ghana boundary.

Gnassingbe rose to power in 2005 after the death of his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled the tiny West African nation with an iron fist for 38 years. In recent months, opposition parties have tried to limit the number of five-year terms that a president can serve to two but the reform was blocked by Gnassingbe’s party.

At his party’s convention in February, which drew some 700 delegates, Gnassingbe modestly accepted his party’s backing to run for a third term.

“It is out of duty to our country Togo and trust in the ideals that we all share that I have the honor to accept to be invested as the presidential candidate of our (Union for the Republic) UNIR party,” he said. “I accept this nomination with a deep sense of humility.”

Years ago, Togo formed part of the Slave Coast, where captives were shipped abroad by European slavers during the 17th century. In 1884 it became the German protectorate of Togoland.

Political parties were legalised in 1991 and a democratic constitution was adopted in 1992.

In November and December last year, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to demand term limits but were turned back by police firing tear gas.

According to Unicef, 73 percent of Togo’s rural population and 91 percent of the northern Savanes region, lives below the poverty line.

The Unicef website for Togo reads: “The country is at a crucial point in its history. Another generation of children cannot be lost to poor services and abuses of their fundamental rights. National and international partners have a unique opportunity to ensure the health, education and social services for children in need in Togo.”

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Sudanese Leader Presumed Winner in Largely Uncontested Pollhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/sudanese-leader-presumed-winner-in-largely-uncontested-poll/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sudanese-leader-presumed-winner-in-largely-uncontested-poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/sudanese-leader-presumed-winner-in-largely-uncontested-poll/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 16:51:57 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140144 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir is predicted to roll up an easy victory in national polls this week, adding another five-year term to his already 26 years in office.

Voting began Monday and will continue for three days. More than 13 million people are registered to vote at some 11,000 polling stations around the country.

The country’s main opposition groups, however, have refused to participate, leaving some 15 little-known candidates to challenge Bashir. Among them is Fatima Abd-al-Mahmud, the only female candidate, running on the Sudanese Socialist Democratic Union ticket. A pediatrician, the 71-year-old entered politics four decades ago and has served in several ministerial posts.

Leaders of the opposition say that no credible elections can be held until peace is restored in all of the country’s regions and until all political prisoners are released and press freedom is restored.

“We are not going to participate in this election because it is not fair and free,” declared Hassan Osman Rizig, deputy president of the opposition Reform Now Movement party. “It is not recognised by the internal opposition or by the international community.”

“This is not an election and I personally, and our movement, shall not recognise this election,” echoed Minni Minnawi, chair of a Sudan Liberation Army faction that has been fighting government forces in Darfur for years, in a Guardian (UK) newspaper interview via satellite phone.

Fighting has been relentless in Darfur, Blue Nile and the South Kordofan region of Sudan, near the South Sudanese border, since conflict erupted in the fall of 2011 between the armed forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North.

In January, Sudanese air force planes bombing rebels in the Nuba Mountains area struck a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), where some 150 patients were being treated. Two bombs landed inside the hospital compound, the doctors’ group said, injuring one MSF staffer and one patient.

Still, the world community has shown signs of easing up on Bashir, once a roundly-criticised international pariah. The International Criminal Court, citing lack of support from the U.N. Security Council, ended its investigation of abuses in Darfur although the president still faces charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and three counts of genocide – accusations he denies.

Other actions favouring Bashir was the recent decision by Washington to allow communications equipment including smartphones and laptops into the country.

Both Bashir and opposition members have made improved relations with the U.S. a high priority in their campaign rallies.

The elections will be monitored by the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), and the Arab League. European monitors have decided to stay home, citing doubts the exercise could produce credible results.

Quota systems in place are expected to ensure that women occupy at least 25 percent of seats in the national assembly and that all the country’s regions are fairly represented.

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