Inter Press Service » Human Rights http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 24 Feb 2017 23:36:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.15 The Peasant Farmer Who Stood Up to the President of Nicaraguahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-peasant-farmer-who-has-stood-up-to-the-president-of-nicaragua/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 22:59:57 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149106 Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

Francisca Ramírez, the head of the peasant movement that is leading the fight against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal in Nicaragua, which has made her a victim of harassment by the administration of Daniel Ortega. Credit: Luis Martínez/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

The unequal battle that small farmer Francisca Ramírez is waging against the Nicaraguan government of Daniel Ortega has become so well-known that people are calling for her security and her rights from the political heart of Europe.

Who is she and why did the European Parliament order Nicaragua on Feb. 16 to protect her life and rights, as well as those of thousands of peasant farmers in the centre-south of this impoverished Central American country?

Ramírez is a 40-year-old indigenous farmer who has lived all her life in the agricultural municipality of Nueva Guinea, in the Autonomous Region of Caribe Sur, 280 km from the capital.

She told IPS in an interview that her family has always lived in that rural area, which was the scene of bloody fighting during the 1980s civil war.

When she was eight, her father abandoned them and her mother had to work as a day labourer, while Ramírez took care of her five younger siblings.

Having survived the U.S.-financed war against the government of the Sandinista Front for National Liberation (1979-1990), Ramírez learned agricultural work, got married at 18, had five children, and with the effort of the whole family, they acquired some land and improved their living conditions.

Ortega, who governed the country in that period, after overthrowing the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza, returned to power in 2007. In January, he started a third consecutive term of office, after winning widely questioned elections where the opposition was excluded, supported by a civil-military alliance which controls all the branches of the state.

Ramírez was happy with her life until 2013. “They told us over the radio that they were going to build a canal and I thought that it was a very important thing because they said that we were no longer going to be poor,” she said.

Then, gradually, the news started to change her perception of the project to build the Great Nicaraguan Canal linking the Atlantic and the Pacific, granted in concession to the Chinese group HKND in 2013, and she started to ask questions that nobody answered.

One day, bad luck knocked on her door: delegations of public officials who her community had never seen before, accompanied by members of the police and the military, escorted delegations of people from China who made measurements and calculations about the properties of the farmers.

“The route of the canal runs through your property and all of you will be resettled,” they told her.

Law 840, passed in 2013 to give life to the over 50-billion-dollar mega-project, which she was barely able to understand with her three years of formal schooling, was very clear: they would be paid for their lands a price which the state considered “appropriate”.

So the resistance began. “At first everybody was happy, we thought that at last progress was coming, but when overbearing soldiers and police officers started to show up, guarding the Chinese, the whole community refused to let them in their homes and we started to protest,” she said.

Since then, she said the official response has not varied: repression, harassment and threats to farmers who refuse to give up their land.

Ramírez said that she became an activist in the National Council in Defence of Our Land, Lake and Sovereignty, a civil society initiative to organise the peasant movement to defend their lands and rights.

She started marching behind the rural leaders who led the first demonstrations against the canal.

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

One of the many demonstrations by small farmers who came to Managua from the southern Caribbean coastal region to protest the construction of an inter-oceanic canal that would displace thousands of rural families and cause severe environmental damage. Credit: Carlos Herrera/IPS

Later on, the leaders were arrested, threatened, intimidated and repressed by the police and military, and Ramírez unexpectedly found herself leading the demonstrations in 2014.

Her leadership caught the attention of the national and international media, human rights organisations and civil society.

Soon, the peasant marches against the canal became a symbol of resistance and more people joined, turning the movement into the most important social force to confront Ortega since he took office again 10 years ago.

The peasant movement against the canal “is the strongest social organisation that exists today in Nicaragua. Within any movement, an authentic and genuine leadership emerges, and that is what Mrs. Ramírez represents,” sociologist Oscar René Vargas told IPS.

The president “is aware that the movement is the most important social force that his government is facing,” he said.

The admiration that Ramírez arouses, with her ability to organise and lead more than 90 demonstrations in the country, has irritated the authorities.

More than 200 peasant farmers have been arrested, about 100 have been beaten or wounded by gunfire, and the government has basically imposed a military state of siege in the area, where it refuses to finance social projects, according to the movement.

Police checkpoints along the entire route to Nueva Guinea and military barricades in the area give the impression of a war zone.

Ramírez has not escaped the violence and harassment: her house has been raided without a court order, her children and family persecuted and threatened by intelligence agents and police officers, her belongings and goods that she sells, such as food, confiscated and damaged, and she has been accused of terrorist activities.

One of the latest episodes occurred in December 2016, during a visit to Nicaragua by Organisation of American States (OAS) Secretary-General Luis Almagro, to discuss with Ortega the allegations of attacks on democracy.

To keep Ramírez and other leaders of the movement from meeting with Almagro, police convoys besieged the community and repressed members of the movement, she said.

They partially destroyed the main bridge out of the area, and suspected members of the movement’s Council were held at military checkpoints.

They even confiscated Ramírez’s work vehicles, used them to transport troops and later damaged them, according to Gonzalo Carrión, from the Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre.

“Ortega’s government has visciously mistreated Francisca Ramírez and the farmers who follow her. Her rights have been violated, from the right to protest to the right to freedom of movement, and we fear that they will violate her most sacred right: to life,” Carrión told IPS.

Walking along footpaths in the dark and crossing a deep river, where she almost drowned, Ramírez got around the military cordon and travelled, disguised and hidden in a truck, to Managua, where she was able to meet with Almagro on Dec. 1, 2016 and tell him of the abuses to which her community had been subjected for refusing to give up their lands.

On Feb. 16, the European Parliament issued a resolution condemning the lack of protection for human rights activists in Nicaragua, putting a special emphasis on the case of Ramírez, and lamenting the deterioration of the rule of law and democracy in this country.

The members of the European Parliament urged “the national and local police forces to refrain from harassing and using acts of reprisal against Francisca Ramirez for carrying out her legitimate work as a human rights defender.”

“Francisca Ramirez is a victim of abuses by the police in the country aiming at risking human rights defenders’ security and livelihood,” the European Parliament denounced.

“Ramírez, coordinator for the Defense of the Land, the Lake and Sovereignty, was in Managua to file a formal complaint over acts of repression, violations of the right to free circulation, and aggression experienced by several communities from Nueva Guinea on their way to the capital city for a peaceful protest against the construction of an inter-oceanic canal, projects which will displace local farmers activities and indigenous people from the premises of the construction,” the resolution states.

While the government remained silent about the resolution, social activist Mónica López believes that it represented a victory for the rural movement.

“Without a doubt, the resolution is a social and political victory for the peasant movement against the canal, a condemnation of Nicaragua, and a global warning about what is happening against indigenous peasant movements in Nicaragua,” López told IPS.

The government asserts that the canal project is moving ahead, although a year has passed with no visible progress, and it maintains that it will eradicate the poverty that affects more than 40 per cent of the 6.2 million people in this Central American country.

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Aid Arrives for Rohingya After Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aid-arrives-for-rohingya-after-violence/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:06:52 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149100 The Muslim Rogingya minority in Myanmar is being victimized by murders, rapes and the burning of their villages by police and military forces in Myanmar, a United Nations official said. Photo courtesy of European Commission DG/European Union/Flickr

The Muslim Rogingya minority in Myanmar is being victimized by murders, rapes and the burning of their villages by police and military forces in Myanmar, a United Nations official said. Photo courtesy of European Commission DG/European Union/Flickr

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

A Malaysian aid convoy has arrived in Myanmar with supplies for ethnic Rakhine civilians and Rohingya Muslims.

The Malaysian government sent hundreds of tons of food and other necessities including clothing and hygiene kits to Myanmar’s Yangon region which were then delivered to Rakhine State’s capital of Sittwe. Military ships also offloaded supplies in neighboring Bangladesh which has seen an influx of Rohingya refugees since violence was reignited in 2016.

Myanmar’s military has been conducting an ongoing offensive in the Northwestern state of Rakhine following attacks on border guard posts in October.

According to a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) , cases of sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances by military and police forces have emerged since the retaliation. OHCHR said the actions indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

The government of Myanmar has denied the abuse allegations.

Approximately 90,000 people have since fled the area with an estimated 66,000 Rohingya crossing the border into Bangladesh.

In its annual report, Amnesty International said that there has been little improvement since the new government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, took power in 2015 including ongoing conflict and restricted humanitarian access.

Myanmar’s government reportedly tried to block the Malaysian aid ship, stating that it had not acquired official permission to enter the country. The government later only issued clearance for the port in Yangon, declining Malaysia’s application to deliver aid directly to Sittwe and the surrounding townships. They also required that supplies be delivered to both ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya in the region.

The Malaysian government has been particularly vocal regarding the plight of Rohingya Muslims.

In December, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak called on its Asian neighbors and the international community to address the crisis, stating: “The world cannot sit by and watch genocide taking place… We must defend them [Rohingya] not just because they are of the same faith but they are humans, their lives have value.”

Violence first erupted in 2012 when Rohingya Muslims clashed with the Buddhist majority.

Myanmar’s government disputes the Rohingya people’s status as Burmese citizens and have enacted discriminatory policies including restrictions on movement and exclusion from healthcare, rendering the majority of the group stateless and impoverished.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) previously described the Rohingya community as one of the most “excluded, persecuted, and vulnerable communities in the world.”

Myanmar’s government is currently seeking to investigate the situation in the border state, while the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar is due to present her final report on her recent trip in March.

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Huge Health Needs for World’s One Billion Migrantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/huge-health-needs-for-worlds-one-billion-migrants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=huge-health-needs-for-worlds-one-billion-migrants http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/huge-health-needs-for-worlds-one-billion-migrants/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 17:11:48 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149099 Credit: IOM

Credit: IOM

By IPS World Desk
ROME/COLOMBO, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

With an estimated 1 billion migrants today –or one in every seven people– their health needs are huge. Nevertheless, health systems are struggling to adapt and consequently access to health services among migrant populations varies widely and is often inadequate.

This has been the key issue before senior public health officials from over 40 countries, who met on February 23 in Colombo, concluding that addressing the health needs of migrants reduces long-term health and social costs, enhances health security and contributes to social and economic development.

Health systems must be strengthened to provide equitable, non-discriminatory, migrant-centred health services, noted the participants in the 2nd Global Consultation on Migrant Health, which was hosted by the Government of Sri Lanka, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the World Health Organization (WHO) in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The scale of human migration currently witnessed is unprecedented, WHO reminds, there are an estimated 1 billion migrants in the world today, including 250 million international migrants and 763 million internal migrants, the UN body adds. “Some people migrate voluntarily; while others are forcibly displaced, fleeing conflict and war. This has important implications for the health sector.” “With the global volume of remittances sent home by migrants surpassing half a trillion dollars in 2016, the world is increasingly moving towards the realization that migration is an effective poverty-reduction strategy and an important means to respond to workforce shortages caused by demographic shifts” IOM.

On this, IOM said that when one combines the volume of international migration, the large scale of internal migration of an estimated 740 million people worldwide, and the unprecedented and protracted displacement of populations due to unresolved conflicts and natural disasters, we can see that there is urgent need to address the cumulative health needs of people on the move.

“With the global volume of remittances sent home by migrants surpassing half a trillion dollars in 2016, the world is increasingly moving towards the realization that migration is an effective poverty-reduction strategy and an important means to respond to workforce shortages caused by demographic shifts,” adds IOM.

“Yet, despite the clear economic benefits of migration, large groups of migrants remain at risk of social exclusion, discrimination and exploitation…It is important to emphasize that migrants do not generally pose a health risk to hosting communities and they should never be stigmatized or associated with the risk and stigma of importing diseases.”

Rather, it is recognised that conditions surrounding the migration process today, more than ever, can increase the vulnerability of migrants to ill health, particularly for those forced to move and those who find themselves in so called ‘irregular’ situations. In that sense, migration is a social determinant of health.

Sri Lanka is providing leadership on migrant health, the UN health body informs. It is one of the few countries in the world to have a ‘National Migrant Health Policy’, introduced in 2008. Sri Lanka recognizes the contribution of migrants to national and overseas development, the WHO informed.

“Almost 2 million Sri Lankans work overseas, the country hosts a large number of immigrants and receives 2 million tourists annually. Ensuring the health of these migrants and the country’s own population is a top priority.”

Participating health leaders adopted the Colombo Statement, which calls for international collaboration to improve the health and well-being of migrants and their families. The move aims to address the health challenges posed by increasingly mobile populations.

“Protecting the health of mobile populations is a public health and human rights imperative. Ensuring the highest attainable standard of health for all, including migrants and refugees, is something we must all strive towards, and is key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal of leaving no one behind,” said WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia, Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh.

For his part, Dr. Davide Mosca, director of IOM’s Migration Health Division, said “Migrant health must be looked at as a global agenda and the SDGs should be interpreted by linking the call to facilitate orderly, safe and responsible migration and mobility of people… with the achievement of universal health coverage.”

This can only be realised through the implementation of well-managed and coordinated migration policies, which include financial risk protection and equal access to quality health services, he said.

The Colombo Statement calls for mainstreaming migrant health into key national, regional and international agendas and promotes international solidarity for equitable migrant health policies, a shared research agenda and the development of global frameworks to ensure migrant health is protected.

The momentum generated by the Global Consultation will be carried forward to the World Health Assembly – WHO’s annual meeting in May 2017, where 194 countries will deliberate on priority actions to protect migrants’ right to health.

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Unrest Brings North-East Nigeria Next to Starvationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/unresolved-brinks-north-east-nigeria-to-starvation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unresolved-brinks-north-east-nigeria-to-starvation http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/unresolved-brinks-north-east-nigeria-to-starvation/#comments Fri, 24 Feb 2017 15:23:27 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149091 The military crackdown on Boko Haram has destroyed the economy around Lake Chad. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

The military crackdown on Boko Haram has destroyed the economy around Lake Chad. Credit:Kristin Palitza/IPS

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 24 2017 (IPS)

Years of violence and unrest in North-East Nigeria have left millions of people at risk of starving to death. Both the violent up surging of Boko Haram and the government’s harsh military crackdown have left already historically marginalised communities with next to nothing.

Some towns have already seen all of their children aged less than five years of age die from starvation, according to Toby Lanzer, the UN’s coordinator for the region.

The violence, which began in North-East Nigeria has spilled over into the three other countries bordering Lake Chad: Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

A donor’s conference in Oslo, Norway on Friday raised $672 million dollars for the crisis – well short of the target of $1.5 billion.

IPS spoke to Sultana Begum, Oxfam Advocacy and Policy lead for the Lake Chad Basin crisis, who was in New York ahead of the donor’s conference.

The emphasis on responding militarily to the crisis has left already historically marginalised communities worse off, Begum told IPS.

“It isn’t just Boko Haram. It is the governments and the militaries of the region and the way that they are fighting this war,” she said. “In order to cut off Boko Haram from food and supplies, they have also cut off the lifeline of the civilian population.”

International governments have also been providing military and counter terrorism support in the region, says Begum, but she hopes they will also help support Nigeria to increase the humanitarian response through providing the funding needed to help people affected by the conflict.

“In order to cut off Boko Haram from food and supplies, they have also cut off the lifeline of the civilian population.” -- Sultana Begum, Oxfam

The military has also been funding vigilantes as a way to fight Boko Haram, a strategy which could potentially backfire and do further harm to local communities, according to a new report released Wednesday by the International Crisis Group.

Meanwhile, the Nigerian military has also been leading parts of the humanitarian response, such as running refugee camps, says Begum.

“New areas that the military has retaken, it is very militarized,” she says. “As soon as possible the military needs to hand (the camps) over to the civilian authorities, to humanitarians.”

However the vast majority of displaced people sheltered in the region are living in the homes of relatives, distant acquaintances and even strangers, who have opened their homes.

“These communities have been so incredibly generous some of them have taken 5, 6 families into their own homes,” said Begum.

“They’ve shared the little food that they have and they have very little themselves. They’ve really opened their hearts. Really they’re the heroes of the story, and they haven’t just been helping for 6 months, 5 months, many of them have been hosting these families in their homes for 2 to 3, sometimes 4 years. Some of the host communities hope that people will pay rent but people really can’t afford to pay rent.”

“There are some taking major, major risks to continue fishing.” -- Sultana Begum - Oxfam. Credit: Mustapha Muhammad/IPS.

“There are some taking major, major risks to continue fishing.” — Sultana Begum – Oxfam. Credit: Mustapha Muhammad/IPS.

Begum says that these communities are hosting some eighty percent of the people who are displaced in the region even though they themselves have their own struggles.

“If you look at Maiduguri, for example its an urban area, its an area that is historically been neglected. There are already issues to do with do people not having enough services like access to water, education.”

These host communities ”are really struggling themselves now,” says Begum. “They don’t have that much. There’s an economic crisis in Nigeria on top of everything else that’s going on. You know the price of food is really high. They have very little themselves and they need assistance.”

Sultana also notes that it’s important to recognise that people living on the edge economically may begin to see these groups as an option.

“When research has been done in terms of peoples’ motivations for joining Boko Haram, especially youth and young men in particular, the motivations are often to do with economics,” she said.

“Boko Haram offers them money. They offer them motorbikes. They offer them incentives. They offer them wives. You know these are all things that young men, they want. They need jobs, they need livelihoods and they want to get married and they want to have families and things like that. And those are opportunities they weren’t being offered.”

“So we’re hearing less about the ideological reasons why people are joining Boko Haram and more issues around the financial incentives.”

However in some cases the military crackdown has taken away what little economic opportunities these communities have.

Over the border in Niger, Begum says that emergency measures have destroyed the economy in the Diffa region.

“The two major economies are smoked fish and small pepper production.”

The small pepper “was so lucrative for the region,” people called it ‘red gold’.

“The emergency measures that were bought in banned fishing, banned the selling of fish, basically restricted peoples access to fuel and fertilizer, banned motorbikes, brought in curfews. So what that meant was that people stopped fishing. Most of these fishermen relied on fishing for 89 percent of their income,” she says.

“There are some taking major, major risks to continue fishing.”

“Some people have been killed by Boko Haram (or) they have been picked up by the military and accused of being Boko Haram, put into detention, or have disappeared.”

“The farmers are taking part in illegal trade. They are out trying to get hold of fuel and fertilizer illegally.”

This week the UN warned that North-East Nigeria alongside Yemen and Somalia, are at imminent risk of famine, after South Sudan on Monday became the first country to declare famine since 2012. In North-East Nigeria alone more than 5 million people now face serious food shortages, according to the UN.

In all of these four countries the current food crisis is considered man-made, the result of years of unresolved conflict.

However, despite their roots in conflict, much more than a military response is needed to end these crises.

Update: This article has been updated to include information about the funds raised in Oslo. An earlier headline has also been corrected.

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Merkel Under Pressure for Refugee Policy in Germanyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/merkel-under-pressure-for-refugee-policy-in-germany/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=merkel-under-pressure-for-refugee-policy-in-germany http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/merkel-under-pressure-for-refugee-policy-in-germany/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2017 17:57:24 +0000 Wolfgang Kerler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149088 Wolfgang Kerler, a reporter for German public broadcaster ARD, is a specialist on globalization, digitalization, migration and investigative reporting.]]>

Wolfgang Kerler, a reporter for German public broadcaster ARD, is a specialist on globalization, digitalization, migration and investigative reporting.

By Wolfgang Kerler
MUNICH, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)

Internationally, German chancellor Angela Merkel was praised for her humanitarian decision to open the countries’ border to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria and Iraq. But the decision has considerably reduced her support among Germans. Chances are real that Merkel could lose the chancellorship in the upcoming national elections.

Refugees in Germany

Refugees in Germany

On October 3rd 2016, a bulk of several hundred gathered in the historic center of Dresden, where the official celebration for Germany’s Unity Day took place. Most of the people did not come to celebrate though. They came to protest. When Angela Merkel finally arrived in Dresden, the crowd started to boo and yell “Merkel must go!”, “get out!” or “traitor!”.

Not long ago, a scene like this seemed impossible.

In spring 2015, all national polls saw Merkel’s conservative party at more than 40 percent support among Germans. The Social Democrats, which came in second, reached less than 25 percent. Even after almost ten years as chancellor, Merkel was considered as indispensable by most Germans. She enjoyed an approval rating of 75 percent.

However, after the events of September 2015, her popularity quickly started to drop to levels below 50 percent. Her party fell to 32 percent in recent polls.

Angela Merkel made her famous statement “we can make it” on August 31st of 2015. The number of refugees entering the country had already risen to 100,000 a month and she wanted to assure the public that Germany could tackle the integration of those immigrants.

Within days after Merkel’s comment the situation became even more dramatic.

Hungarian authorities had blocked thousands of refugees, who were fleeing violence and war in the Middle East, from boarding trains to Austria or Germany where they wanted to apply for asylum. Families had to sleep in makeshift shelters outside Budapest’s train station, while volunteers were struggling to provide at least a minimum of aid.

On September 4th, chancellor Merkel and her Austrian counterpart Werner Faymann therefore decided to open their countries’ borders for the people stranded in Budapest. Soon afterwards, first trains arrived in Munich, and many Germans welcomed the refugees and supplied food, drinks and clothing. A total of 890.000 asylum seekers entered Germany in 2015.

“The German government’s reaction was not an open-door policy, but a humanitarian reaction on the basis of international law”, Petra Bendel, a professor for political science at Friedrich-Alexander University in Erlangen, told IPS.

She also pointed out that Merkel’s grand coalition switched to a more restrictive refugee policy within weeks.

For example, the coalition introduced residence restrictions for asylum seekers. Instead of giving out money, some social benefits are provided in kind. And by granting only subsidiary protection instead of refugee status for Syrians, family reunions were made more difficult. On top of that, the German government started to push forward returns and expulsions.

“Timing suggests that these policy proposals must have existed in the drawers and waited for their time to come, since they were introduced in record time”, Bendel, who is also a member of The Expert Council on Integration and Migration, added.

But the rapid shift to a more restrictive stance on immigration and even the steep decline in the number of refugees coming to Germany in 2016 did not lead to a recovery of Merkel’s popularity.

Those parts of society that saw refugees as a threat to their wealth and security had already turned their back on her. Social networks were flooded with “Merkel must go!”-postings. After the events of Cologne and other cities, where groups of migrants sexually assaulted hundreds of women on New Year’s Eve 2015, tensions within the German society intensified.

“The events clearly had a decisive effect on public opinion”, said Bendel. “Survey data showed that in January 2016 for the first time a clear majority – 60 percent of survey participants instead of 46 percent in December – considered that Germany could not cope with such a large number of refugees.”

In the same time, eurosceptic right-wing party AfD gained momentum with a fierce and populist anti-immigrant rhetoric. The party easily surpassed the long-established Greens, the Left Party, and the Liberals in several regional elections with double digit results. In return, Merkel’s own Christian Democrats suffered one defeat after another.

In recent weeks, however, polls showed diminishing support for AfD. But it was not Merkel’s conservative block that benefitted. Instead, the Social Democrats which have been the junior partner in the ruling coalition made a comeback after nominating Martin Schulz, the former president of the European Parliament, as their candidate for chancellor.

Schulz already outpolled Angela Merkel in personal popularity.

“The few moderate AfD-supporters have migrated to the Social Democrats because they believe Martin Schulz could oust Angela Merkel, whom they hate”, Manfred Güllner, the head of pollster Forsa commented a survey that his institute conducted for TV network RTL and magazine Stern.

However, the resurge of the Social Democrats does not mean that refugee policy will not play a major role in the campaign for the national election due in September.

“Analyzing the party platforms, migration issues are on top of each and every party’s agenda”, Bendel said. “The danger exists that particularly the AfD’s campaign, which has already been leaked, further builds on irrational, explosive contents and appeals to most primitive instincts.”

Political observers now see a chance that after twelve years, Angela Merkel could lose the chancellorship.

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Five Key G20 Powers Break Promise to Help Tackle Corruptionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/five-key-g20-powers-break-promise-to-help-tackle-corruption/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=five-key-g20-powers-break-promise-to-help-tackle-corruption http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/five-key-g20-powers-break-promise-to-help-tackle-corruption/#comments Thu, 23 Feb 2017 15:09:45 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149086 Credit: IPS

Credit: IPS

By IPS World Desk
ROME/BERLIN, Feb 23 2017 (IPS)

Five key G20 countries are failing to meet commitments to publish data that helps tackle corruption, warns a new report by international anti-corruption watchdogs.

“If the data was publicly available it could be used to curb criminal activities, including money laundering and tax evasion,” according to the joint research, published on February 23 by Transparency International (TI) and the Web Foundation.

“In 2015 the G20 (Group of the 20 most industrialised countries) agreed that in order to help stop corruption, governments should publish data on open data platforms so that civil society could monitor the use of public resources, including how taxes are spent, how contracts are awarded and how money is funnelled into political campaigns.”

Connecting the Dots: Building the Case for Open Data to Fight Corruption looked at how much progress Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa have made in implementing the G20 Anti-Corruption Open Data Principles, according to the research. These countries were chosen as a representative global and economic cross-section of G20 countries.

The conclusion is clear: there is not enough progress, says the report, adding that no country has released all the information and much of the information that has been released is hard to find and use.

According to the report, none of the countries posted any information about who owns companies (beneficial ownership information). France was the only country to publish some information on lobbying activities and only Brazil published information about government spending.

“Governments need to step up their game if open data is to put a dent in global corruption. ..They must work to change attitudes among civil servants, invest in vital technology and the development of skills, and crucially, they must enshrine G20 Principles into national law,” said Robin Hodess, interim Internal Managing Director of Transparency International and a co-author of the report.

“The Panama Papers showed us the scale of corruption happening in the shadows that datasets can help reveal. These developments called for urgent solutions. That governments are instead dragging their feet on mobilising open data raises questions about their commitment to transparency,” said Craig Fagan, Web Foundation Policy Director.

Transparency International and the Web Foundation analysed ten data sets linked to anti-corruption measures. These included public information on lobbying, land registrations, government spending, beneficial ownership of companies and political financing.

According to the report, researchers scored the quality of each data set using a nine-point checklist that includes an assessment of the timeliness for publication and updates, ease of access, provision of supporting documents, and the ability to cross-reference data sets.

“France performed best, scoring an average of 5.4 out of a possible 9 points. Indonesia received the lowest score, managing just 1.5 points.”

The dataset that had the most information was on government budgets with an average score of 7.8 across the five countries, says the report.

However, government spending and lobbying registers each scored 1.6 and land registers scored 1.8. This shows that governments are not collecting or disseminating crucial information in key areas prone to corruption.”

Key Findings:

No country released all anti-corruption datasets
• France showed the most progress, publishing eight of ten datasets identified as key to anti-corruption
• Brazil was the only country to publish data on government spending
• No country has a beneficial ownership register – despite all showing some level of commitment to do so at last year’s Anti-Corruption Summit in London.

When released, data is not always useful and useable
• In many cases the data is stale and lacks granularity – making meaningful insights difficult to draw
• Access is a problem in all countries, with datasets hard to find and not all available from a single platform, meaning those looking to identify corruption need to dig further to find critical information

Data not published to open data standards
• Only France published the majority of its datasets in line with open data standards
• This lack of adherence to open data standards makes merging and comparing datasets difficult, particularly between countries

Lack of open data skills

• Although some countries do offer some level of open data training for staff, these rarely incorporate an anti-corruption focus

Transparency International and the Web Foundation call for governments to take immediate steps to publish more information that can be used to fight corruption.

The report makes recommendations on the required legal measures needed to enforce open data and for commitments to invest in training.

Finally, the report suggests that in order for governments to make open data the default option, there will need to a change of culture, which will only come about when there are formal incentives for openness.

The full report can be downloaded here. The five country case studies: Brazil, France, Germany, Indonesia and South Africa.

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Trump Marks the End of a Cyclehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/trump-marks-the-end-of-a-cycle/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 18:14:27 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149052 Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.]]>

Roberto Savio is co-founder of Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and its President Emeritus. He is also publisher of OtherNews.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

Let us stop debating what newly-elected US President Trump is doing or might do and look at him in terms of historical importance. Put simply, Trump marks the end of an American cycle!

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Like it or not, for the last two centuries the entire planet has been living in an Anglophone-dominated world. First there was Pax Britannica (from the beginning of the 19th century when Britain started building its colonial empire until the end of the Second World War, followed by the United States and Pax Americana with the building of the so-called West).

The United States emerged from the Second World War as the main winner and founder of what became the major international institutions – from the United Nations to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) – with Europe reduced to the role of follower. In fact, under the Marshall Plan, the United States became the force behind the post-war reconstruction of Europe.

As winner, the main interest of the United States was to establish a ‘world order’ based on its values and acting as guarantor of the ‘order’.

Thus the United Nations was created with a Security Council in which it could veto any resolution, and the World Bank was created with the US dollar as the world’s currency, not with a real world currency as British economist and delegate John Maynard Keynes had proposed. The creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) – as a response to any threat from the Soviet Union – was an entirely American idea.

The lexicon of international relations was largely based on Anglo-Saxon words, and often difficult to translate into other languages – terms such as accountability, gender mainstreaming, sustainable development, and so on. French and German disappeared as international languages, and lifestyle became the ubiquitous American export – from music to food, films and clothes. All this helped to reinforce American myths.

The United States thrust itself forward as the “model for democracy” throughout the world, based on the implied assertion that what was good for the United States was certainly good for all other countries. The United States saw itself as having an exceptional destiny based on its history, its success and its special relationship with God. Only US presidents could speak on behalf of the interests of humankind and invoke God.

The economic success of the United States was merely confirmation of its exceptional destiny – but the much touted American dream that anyone could become rich was unknown elsewhere.

The first phase of US policy after the Second World War was based on multilateralism, international cooperation and respect for international law and free trade – a system which assured the centrality and supremacy of the United States, reinforced by its military might,

The United Nations, which grew from its original 51 countries in 1945 to nearly 150 in just a few decades, was the forum for establishing international cooperation based on the values of universal democracy, social justice and equal participation.

In 1974, the UN General Assembly unanimously adopted the Charter of Economic Rights and Duties of States – the first (and only) plan for global governance – which called for a plan of action to reduce world inequalities and redistribute wealth and economic production. But this quickly became to be seen by the United States as a straitjacket.

The arrival of Ronald Reagan at the White House in in1981 marked an abrupt change in this phase of American policy based on multilateralism and shared international cooperation. A few months before taking office, Reagan had attended the North-South Economic Summit in Cancun, Mexico, where the 22 most important heads of state (with China as the only socialist country) had met to discuss implementation of the General Assembly resolution.

Reagan, who met up with enthusiastic British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, stopped the plan for global governance dead in its tracks. I was there and saw how, to my dismay, the world went from multilateralism to the old policy of power in just two days. The United State simply refused to see its destiny being decided by others – and that was the start of the decline of the United Nations, with the United States refusing to sign any international treaty or obligation.

America’s dream and its exceptional destiny were strengthened by the rhetoric of Reagan who even went as far as slogan sing “God is American”.

It is important to note that, following Reagan’s example, all the other major powers were happy to be freed of multilateralism. The Reagan administration, allied with that of Thatcher, provided an unprecedented example of how to destroy the values and practices of international relations and the fact that Reagan has probably been the most popular president in his country’s history shows the scarce significance that the average American citizen gives to international cooperation.

Under Reagan, three major simultaneous events shaped our world. The first was deregulation of the financial system in 1982, later reinforced by US President Bill Clinton in 1999, which has led to the supremacy of finance, the results of which are glaringly evident today.

The second was the creation in 1989 of an economic vision based on the supremacy of the market as the force underpinning societies and international relations – the so-called Washington Consensus – thus opening the door for neoliberalism as the undisputed economic doctrine.

Third, also in 1989, came the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the end of the “threat” posed by the Soviet bloc.

It was at this point that the term “globalisation” became the buzzword, and that the United States was once again going to be the centre of its governance. With its economic superiority, together with the international financial institution which it basically controlled, plus the fact that the Soviet “threat” had now disappeared, the United States was once again placing itself at the centre of the world.

As Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State under presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, once said, “Globalisation is another term for U.S. domination.”

This phase ran from 1982 until the financial crisis of 2008, when the collapse of American banks, followed by contagion in Europe, forced the system to question the Washington Consensus as an undisputable theory.

Doubts were also being voiced loudly through the growing mobilisation of civil society /the World Social Forum, for example, had been created in 1981) and by the offensive of many economists who had previously remained in silence.

The latter began insisting that macroeconomics – the preferred instrument of globalisation – looked only at the big figures. If microeconomics was used instead, they argued, it would become clear that there was very unequal distribution of growth (not to be confused with development) and that delocalisation and other measures which ignored the social impact of globalisation, were having disastrous consequences.

The disasters created by three centuries of geed as the main value of the “new economy” were becoming evident through figures showing an unprecedented concentration of wealth in a few hands, with many victims – especially among the younger generation.

All this was accompanied by two new threats: the explosion of Islamic terrorism, widely recognised as a result of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the phenomenon of mass migration, which largely came after the Iraq war but multiplied after the interventions in Syria and Libya in 2011, and for which the United States and the European Union bear full responsibility.

Overnight, the world passed from greed to fear – the two motors of historical change in the view of many historians.

And this is brings us to Mr. Trump. From the above historical excursion, it is easy to understand how he is simply the product of American reality.

Globalisation, initially an American instrument of supremacy, has meant that everyone can use the market to compete, with China the most obvious example. Under globalisation, many new emerging markets entered the scene, from Latin America to Asia. The United States, along with Europe, have become the victims of the globalisation which both perceived as an elite-led phenomenon.

Let us not forget that, after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, ideologies were thrown by the wayside. Politics became mere administrative competition, devoid of vision and values. Corruption increased, citizens stopped participating, political parties became self-referential, politicians turned into a professional caste, and elite global finance became isolated in fiscal paradises.

Young people looked forward to a future of unemployment or, at best temporary jobs, at the same time as they watched over four trillion dollars being spent in a few years to save the banking system.

The clarion call from those in power was, by and large, let us go back to yesterday, but to an even better yesterday – against any law of history. Then came Brexit and Trump.

We are now witnessing the conclusion of Pax Americana and the return to a nationalist and isolationist America. It will take some time for Trump voters to realise that what he is doing does not match his promises, that the measures he is putting in place favour the financial and economic elites and not their interests.

We are now facing a series of real questions.

Will the ideologue who helped Trump be elected – Stephen Bannon, chief executive officer of Trump’s presidential campaign – have the time to destroy the world both have inherited Will the world will be able to establish a world order without the United States at its centre? How many of the values that built modern democracy will be able to survive and become the bases for global governance?

A new international order cannot be built without common values, just on nationalism and xenophobia.

Bannon is organising a new international alliance of populists, xenophobes and nationalists – made up of thee likes of Nicholas Farage (United Kingdom), Matteo Salvini and Beppe Grillo (Italy), Marine Le Pen (France) and Geert Wilders (Netherlands) – with Washington as their point of reference.

After the elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany this year, will know how this alliance will fare, but one thing is clear – if, beyond its national agenda, the Trump administration succeeds in creating a new international order based on illiberal democracy, we should start to worry because war will not be far away.

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Humanitarian Crisis, Result of Decades of Globalization with No Concern for Social Justicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/humanitarian-crisis-result-of-decades-of-globalization-with-no-concern-for-social-justice/#comments Tue, 21 Feb 2017 09:26:59 +0000 Hanif Hassan Al Qassim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149041 Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

Dr. Al Qassim' op-ed is issued on the occasion for World Day of Social Justice 2017. ]]>

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim, Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue, a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

Dr. Al Qassim' op-ed is issued on the occasion for World Day of Social Justice 2017.

By Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim
GENEVA, Feb 21 2017 (IPS)

The distressing images of desperate people making the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean Sea and the Balkans to escape armed conflict, social tensions, discrimination and poverty harm the preconditions to achieve social harmony.

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

Dr. Hanif Hassan Al Qassim

This humanitarian crisis is the result of decades of freewheeling globalization with no concern for social justice in all countries. One of its consequences is social upheavals and mass exodus.

What remains today of the peace and its dividends that were supposed to accrue to the poorer countries as a consequence of the ending of the East-West conflict?

The proliferation of armed conflicts, particularly in the Middle East, further undermine the well-being of societies.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 4 million people have left Syria owing to the continued violence in the country. The majority of them live now in shelters and camps as internally displaced persons scattered throughout the region in countries such as Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.

The world has not witnessed mass exodus of this proportion since the end of World War II.

As the Chairman of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue (Geneva Center), I participated as a panel member in a side-event that was held 06 December 2016 by the Geneva Centre in relation to the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development.

During our panel deliberation, I observed that structural violence and the ongoing-armed conflicts and displacement were in contradiction with the vision expressed by the Declaration on the Right to Development.

The negative impact of violence tramples both human rights to life and to development.

Widening income equality also gives rise to social tensions that destabilize societies. Lack of employment opportunities stifle economic growth and result in poverty, which give rise to unemployment and social tensions.

Addressing social tensions requires adopting measures to eradicate poverty, ensure the promotion of employment and decent work, and eliminate the root-causes of inequality. By inequality, one should refer to both inequality in access to public goods, to income and gender inequality.

The realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a good starting-point. SDG 10 stipulates the need to reduce inequality between and within countries. SDG 8 similarly reminds the world of the importance of promoting sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth to eradicate inequality. Lastly, SDG 5 specifies the need to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls through the elimination of violence and discrimination.

The 2030 Agenda is a bold roadmap for states to foster social cohesion and social harmony.

Another cause of social tension is the application of universal coercive measures. Such measures are discriminatory and hinder the capacity of governments to execute their functions in the interest of their citizens, and very often target the vulnerable segments of populations rather than the elites.

The denial of access to technology, food and patented medicines negatively affects the enjoyment of basic human rights.

Indeed, social development is central to the needs and aspirations of people throughout the world. The aim is to live in a peaceful, just and equitable society that ensures the fair distribution of income, access to resources and equality of opportunities for all.

We need to seize the opportunity to address the causes of social instability and economic backsliding. People must be empowered so as to enable them to realize their potential and take ownership of their destinies.

Identifying, addressing and eradicating the root-causes of social injustice will enable us to promote a more equitable development that puts the human being at the centre, and creates synergies between societal development and human security.

Addressing social injustice is in our common interest to promote a more sustainable international order.

I would like to end this statement by sharing a quote from Martin Luther King Jr:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

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Confusion over U.S. Travel Ban Grounds Foreign Correspondentshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/confusion-over-u-s-travel-ban-grounds-foreign-correspondents/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 16:20:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149031 Confusion over the implementation of the US travel ban has left journalists unable to travel. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

Confusion over the implementation of the US travel ban has left journalists unable to travel. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

New restrictions on immigrants and refugees coming to the United States are also posing challenges for foreign correspondents covering news in the United States. Some have had to indefinitely postpone plans to report on conflicts in the Middle East while others have found an unfriendly reminder of their past treatment as journalists in less free countries.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order sent shockwaves throughout the world as citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries and all refugees were barred from entering the country for 90 days and 120 days respectively.

Though the travel ban is temporarily on hold following a court decision to reject its reinstatement, President Trump stood by his policy, calling it “common sense” and promising to keep “the wrong people” out of the U.S. Trump announced Thursday that he would sign a new Executive Order next week which will address some of the legal issues raised by the U.S. courts.

Within the millions affected by the travel ban are journalists, many of whom were caught amidst the chaos and confusion as the initial Executive Order was implemented.

In the wake of the order, BBC journalist Ali Hamedani, an Iranian-born British citizen, was detained and questioned upon his arrival at Chicago’s O’Hare airport for over two hours.

“I was always dreaming to live here, to write stories here, to be able to travel to places and write whatever I wanted to write about without being persecuted,” -- Journalist Sama Dizayee.

He said his phone and computer were searched, including his social media accounts.

”It wasn’t pleasant at all. To be honest with you, I was arrested back home in Iran in 2009 because I was working for the BBC and I felt the same this time,“ he said.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, a dual American and Iranian citizen, also expressed his fear about the “major” impact of the new policy on his family, stating: “This isn’t the America I promised [my wife] when we were finally set free.”

Rezaian spent nearly two years in an Iranian prison after being arrested on charges including espionage and propaganda against the government.

CNN editor and award-winning journalist Mohammed Tawfeeq, who is an Iraqi national and legal permanent resident of the U.S., was detained in Atlanta where he was subjected to additional screening. He promptly filed a federal lawsuit challenging the executive order.

“We are concerned when policies adopted by countries restrict the access and movement of journalists…We believe that journalists should be allowed to enter countries, to report on them regardless of where those countries are,” Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)’s Advocacy Director Courtney Radsch told IPS.

The ban also affects foreign correspondents covering the United Nations. Although there is a specific exception for journalists traveling as part of diplomatic delegations to the United Nations, the original executive order does not directly address any other media visas given to foreign media representatives traveling to or who are already in the country.

The restrictions have also concerned journalist Sama Dizayee, an Iraqi journalist who is a green card holding legal permanent resident in the U.S.

Dizayee told IPS that she had a trip planned to London but was forced to cancel it once the travel ban was implemented.

“I wake up and [saw] all of these people that were detained, deported back to their home countries…I was like oh my god I’m a legal resident here in America and I came all the way from Iraq here to pursue journalism, a dream that I always wanted and now my freedom is threatened,” she told IPS.

The Department of Homeland Security later clarified the policy in relation to green card holders, stating that U.S. permanent residents from one of the seven countries are not automatically barred from entry and will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Despite this, Dizayee, who initially had refugee status before becoming a permanent resident, said she still did not want to take the risk.

“Do I really want to become subject to extra screening and hours of being held at the airport? Do I really want to be profiled as a Muslim Iraqi here in the U.S.? This is not an experience I want to remember,” she said.

Dizayee told IPS that she has always been subjected to extra screening due to her background, waiting for hours to be released.

“That really stays with you…and it has now become a law with this travel ban,” she said.

Dizayee highlighted that the stakes are particularly high for journalists whose work is now limited due to the inability to travel.

“[Journalists] go places to cover stories—they go to Iraq, to Lebanon, we travel all the time,” she said, adding that she had planned to travel to Iraq to cover the Mosul battle.

“I can’t be there now, I can’t write that story,” Dizayee continued.

CPJ issued a safety advisory for journalists, recommending that those who are from one of the seven countries with media visas in the U.S. should not leave within the time period covered by the executive order.

Radsch also advised journalists not to travel with mobile or other devices or to make sure confidential or important information is backed up rather than on their devices.

“This order is helping to highlight the importance of [digital security] for journalists,” she told IPS.

The U.S. order has already emboldened other governments to implement similar policies, including the Iraqi government which approved a “reciprocity” measure banning Americans from entering the Middle Eastern country, further restricting information flow across borders and journalists’ ability to report.

Radsch highlighted the need to get clarity on how the order is impacting journalists and what the regulations are.

She also told IPS that journalists have been subject to secondary screening and questioning at the border before this new policy, including Canadian photojournalist Ed Ou who was pulled aside and interrogated for six hours on his way to cover the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. After refusing to surrender the password to his devices, Ed Ou was denied entry into the U.S.

Dizayee expressed uncertainty and apprehension regarding the future of the new travel restrictions.

“I was always dreaming to live here, to write stories here, to be able to travel to places and write whatever I wanted to write about without being persecuted,” she told IPS.

“I am not going anywhere for the next 90 days for sure,” Dizayee continued.

The immigration executive order, initially implemented at the end of January, was denounced by several human rights groups and politicians, including the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who said: “Discrimination on nationality alone is forbidden under human rights law. The US ban is also mean spirited, and wastes resources needed for proper counter-terrorism.”

Similarly, Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Sarif, said the Trump Administration’s decision would be recorded in history as “a great gift to extremists and their supporters” while Swedish foreign affairs minister Margot Wallström said she was “deeply concerned” by a decision that “creates mistrust between people.”

Others expressed support for the move including Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull who stated that “”it is vital that every nation is able to control who comes across its borders.”

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Aging, Depression and Disease in South Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aging-depression-and-disease-in-south-africa-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aging-depression-and-disease-in-south-africa-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/aging-depression-and-disease-in-south-africa-2/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 15:47:04 +0000 Manoj K. Pandey - and Raghav Gaiha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149029 Manoj K. Pandey is Lecturer in Economics, Development Policy Centre, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia; Vani S. Kulkarni is Lecturer in Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, USA; and Raghav Gaiha is (Honorary) Professorial Fellow, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.]]> The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 in South Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo / IPS

The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 in South Africa. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo / IPS

By Manoj K. Pandey, Vani S. Kulkarni and Raghav Gaiha
Canberra, Philadelphia and Manchester, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

Old age is often characterised by poor health due to isolation, morbidities and disabilities in carrying out activities of daily living (DADLs) leading to depression.

Mental disorders—in different forms and intensities— affect most of the population in their lifetime. In most cases, people experiencing mild episodes of depression or anxiety deal with them without disrupting their productive activities. A substantial minority of the population, however, experiences more disabling conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder type I, severe recurrent depression, and severe personality disorders. While common mild disorders are amenable to self-management and relatively simple educational or support measures, severe mental illness demands complex, multi-level care that involves a longer-term engagement with the individual, and with the family. Yet, despite the considerable burden and its associated adverse human, economic, and social effects, governments and donors have failed to prioritise treatment and care of people with mental illness. Indeed, pervasive stigma and discrimination contributes to the imbalance between the burden of disease due to mental disorders, and the attention these conditions receive.

The percentage of the population aged 60 years and above in South Africa rose from 7.1% in 1996 to 8 % in 2011, an increase from 2.8 million to 4.1 million individuals. The proportion of persons 60 years and older is projected to almost double during 2000–2030 because of (i) a marked decline in fertility in the past few decades; (ii) the HIV and AIDS pandemic contributing to this change in the population structure, with a higher mortality of young adults, especially women of reproductive age; and (iii) a rise in life expectancy to 62 years in 2013-– a staggering increase of 8.5 years since the low in 2005.

Four in ten elderly persons in South Africa are poor. More than a third make an average living, and the rich constitute about 27%. Provincial variations show that rural provinces have higher proportions of poor elderly persons compared to those residing in the urban provinces. Racial differences show that elderly Whites and Indians/Asians occupied a higher socio-economic status than black Africans and Coloureds.

Ours is the first study that offers a comprehensive analysis of depression among the old (60+ years) in South Africa, using the four waves of the National Income Dynamics Study (SA-NIDS) (2008, 2010, 2012 and 2014).

A self-reported measure of depression is used. SA-NIDS gives data on not depressed in a week, depressed for 1-2 days, 3-4 days and 5-7 days. We focus on those depressed for ≥ 3 days in a week. Referring to this as a measure of severe depression, its prevalence reduced from 15.3 % among the old in 2008 to 14.5 % in 2014, with a dip to 12.6 % in 2012.

Aging is a major factor in depression. Those in early 60s are generally more depressed than older persons in their 70s and 80s.

Old women were consistently more depressed than old men, as they are subject to violence. It is associated with conflicts over the man’s drinking, the woman having more than one partner, and her not having post-school education. Another factor is that women are typically much more likely to be overweight and obese, leading to non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and subsequently higher depression . A challenging aspect of obesity prevention among black South Africans is the positive perception that both women and men attach to a large body size.

Married men and women are less depressed than others. Marriage thus serves as a barrier to loneliness and a source of support during periods of stress for old persons. However, old persons in larger households without any other old person are more prone to depression. It is not clear whether larger households result in neglect of old persons or their abuse.

Ethnicity matters. The Africans are more prone to depression than the reference group of the Whites and Coloureds. There is limited evidence suggesting that Asians/Indians/Others are less likely to be depressed.

Pensioners are less likely to be depressed despite some evidence in the literature on pooling of pensions with other household resources and denying the pensioner any financial autonomy. Although this can’t be ruled out, it is evident that the favourable effect of pensions in preventing depression is robust.

Of particular significance are the results on multimorbidity (more than one disease at a time). Two combinations of NCDs (diabetes and high BP, and cancer and heart disease) are positively associated with depression. Equally important are the associations between disabilities in activities of daily living or DADLs (e.g. difficulties in dressing,bathing, eating, walking, climbing stairs) and depression. In many cases, both sets of DADLs are positively associated with depression. The relationship between depression and body mass index or BMI categories (underweight, normal, overweight and obese) is not so robust except that in some cases overweight were less likely to be depressed than the reference category of obese.

Shock of a family member’s death (in the last 24 months) was robustly linked to higher incidence of depression. There is some evidence suggesting that this shock had stronger effects on women relative to men.

As loneliness and lack of support during a difficult situation can precipitate stress leading to depression, we experimented with measures of social capital and trust as barriers to depression, and the mediating role of preference for the same neighbourhood.

Although social capital doesn’t have a significant negative effect on depression, social trust does. Besides, the mediating role of preference for the current neighbourhood is confirmed in most cases. An exceptional case is that of the Africans for whom neither social capital nor social trust is of any consequence except the mediating role of preference for the current neighbourhood.

The burden of depression in terms of shares of depressed in total depressed has risen in the more affluent wealth quartiles-especially that of the most affluent. However, likelihood of depression remained lower among the third and fourth quartiles, implying that the likelihood of depression was higher in the poorest (or the least wealthy). It is somewhat surprising that despite marked inequalities even among the Africans, there is no wealth effect on depression.

Although older people are in worse health than those younger, older people use health services much less frequently. These patterns of utilization arise from barriers to access, a lack of appropriate services and the prioritization of services towards the acute needs of younger people.

A larger ethical issue is rationing of health care to older people on the notion that health services are scarce and must be allocated to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number of people. WHO 2015 rejects this view on two counter-arguments: older people have made the greatest contribution to socioeconomic development that created these services; and they are entitled to live a dignified and healthy life.

Mental health care continues to be under-funded and under-resourced compared to other health priorities in the country; despite the fact that neuropsychiatric disorders are ranked third in their contribution to the burden of disease in South Africa, after HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. In fact, mental health care is usually confined to management of medication for those with severe mental disorders, and does not include detection and treatment of other mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety disorders.

From this perspective, the proposed National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2013-2020 is a bold and comprehensive initiative.

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Of Arabs and Muslims and the Big Banhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/of-arabs-and-muslims-and-the-big-ban/#comments Mon, 20 Feb 2017 10:35:02 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149025 This article slightly updates a previous one that IPS had published regarding the recurrent confusion about who are Arabs and who, Muslims.]]> Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

Arab countries in the Middle East and North of Africa. Dark Green: Arab majority population. Light Green: Arab minority countries | Credit: Public Domain.

By Baher Kamal
ROME, Feb 20 2017 (IPS)

Now that President Donald Trump’s decision to ban citizens of seven Muslim majority countries from entering the United States continues to drift into legal labyrinths about its legality–or not, it may be useful to clarify some myths that often lead to an even greater confusion regarding the over-written, under-reported issue of who are Arabs and who Muslims.

To start with, it is a common belief – too often heralded by the mainstream media – that the Middle East is formed entirely of Arab countries, and that it is about the so-wrongly called Muslim, Arab World.

This is simply not accurate.

Firstly, because such an Arab World (or Arab Nation) does not actually exist as such. There is not much in common between a Mauritanian and an Omani; a Moroccan and a Yemeni; an Egyptian and a Bahraini, just to mention some examples. They all have different ethnic roots, history, original languages, traditions and religious beliefs.

Example: The Amazighs – also known as the Berbers – are an ethnic group indigenous to the North of Africa, living in lands stretching from the Atlantic cost to the Western Desert in Egypt. Historically, they spoke Berber languages.

There are around 25-30 million Berber speakers in North Africa. The total number of ethnic Berbers (including non-Berber speakers) is estimated to be far greater. They have been “Arabised” and “Islamised” since the Muslim conquest of North of Africa in the 7th century.

Secondly, because not all Muslims are Arabs, nor all Arabs are Muslims. Not to mention the very fact that not all Arabs are even Arabs. It would be more accurate to talk about “Arabised,” “Islamised” peoples or nations rather than an Arab World or Arab Nation.

Here are seven key facts about Muslims that large media, in particular the Western information tools, often neglect or ignore:

1. Not all Muslims Are Arabs

In fact, according to the most acknowledged statistics, the number of Muslims around the world amounts to an estimated 1.56 billion people, compared to estimated 2.2 billion Christians and 1.4 million Jewish.

Of this total, Arab countries are home to around 380 million people, that is only about 24 per cent of all Muslims.

2. Not all Arabs Are Muslims

While Islam is the religion of the majority of Arab population, not all Arabs are Muslims.

In fact, it is estimated that Christians represent between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of the Arab combined population. Therefore, Arab Muslims amount to just around one-fifth of all the world’s Muslims.

Arab Christians are concentrated mainly in the Palestinian Territories, Lebanon and Egypt, where they represent up to 13 per cent of the total population amounting to 95 million inhabitants according to last year’s census.

It is also estimated that there are more Muslims in the United Kingdom than in Lebanon, and more Muslims in China than in Syria.

3. Major Muslim Countries Are in Asia

According to the U.S-based Pew Research Center, this would be the percentage of major religious groups in 2012: Christianity 31.5 per cent; Islam 23.2 per cent; Hinduism 15.0 per cent, and Buddhism 7.1 per cent of the world’s total population.

Meanwhile, the Pew Research Center estimated that in 2010 there were 49 Muslim-majority countries.

South and Southeast Asia would account for around 62 per cent of the world’s Muslims.

According to these estimates, the largest Muslim population in a single country lives in Indonesia, which is home to 12.7 per cent of all world’s Muslims.

Pakistan (with 11.0 per cent of all Muslims) is the second largest Muslim-majority nation, followed by India (10.9 per cent), and Bangladesh (9.2 per cent).

The Pew Research Center estimates that about 20 per cent of Muslims live in Arab countries, and that two non-Arab countries – Turkey and Iran – are the largest Muslim-majority nations in the Middle East.

In short, a large number of Muslim majority countries are not Arabs. This is the case of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Indonesia, Pakistan and Turkey.

3. Largest Muslim Groups

It is estimated that 75 to 90 per cent of Islam followers are Sunni, while Shii represent 10 to 20 per cent of the global Muslim population.

The sometimes armed, violent conflicts between these two groups are often due to political impositions. But this is not restricted to Arab or Muslim countries, as evidenced by the decades of armed conflict between Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland.

4. Muslims Do Not Have Their Own God

In Arabic (the language in which the sacred book, the Koran, was written and diffused) the word “table” is said “tawla;” a “tree” is called “shajarah;” and a “book” is “ketab.” In Arabic “God” is “Allah”.

In addition, Islam does not at all deny the existence of Christianity or Christ. And it does fully recognise and pay due respect to the Talmud and the Bible.

Probably the main difference is that Islam considers Christ as God’s closest and most beloved “prophet,” not his son.

5. Islamic “Traditions”

Islam landed in the 7th century in the Gulf or Arab Peninsula deserts. There, both men and women used to cover their faces and heads to protect themselves from the strong heat and sand storms. It is not, therefore, about a purely Islam religious imposition.

Meanwhile, in the Arab deserts, populations used to have nomadic life, with men travelling in caravans, while women and the elderly would handle the daily life of their families. Islamic societies were therefore actually matriarchal.

Genital mutilations are common to Islam, Judaism (male) and many other religious beliefs, in particular in Africa.

Likewise other major monotheistic religions, a number of Muslim clerics have been using faith to increase their influence and power. This is fundamentally why so many “new traditions” have been gradually imposed on Muslims. This is the case, for example, of denying the right of women to education.

As with other major monotheistic religions, some Muslim clerics used their ever-growing powers to promote inhuman, brutal actions. This is the case of “Jihad” fundamentalists.

This has not been an exclusive case of Muslims along the history of humankind. Just remember the Spanish-Portuguese invasion of Latin America, where indigenous populations were exterminated and Christianity imposed by the sword, for the sake of the glory of Kings, Emperors… and Popes.

6. The Unfinished Wars between the West and Islam (and Vice-Versa)

There is a growing belief among Arab and Muslim academicians that the on-going violent conflicts between Muslims and the West (and vice-versa) are due to the “unfinished” war between the Christian West and the Islamic Ottoman Empire, in spite of the fact that the latter was dismantled in the early 1920s.

This would explain the successive wars in the Balkans and the Middle East, for instance.

7. The “Religion” of Oil

It has become too common, and thus too given for certain, that oil producers are predominantly Arabs and Muslims. This is not accurate.

To start with, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) was founded in (the under British mandate) Baghdad, Iraq, in 1960 by five countries: Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. These were later joined by Qatar (1961), Indonesia (1962), Libya (1962), the United Arab Emirates (1967), Algeria (1969), Nigeria (1971), Ecuador (1973), Gabon (1975) and Angola (2007).

And here you are: OPEC full membership includes: Ecuador, Venezuela, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. None of these is either Arab or Muslim. They are all Christian states. As for Iran and Indonesia, these are Muslim countries, but not Arab.

Then you have other major oil and gas producers and exporters outside the OPEC ranks: the United States [which produces more oil (13,973,000 barrels per day) than Saudi Arabia (11,624,000)]; Russia (10,853,000); China (4,572,000); Canada (4,383,000, more than United Arab Emirates or Iran or Iraq); Norway (1,904,000, more than Algeria) and Mexico, among others.

Again, none of these oil producers is Arab or Muslim.

In short, not all Muslims are Arabs (these are less than 20 per cent of the total); not all Arabs are Muslims, and… not all Arabs are even Arabs!

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Alternative Mining Indaba Makes Its Voice Heardhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/alternative-mining-indaba-makes-its-voice-heard/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=alternative-mining-indaba-makes-its-voice-heard http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/alternative-mining-indaba-makes-its-voice-heard/#comments Sat, 18 Feb 2017 04:00:11 +0000 Mark Olalde http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149007 A delegate from the Alternative Mining Indaba dances during a protest march on Feb. 8, 2017. About 450 representatives of civil society mining-affected communities attended the conference in Cape Town. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

A delegate from the Alternative Mining Indaba dances during a protest march on Feb. 8, 2017. About 450 representatives of civil society mining-affected communities attended the conference in Cape Town. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

By Mark Olalde
CAPE TOWN, South Africa, Feb 18 2017 (IPS)

“Comrades, we have arrived. This cherry is eight years awaited. We have made it to this place,” Bishop Jo Seoka told the crowd, pausing to allow for the whistles and cheers.

Seoka, the chairman of a South African NGO called the Bench Marks Foundation, presided over the crowd of protesters that was busy verbally releasing years of frustration at the continent’s mining industry. The protest on Feb. 8 was part of the Alternative Mining Indaba (AMI) held in Cape Town.“We want transparency, we want accountability and, most importantly, we want participation of the people affected by mining." --Mandla Hadebe

The annual gathering brings together residents of mining-affected communities and civil society representatives to discuss common problems caused by the mining industry in Africa. On its third and final day, the AMI took to the streets to deliver its declaration of demands to industry and government representatives.

While police temporarily blocked the march from reaching the convention center hosting the Mining Indaba, the industry’s counterpart to the AMI, protesters were angry after years of having their side of the story largely ignored.

They marched up to the line of police and private security guarding the doors to the conference hall and demanded to speak with members of the Mining Indaba.

“As citizens and representations (sic) citizen-organisations we wish to express our willingness to work with African governments and other stakeholders in the quest to harness the continent’s vast extractive resources to underpin Africa’s socio-economic transformation and the [Africa Mining Vision] lays a foundation for this,” the declaration stated.

“I very much appreciate the willingness to engage in dialogue, and I think this is the first step towards establishing a common vision,” Tom Butler, CEO of the International Council on Mining & Metals, told the crowd before signing receipt of the declaration and handing it over for the managing director of the Mining Indaba to also sign.

Alternative Mining Indaba participants dance and sing struggle songs during their march on Feb. 8, 2017. Individual countries have begun holding their own alternative indabas, with South Africa’s first country-specific conference held this year in Johannesburg. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

Alternative Mining Indaba participants dance and sing struggle songs during their march on Feb. 8, 2017. Individual countries have begun holding their own alternative indabas, with South Africa’s first country-specific conference held this year in Johannesburg. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

While Butler came to the AMI to give a presentation on the mining industry’s behalf, few other members of government or the industry made an attempt to engage with the AMI. The Mining Indaba’s Twitter account even blocked some AMI delegates who took to social media to air their grievances.

The official Mining Indaba is a place for mining ministers, CEOs of mining houses and other industry representatives to network and strike deals. During the event, South Africa and Japan, for example, signed a bilateral agreement to boost collaboration along the mining value chain.

“This Indaba has affirmed South Africa’s status as a preferred investment destination,” Mosebenzi Zwane, the country’s minerals minister, said in a statement following the event. “As government, we are heartened by this and recommit to ensuring the necessary regulatory and policy certainty to attract even more investment into our country.”

In his opening address at the Mining Indaba, Zwane also announced that the draft of the new Mining Charter, a document guiding the country’s mining industry, would be published in March.

The AMI, however, was born as a community-level response to the fact that such decisions are usually made without consulting those most impacted by mining.

“They are going to find this huddled mass of people,” Mandla Hadebe, one of the event organizers, said of the protest’s goals in the first year. Only 40 delegates were present.

An Alternative Mining Indaba delegate from Swaziland sings protest songs. There was a feeling of triumph among the delegates after achieving even a degree of acknowledgement from industry representatives. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

An Alternative Mining Indaba delegate from Swaziland sings protest songs. There was a feeling of triumph among the delegates after achieving even a degree of acknowledgement from industry representatives. Credit: Mark Olalde/IPS

In its eighth year, the AMI has grown to about 450 participants representing 43 countries. Delegates came from across Africa – from Egypt to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Malawi – as well as the rest of the world – from Cambodia to Bolivia and Australia – to share their stories.

“It just shows that our struggles are common and that we’ve decided to unite for a common purpose,” Hadebe said of the growth. “We want transparency, we want accountability and, most importantly, we want participation of the people affected by mining.”

A number of panels dedicated to community voices gave activists a platform to share their stories and methods of resistance. Translators in the various conference rooms translated among English, French and Portuguese, a necessity as well as a tacit nod to the ever-present effects of the same colonialism that brought mining.

“What we heard first were promises,” a woman from Peru recounted. “Thirty years passed, and now I call the second part of this process ‘the lies.’”

“We are trying to build a critical mass that is angry enough to oppose irresponsible mining,” a delegate from Kenya explained.

Some panels addressed specific issues facing Africa’s extractive industry. One discussion explained the need to move away from indirect taxes toward direct ones focused on mining houses. The presenter, a member of Tax Justice Network-Africa, said that an increase in government audits had led to a surge in tax revenue since 2009, a rare success story.

Another panel dealt with the realities of impending job loss due to widespread mechanization, while others took on the need for governments to strike better deals with international corporations.

Side events provided forums for more nuanced learning on topics such as the corruption involved with mining on communal land. At the showing of a documentary following South African land rights activist Mbhekiseni Mavuso, delegates from other countries such as Sierra Leone compared and contrasted their own forced relocations.

Mavuso said, “We are regarded as people who do not count. We have now become what we call ‘victims of development,’ and so that is also making us to become victims of democracy. We are fighting, so let us all stand up and fight.”

Occasionally, delegates took to the microphone to lament continued talk with minimal action. Much of the AMI focused on the Africa Mining Vision, a document produced by the African Union. While its goal is to make mining beneficial for all Africans, the document is a high-level policy discussion lacking a direct connection to affected communities.

The three-day conference has outgrown its ability to delve deeply into every issue impacting the represented countries, so delegates have taken the idea to their home nations. In the past year, Madagascar, Angola, Swaziland and others held their first country-specific alternative indabas.

Only a week before the AMI, South Africa hosted its first such conference in Johannesburg.

Despite many delegates expressing feelings of helplessness or anger, the march to the Mining Indaba provided a temporary sense of victory.

After finally obtaining some level of acknowledgment from industry representatives, the AMI participants danced and took selfies outside the Mining Indaba, far from the townships and rural villages adjacent to mines.

As the delegates boarded busses to depart the event, the vehicles shook from stomping and singing, and some protesters leaned out the windows to shout their last parting sentiments on behalf of mining-affected communities around the country and the continent.

*Mark Olalde’s mining reporting is financially supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, the Fund for Environmental Journalism and the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

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Expansion of Renewable Energies in Mexico Has Victims, Toohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/expansion-of-renewable-energies-in-mexico-has-victims/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 22:34:19 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149013 In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

In Mexico, wind farms spark controversy due to complaints of unfair treatment, land dispossession, lack of free, prior and informed consent and exclusion from the electricity generated. In the photo, wind turbines frame the horizon of the northern city of Zacatecas. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
KIMBILÁ, Mexico, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

The growing number of wind and solar power projects in the southern Mexican state of Yucatán are part of a positive change in Mexico’s energy mix. But affected communities do not see it in the same way, due to the fact that they are not informed or consulted, and because of how the phenomenon changes their lives.

“We have no information. We have some doubts, some people say it’s good and some say it’s bad. We have heard what is said in other states,” small farmer Luis Miguel, a Mayan Indian, told IPS.

He lives in Kimbilá, a town in the municipality of Izmal, which is the site of an up-to-now failed private wind power venture that has been blocked by opposition from the area’s 3,600 inhabitants and in particular from the ejido or communal land where the wind farm was to be installed.“There is a lack of information going to the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities.” -- Romel González

“We fear that they will damage our crops,” said Miguel, whose father is one of the 573 members of the Kimbilá ejido, located in the Yucatán Peninsula, 1,350 km southeast of Mexico City.

The questioned project, run by the Spanish company Elecnor, includes the installation of 50 wind turbines with a capacity of 159 MW per year.

The company installed an anemometric tower in 2014, but the local population, who grow maize and garden vegetables, raise small livestock and produce honey for a living, did not find out about the project until January 2016.

Since then, the ejido has held two assemblies and cancelled another, without reaching an agreement to approve a 25-year lease on the lands needed for the wind farm.

Meanwhile, in February 2016, the members of the ejido filed a complaint against the Procuraduría Agraria – the federal agency in charge of protecting rural land – accusing it of defending the interests of the company by promoting community assemblies that were against the law.

The wind farm is to have an operating life of 30 years, including the preparatory phase, construction and operation, and it needs 77 hectares of the 5,000 in the ejido.

The company offered between five and 970 dollars per hectare, depending on the utility of the land for a wind farm, a proposition that caused unrest among the ejido members. It would also give them 1.3 per cent of the turnover for the power generated. But the electricity would not be used to meet local demand.

“We haven’t been given any information. This is not in the best interests of those who work the land. They are going to destroy the vegetation and 30 years is a long time,” beekeeper Victoriano Canmex told IPS.
This indigenous member of the ejido expressed his concern over the potential harm to the bees, “because new roadswould be opened with heavy machinery. They said that they would relocate the apiaries but they know nothing about beekeeping. It’s not fair, we are going to be left with nothing,” he said.

Canmex, who has eight apiaries,checks the beehives twice a week, together with four of his six children. He collects about 25 30-kg barrels of honey, which ends up on European tables. Yucatan honey is highly appreciated in the world, for its quality and organic nature.

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables.  Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Luis Miguel, a Mayan farmer from Kimbilá, in the southeastern state of Yucatán, Mexico, fears that the installation of a wind farm in his community will damage local crops of corn and vegetables. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Yucatán, part of the ancient Mayan empire, where a large part of the population is still indigenous, has become a new energy frontier in Mexico, due to its great potential in wind and solar power.

This state adopted the goal of using 9.3 per cent non-conventional renewable energies by 2018. In Yucatán, the incorporation per year of new generation capacity should total 1,408 MW by 2030.

Leaving out the big hydropower plants, other renewable sources account for just eight per cent of the electricity produced in Mexico. According to official figures, in December 2016, hydropower had an installed capacity of 12,092 MW, geothermal 873 MW, wind power 699 MW, and photovoltaic solar power, six MW.

According to the Mexican Wind Energy Association, which represents the industry, in Mexico there are at least 31 wind farms located in nine states, with a total installed capacity of 3,527 MW of clean energy for the northeast, west, south and southeast regions of this country of 122 million people.

Besides the lack of information, and of free, prior and informed consent, as the law and international conventions require, indigenous people complain about impacts on migratory birds, rise in temperatures in areas with solar panels and water pollution caused by leaks from wind towers.

For Romel González, a member of the non-governmental Regional Indigenous and Popular Council of Xpujil, a town in the neighboring state of Campeche, the process of energy development has legal loopholes that have to do with superficial contracts and environmental impact studies.

“There is a lack of information for the communities, who don’t know the scope of the contracts; (the companies and authorities) don’t explain to them the problems that are going to arise. Conflicts are generated, and manipulation is used to get the permits. Social engineering is used to divide the communities,” González told IPS.

He said that in the region, there are “previously untapped” natural resources that are attracting attention from those interested in stripping the communities of these resources.

The state is experiencing a clean energy boom, with plans for five solar plants, with a total capacity of 536 MW, and five wind farms, with a combined capacity of 256 MW. The concessions for the projects, which are to operate until 2030, have already been awarded to local and foreign companies.

In the first national power generation auction organised by the government in March 2016, four wind power and five solar power projects won, while in the second one, the following September, two new wind projects were chosen.

The change in the electricity mix is based on Mexico’s energy reform, in force since August 2014, which opened the industry to national and international private capital.

Local authorities project that by 2018, wind power generation will amount to 6,099 MW, including 478 from Yucatán, with the total increasing two years later to 12,823 MW, including 2,227 MW from this state.

Yucatán will draw a projected 52 million dollars in investment to this end in 2017 and 1.58 billion in 2018.

The Electricity Industry Law, in effect since 2014, stipulates that each project requires a social impact assessment. But opponents of the wind power projects have no knowledge of any assessment carried out in the state, while there is only evidence of two public consultations with affected communities, in the case of two wind farms.

“The electricity will not be for us and we don’t know what will happen later (once the wind farm is installed). That is why we have our doubts,” said Miguel.

People in Yucatán do not want to replicate the “Oaxaca model”. That is the southern state which has the largest number of wind farms, which have drawn many accusations of unfair treatment, land dispossession and lack of free, prior and informed consent.

“The authorities want to do this by all means, they are just trying to get these projects approved,” said Canmex.

González criticised the government for failing to require assessments. “We have asked for them and the government has responded that there aren’t any. The community response to the projects will depend on their level of awareness and social organisation. Some communities will react too late, when the project is already underway,” he said.

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Still in Limbo, Somaliland Banking on Berberahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/still-in-limbo-somaliland-banking-on-berbera/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=still-in-limbo-somaliland-banking-on-berbera http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/still-in-limbo-somaliland-banking-on-berbera/#comments Fri, 17 Feb 2017 13:10:31 +0000 James Jeffrey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148992 In the capital people encounter a mishmash of chaotic local market commerce existing alongside diaspora-funded construction including glass-fronted office buildings, Wi-Fi enabled cafes and air-conditioned gyms, all suffused with characteristic Somali energy and dynamism. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

In the capital people encounter a mishmash of chaotic local market commerce existing alongside diaspora-funded construction including glass-fronted office buildings, Wi-Fi enabled cafes and air-conditioned gyms, all suffused with characteristic Somali energy and dynamism. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
HARGEISA, Somaliland, Feb 17 2017 (IPS)

Crossing African borders by land can be an intimidating process (it’s proving an increasingly intimidating process nowadays in Europe and the US also, even in airports). But crossing from Ethiopia to Somaliland at the ramshackle border town of Togo-Wuchale is a surreally pleasant experience.

Immigration officials on the Somaliland side leave aside the tough cross-examination routine, greeting you with big smiles and friendly chit chat as they whack an entry stamp on the Somaliland visa in your passport.“If you look at the happiness of Somalilanders and the challenges they are facing, it does not match.” --Khadar Husein, Operational director of the Hargeisa office of Transparency Solutions.

They’re always happy to see a foreigner’s visit providing recognition of their country that technically still doesn’t exist in the eyes of the rest of the political world, despite having proclaimed its independence from Somalia in 1991, following a civil war that killed about 50,000 in the region.

A British protectorate from 1886 until 1960 and unifying with what was then Italian Somaliland to create modern Somalia, Somaliland had got used to going on its own since that 1991 declaration, and today exhibits many of the trappings of a functioning state: its own currency, a functioning bureaucracy, trained police and military, law and order on the streets. Furthermore, since 2003 Somaliland has held a series of democratic elections resulting in orderly transfers of power.

Somaliland’s resolve is most clearly demonstrated in the capital, Hargeisa, formerly war-torn rubble in 1991 at the end of the civil war, its population living in refugee camps in neighbouring Ethiopia. An event that lives on in infamy saw the jets of military dictator Mohammed Siad Barre’s regime take off from the airport and circle back to bomb the city.

But visitors to today’s sun-blasted city of 800,000 people encounter a mishmash of impassioned traditional local markets cheek by jowl with diaspora-funded modern glass-fronted office blocks and malls, Wi-Fi enabled cafes and air-conditioned gyms, all suffused with typical Somali energy and dynamism.

“We are doing all the right things that the West preaches about but we continue to get nothing for it,” says Osman Abdillahi Sahardeed, minister for the Ministry of Information, Culture and National Guidance. “This is a resilient country that depends on each other—we’re not after a hand out but a hand up.”

Non-statehood deprives Somaliland of direct large-scale international support from the likes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. For these members of the Somaliland Seaman’s Union at Berbera Port’s docks, it means they are not paid the same wages—they earn about $220 a month—as paid to foreign workers due to not belonging to an internationally recognised organisation. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Non-statehood deprives Somaliland of direct large-scale international support from the likes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. For these members of the Somaliland Seaman’s Union at Berbera Port’s docks, it means they are not paid the same wages—they earn about $220 a month—as paid to foreign workers due to not belonging to an internationally recognised organisation. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Increasing levels of exasperation within Somaliland’s government and among the populace are hardly surprising. Somaliland’s apparent success story against the odds remains highly vulnerable. Its economy is perilously fragile. Non-statehood deprives it of direct large-scale international support and access to the likes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.).

As a result, the government has a tiny budget of about 250 million dollars, with about 60 percent spent on police and security forces to maintain what the country views as one of its greatest assets and reasons for recognition: continuing peace and stability. Also, it relies heavily on the support of local clan elders—it is hard for any government to prove its legitimacy when essential services need the help of international humanitarian organizations, local NGOs and the private sector.

Indeed, Somaliland survives to a large extent on money sent by its diaspora—estimated to range from $400 million to at least double that annually—and by selling prodigious quantities of livestock to Arab countries.

All the while, poverty remains widespread and swathes of men on streets sipping sweet Somali tea and chewing the stimulating plant khat throughout the day testify to chronic unemployment rates.

“About 70 percent of the population are younger than 30, and they have no future without recognition,” says Jama Musse, a former mathematics professor who left Italy to return to Somaliland to run the Red Sea Cultural Foundation center, which offers cultural and artistic opportunities for Hargeisa’s youth. “The world can’t close its eyes—it should deal with Somaliland.”

Peace and security hold in Somaliland, so effectively that moneychangers can safely stash bundles of cash on the street. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Peace and security hold in Somaliland, so effectively that moneychangers can safely stash bundles of cash on the street. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

For now, Somaliland’s peace holds admirably well.

“If you look at the happiness of Somalilanders and the challenges they are facing it does not match,” says Khadar Husein, operational director of the Hargeisa office of Transparency Solutions, a UK-based consultancy focused on civil society capacity building in Somaliland and Somalia. “They are happy because of their values and religion.”

But others speak of the risks of encroaching Wahhabism, a far more fundamental version of Islam compared to Somaliland’s conservative though relatively moderate religiousness, and a particular concern in a volatile part of the world.

“Young men are a ready-made pool of rudderless youth from which militant extremists with an agenda can recruit,” says Rakiya Omaar, a lawyer and Chair of Horizon Institute, a Somaliland consultancy firm helping communities transition from underdevelopment to stability.

Almost everyone acknowledges the country’s present means of sustainment—heavily reliant on the private sector and diaspora—must diversity. Somaliland needs greater income to develop and survive.

Abdi Muhammad, a veteran of the Somali civil war, makes his feelings clear. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Abdi Muhammad, a veteran of the Somali civil war, makes his feelings clear. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

For many, the key to Somaliland’s much needed economic renaissance lies in tapping into the far stronger economy next door: Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country and its fastest growing economy, according to the I.M.F.

Crucial to achieving this is Berbera, a name conjuring images of tropical quays and fiery sunsets. Once an ancient nexus of maritime trade, Berbera has long been eclipsed by Djibouti’s ports to the north. But Berbera Port is now on the brink of a major expansion that could transform and return it to a regional transportation hub, and also help fund Somaliland’s nation-building dreams.

In May 2016, Dubai-based DP World was awarded the concession to manage and expand Berbera for 30 years, a project valued at about 442 million dollars, including expanding the port and refurbishing the 268-kilometer route from the port to the border with Ethiopia.

Landlocked Ethiopia has long been looking to diversify its access to the sea, an issue of immense strategic anxiety. Currently 90 percent of its trade goes through Djibouti, a tiny country with an expanding network of ports that scoops at least 1 billion dollars in port fees from Ethiopia every year.

Somaliland would like about 30 percent of that trade through Berbera, and Ethiopia is more than happy with that, allocating such a proportion in its latest Growth and Transformation Plan that sets economic policy until 2020.

Ethiopia and Somaliland had already signed a Memorandum Of Understanding (MOU) covering trade, security, health and education in 2014, before in March 2016 signing a trade agreement on using Berbera Port. And Ethiopia could just be the start.

“It would be a gateway to Africa, not just Ethiopia,” says Sharmarke Jama, a trade and economic adviser for the Somaliland government during negotiations on the port concession. “The multiplying benefits for Somaliland’s economy could be endless.”

Somaliland officials hope increased trade at the port will enable greater self-sufficiency to develop the country, while also chipping away at the international community’s resistance over recognition.

“As our economic interests align with the region and we become more economically integrated, that can only help with recognition,” Sharmarke says.

Perhaps. The political odds are stacked against Somaliland due to concerns that recognizing Somaliland would undermine decades of international efforts to patch up Somalia, and open a Pandora ’s Box of separatist claims in the region and further afield around Africa.

But greater self-sufficiency would undoubtedly result from a resurgent Berbera, and without this crucial infrastructure revival Somaliland’s economic potential will remain untapped, trapping its people in endless cycles of dependence, leaving those idle youth on street corners.

On April 13, 2016, up to 500 migrants died after a boat capsized crossing the Mediterranean. Most media reported that a large portion of those who died were from Somalia. But in Hargeisa following the tragedy, locals noted how many of those who died were more specifically Somalilanders.

“Why are they leaving? Unemployment,” says Abdillahi Duhe, former Foreign Minister of Somaliland and now a consultant in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. “Now is a very important time: we’ve passed the stage of recovery, we have peace—but many hindrances remain.”

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Corruption Brings Down an Empire: Odebrecht in Brazilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/corruption-brings-down-an-empire-odebrecht-in-brazil/#comments Thu, 16 Feb 2017 00:29:24 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148966 The American Airlines Arena, a stadium and entertainment complex in Miami, Florida, is one of the many projects carried out by Odebrecht in the United States, where prosecutors have begun to produce figures reflecting the scope of the company’s corruption. Credit: Odebrecht

The American Airlines Arena, a stadium and entertainment complex in Miami, Florida, is one of the many projects carried out by Odebrecht in the United States, where prosecutors have begun to produce figures reflecting the scope of the company’s corruption. Credit: Odebrecht

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 16 2017 (IPS)

People in Brazil have been overwhelmed by the flood of news stories about the huge web of corruption woven by the country’s biggest construction company, Odebrecht, which is active in dozens of fields and countries.

The business empire built by three generations of the Odebrecht family is falling apart after three years of investigation by the Lava Jato (car wash) operation launched by the Federal Public Prosecutor’s office in Brazil, which is investigating the corruption that diverted millions of dollars in bribes in exchange for major public works contracts from the state-run oil giant Petrobras.The business group had created a specialised bribe department. According to U.S. justice authorities, every dollar “invested” in bribes produced 12 dollars in contracts.

Marcelo Odebrecht, who headed the company from 2008 to 2015, was arrested in June 2015 and was initially sentenced to 19 years in prison.

In October he and the company reached plea bargain deals to cooperate with the investigation. A total of 77 former and present Odebrecht executives provided over 900 sworn statements to Lava Jato prosecutors, causing a political earthquake in Brazil and throughout Latin America.

In December, the U.S. Justice Department revealed that Odebrecht allegedly spent 1.04 billion dollars in bribes to politicians and government officials in ten Latin American and two African countries, including Brazil, which accounted for 57.7 per cent of the total.

The United States is carrying out its own investigation, which could end in criminal convictions, since several Odebrecht subsidiaries, such as the petrochemical company Braskem, operate there, and their shares are traded on the New York Stock Exchange.

That is also happening in the case of Petrobras, implicated in the corruption scandal and under investigation at the initiative of shareholders in the U.S.

The U.S. and Switzerland, where banks were allegedly used to funnel bribes or launder money, signed cooperation agreements with legal authorities in Brazil, as part of the ongoing offensive against corruption in Latin America’s giant.

The impacts are overwhelming. In Brazil, the revelations about Odebrecht are expected to provoke a tsunami in the political system. Two hundred parliamentarians and government officials may have received bribes, including senior members of the current administration and legislature.

The business group had created a specialised bribe department. According to U.S. justice authorities, every dollar “invested” in bribes produced 12 dollars in contracts.

That estimate is based on more than 100 projects carried out or in progress in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela, plus Angola and Mozambique in Africa.

Part of the Caracas valley seen from the San Agustín Metrocable, one of the many works assigned to Odebrecht in Venezuela during the government of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), when the Brazilian company became the biggest construction firm in the country. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

Part of the Caracas valley seen from the San Agustín Metrocable, one of the many works assigned to Odebrecht in Venezuela during the government of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), when the Brazilian company became the biggest construction firm in the country. Credit: Raúl Límaco/IPS

The arrest warrant issued by a court in Peru against former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo (2001-2006), who has been living in the United States, and allegations implicating current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, are just the tip of the iceberg.

What was revealed by Odebrecht executives and former executives, as well as former directors of different departments, such as external affairs, infrastructure, industrial engineering or logistics, has not yet been made public.

New figures involving alleged bribes are expected to come out over the next few months, added to those already disclosed in the United States, including 599 million dollars distributed in Brazil, 98 million in Venezuela, 92 million in the Dominican Republic, 59 million in Panama and 50 million in Angola.

In Peru the total revealed so far is “only” 29 million dollars since 2005. The sum is small, considering that for the Southern Peru pipeline – still under construction – alone, the projected investments amount to seven billion dollars. The Peruvian government has decided to terminate the contract with Odebrecht for the project.

Besides Odebrecht, the Inter-Oceanic Highway, which runs across southern Peru from the Brazilian border to Pacific Ocean ports, is being built by three other Brazilian construction firms – Camargo Correa, Andrade Gutierrez and Queiroz Galvão – which are also under investigation for suspicion of corruption.

During the presidency of Alan Garcia (2006-2011), Peru and Brazil signed an agreement for the construction of five large hydropower plants in Peru, which was cancelled by his successor, Ollanta Humala (2011-2016), who, however, is suspected of receiving three million dollars from Brazil for his election campaign.

Odebrecht, which has a concession to manage Chaglla, the third biggest hydroelectric plant in Peru, with a capacity of 462 MW, was to be the main construction company in charge of building the new plants.

The growing wave of local and industry scandals sheds light on the reach of Odrebrecht’s tentacles. Braskem is accused of distributing 250 million dollars in bribes to sustain its leadership position in the Americas in the production of thermoplastic resins, with 36 plants spread across Brazil, Mexico, the United States, as well as Germany.

The empire, born in 1944 as a simple construction company, started diversifying in the last half century into activities as diverse as the sugarcane business, the development of military technologies or oil services, logistics or shipbuilding companies.

In the early 1970s the group built the Petrobras headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, sealing a connection that led to the current disaster which destroyed the reputation of the company that was so proud of its “Entrepreneurial Technology”, a set of ethical and operational business principles to which its fast expansion was attributed.

But Odebrecht’s success could actually be attributed to a strategic vision and a modus operandi that proved successful until the Lava Jato operation. Part of its methods included being “friends with the king”.

Angola is the best example. The current chairman of the company’s board of directors, Emilio Odebrecht, son of founder Norberto Odebrecht, meets every year with Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos in Luanda, to discuss projects for the country.

Officially, what they do is assess the projects carried out by the company and define new goals.

The explanation given for the special treatment received by Odebrecht is that it has such a strong presence in vital infrastructure works in the country in areas such as reconstruction, energy, water, highways and urbanisation.

Odebrecht has great prestige in Angola, since it built the Capanda hydroelectric plant on the Kwanza River between 1984 and 2007, facing delays and risks due to the 1975-2002 civil war. Now it is building the biggest plant in Angola, Lauca, also on the Kwanza River, with a capacity to produce 2,067 MW.

The conglomerate is ubiquitous in the country, managing the Belas Mall – an upscale shopping centre in the south of Luanda, Angola’s capital – implementing the water plan to supply the capital, developing the first part of the industrial district in the outskirts of Luanda, building housing developments and playing a key role in saving the national sugarcane industry.

In Cuba it also led the strategic project of expanding the Mariel Port and managing a sugar plant, to help boost the recovery of this ailing sector of the Caribbean nation’s economy.

In other countries, such as Panama, Peru and Venezuela, the number of works and projects in the hands of the Brazilian conglomerate is impressive, in fields as diverse as urban transport, roads and bridges, ports, power plants, fossil fuels, and even agriculture.

But that cycle of expansion came to an end. Heavily indebted, with a plummeting turnover and no access to loans, not even from Brazilian development banks, and carrying the stigma of corruption, the conglomerate is trying to cooperate with justice authorities in the involved countries, seeking agreements to allow it to keep operating and eventually recover.

Now it remains to be discovered whether Odebrecht is “too big to go bankrupt,” as was said of some banks at the start of the global crisis that broke out in 2008.

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Authorities Urged to Disclose Anti-Money Laundering Effortshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/authorities-urged-to-disclose-anti-money-laundering-efforts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=authorities-urged-to-disclose-anti-money-laundering-efforts http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/authorities-urged-to-disclose-anti-money-laundering-efforts/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 17:34:01 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148957 Asia Pacific: Fighting corruption is side-lined. The majority of Asia Pacific countries sit in the bottom half of the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016. 19 out of 30 countries in the region scored 40 or less out of 100. Photo: Transparency International.

Asia Pacific: Fighting corruption is side-lined. The majority of Asia Pacific countries sit in the bottom half of the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016. 19 out of 30 countries in the region scored 40 or less out of 100. Photo: Transparency International.

By IPS World Desk
ROME / BERLIN, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

Bank regulators need to publish much more information about whether banks are doing what’s required by law to stop money laundering, says a major international anti-corruption watchdog.

This would ensure that citizens and businesses can be confident corrupt individuals and organisations, criminals, or terrorists are not using the global banking system, Transparency International (TI) on Feb 15 2017 explained.

A new report from Transparency International shows that in countries hosting the world’s biggest banks, little data on anti-money laundering prevention and enforcement is published, or is if it is published, it is out-of-date.

“Mistrust of banks will continue unless people know they are working on their behalf and not for the corrupt. Corruption and money laundering undermine the basic rule of law, weaken democratic institutions and damage economies and societies,” said José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International.

“It drives inequality and blocks efforts to stop poverty. We need to see that the people meant to stop corruption in the banking industry are doing their job,” he added.

Transparency International’s study, Top Secret: Countries keep financial crime fighting data to themselves, shows that data about authorities’ anti-money laundering efforts are only partially available across 12 countries, including Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the UK and the US.

This includes data as basic as the number of times banks were sanctioned for money laundering failures in a given country — a number that is only public in four out of the 12 countries assessed: Australia, Cyprus, Italy and the US.

“There is no good reason to keep this data secret. Are they protecting us from the next financial crisis? We, the citizens, have the right to know if the financial sector is being permissive or complicit with illicit activity,” Ugaz noted.

According to Transparency International, in 2013 alone, developing countries lost an estimated 1.1 trillion dollars to illicit financial flows – the illegal movement of money from one country to another. Effective anti-money laundering measures, in both developed and developing countries, are essential to end these illicit flows.

“The public also needs evidence that action is being taken, not only to build trust in the institutions that hold our money, but also as a deterrent against crime by making sure bank examiners are effective.”

Policing the financial sector requires strong, consistent and effective anti-money laundering supervision by authorities, TI underlines, adding: “just like health and safety inspectors in restaurants, national financial supervisors have the power to visit and inspect banks (on-site monitoring), identify and record failings in their systems, and impose sanctions where necessary.”

“Citizens have a right to know the extent to which supervisors are applying this power in practice to uphold the law in the financial sector.”

By increasing media and citizen oversight, making more data about these activities public would help to make anti-money laundering systems more effective.

Transparency International recommends that countries publish anti-money laundering oversight and enforcement statistics on a yearly basis, in a single report or data file. The requirement to publish yearly anti-money laundering data should become a standard recommendation of international bodies, including the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) and the G20.

Transparency on this important aspect of financial market enforcement is only a first, but vital, step on the long road to cleansing the global financial system of dirty money, TI concludes.

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Sri Lanka Shines Light on Public Sector Governancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/sri-lanka-shines-light-on-public-sector-governance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sri-lanka-shines-light-on-public-sector-governance http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/sri-lanka-shines-light-on-public-sector-governance/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 15:23:31 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148952 Sri Lanka’s new Right to Information (RTI) Act could open new doors for the country’s media if journalists use it effectively. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lanka’s new Right to Information (RTI) Act could open new doors for the country’s media if journalists use it effectively. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

Sri Lanka’s long-awaited and much-debated Right to Information (RTI) Act became law this month without much fanfare.

There was no big PR campaign on the part of the government to unveil it on Feb. 3, a day before the island’s 69th Independence celebrations. There was not even a public event, a rarity in this South Asian island, where politicians are prone not to let such opportunities pass by.

Maybe the lack of fanfare was due to a rare understanding of what RTI could do to Sri Lanka’s governing culture – like media minister Gayantha Karunathilake predicted several months ago, the act now places all elected and public officials ‘inside a glass box’ of public scrutiny.

And the requests have flooded in. Taking the lead has been actor turned politician and current deputy minister of social welfare, Rajan Ramanayake. He filed a slew of requests even before the ink dried on the new act.

“This is an act will reveal everything about politicians, without any discrimination on party affiliations,” Ramanayake said.

His RTI requests include details on the number of bar permits, sand mining permits, duty free shop permits, fuel station permits and land permits that have been offered to elected officials from parliamentarians to those at local government bodies. He said he was likely to receive the details by the third week of February.

He has also filed a request for details of all licenses given out by the government to operate TV stations and their conditions.

Most of the first batch of RTI requests have been linked to corruption within public sector, according to RTIWire, a national website that tracks the progress of the act.

“When we asked the public what information they would seek through RTI, almost a third of them referenced some form of corruption by public servants; for example, asset declarations, irregularities in tenders, salaries and perks for ministers,” RTIWire said in profiling the first ten days of the new act.

Citizens in the former conflict zone in the North and East have used the act to seek information on land acquisitions by government departments and on missing loved ones.

Media Minister Karunathilake is candid about the act’s possible ramifications on the government ,which has stepped into the second of a five-year term.

“This will open up the government structure completely for scrutiny. Usually governments will take this kind of decision at the toe end of their terms, but we have not. The act can minimize corruption.”

There has been criticism leveled at the government that the act was aimed at soothing international concerns on rights issues, especially those stemming from the administrations of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa between 2005 to 2015.

The minister denied that there was any connection between the act and the government’s efforts to regain preferential tariff deals for garment exports to the European Union.

“There is no connection at all,” he said. In the next two months the EU is expected to announce whether Sri Lanka will be allowed back in to GSP+ tariff fold that it lost in 2010 due to rights-related concerns.

Opposition parties, however, say that the government is not showing the same enthusiasm it displayed in getting the act finally functioning in making sure the act is implemented efficiently.

“If they are serious, they should begin awareness campaigns without delay,” Opposition MP from the People’s Liberation Front Nalinda Jayatissa said.

To be fair, the government has a Herculean task on its hands in getting RTI information officers into all government agencies, which according to some estimates at the Media Ministry could be in the range of 40,000.

The Ministry has been training officers in the last few months, and while several thousand have taken up posts, many more remain to be filled. The government has not done itself any favours by only allocating a mere Rs 25 m (175,000 dollars) in the current budget for RTI implementation.

Close to two weeks after the act became law, the government was yet to announce the relevant officers in departments, adding confusion and creating unnecessary delays for those submitting requests. B.K.S. Ravindra, the additional secretary at the Media Ministry, said that list would soon be made available online, but did not give a date.

During the first week of the act, there was also confusion about whether police came under the act and who was the relevant officer for each station. Ravindra said that police stations indeed came within the act and that the Assistant Superintendent of Police from each district would serve as the RTI officer.

But according to RTIWire, “the Police are still in the process of appointing Information Officers. This should be complete within the next few weeks. The police force is currently participating in trainings held by the Ministry of Mass Media on Right to Information.”

There is also a dearth of awareness in rural areas on the act and how to file requests, especially in rural areas. In Arananayake, a rural village about 130km from the capital Colombo, which suffered a devastating landslide last year, villagers still living in temporary shelters had absolutely no idea that they could gain information from using the act.

The bigger test for the government will be to make sure that the RTI act does not end up a damp squib.

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The Algerian Emir Who Set a Protection of Prisoners Code in 1842http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842 http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-algerian-emir-who-set-a-protection-of-prisoners-code-in-1842/#comments Wed, 15 Feb 2017 13:17:59 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148944 Abdelkader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860. Painting by Jean Baptiste Huysmans. Public Domain

Abdelkader saving Christians during the Druze/Christian strife of 1860. Painting by Jean Baptiste Huysmans. Public Domain

By IPS World Desk
ROME / OXFORD, UK, Feb 15 2017 (IPS)

As far back as the 1830s, Algerian Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy was known for having introduced, among others, rules concerning the humane treatment of prisoners, which developed in 1842 into his Code for the Protection of Prisoners.

“The Emir’s Code prohibited mistreatment of prisoners and the killing of unarmed enemy soldiers or prisoners. In the Emir’s jails, there were no ‘enemy combatants’ prevented from enjoying basic human rights,” explained Idriss Jazairy, the executive director of the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue.

“Henri Dunant, the great Swiss humanitarian activist is credited with having introduced the first code to protect war prisoners that led to the creation of the Red Cross. That was in 1863, some twenty years after the adoption of the Emir’s Code,” he added.

The executive director of the Geneva Centre made this statement during an event held on Feb. 15 on the historical importance of the 19th century Algerian leader, Emir Abd el Qader, and the universality of Islamic values, at the renowned Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies of Oxford University.

Jazairy also spoke about the Emir’s contribution to identify commonalities between Islam and Christianity in order to promote peace, social justice and inter-religious harmony between Muslims and Christians.

“He asserted in a letter of July 1862 to a French bishop, Mgr. Pavy, that the teachings of both of these faiths were the same and could be encapsulated in two principles: the worship of God and compassion towards His creatures. Our religions, he averred, only differ in the prescriptions provided as to how best to comply with these cardinal principles.

“This brings the Emir to the conclusion in his book ‘Reminder to the Thoughtful and Notice to the Oblivious’ that religions are complementary and all lead to tolerance,” Jazairy said.

During his presentation, he also referred to the example of the Emir’s action to save the Christian minority in Damascus, during civil strife in 1860 that was widely commended by world leaders at that time.

The Emir’s decision to provide protection to religious minorities reflect the Emir’s dedication to upholding what he called “the rights of humanity” an expression that preceded, and anticipated, the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 85 years later.

The executive director of the Geneva Centre also expressed his concerns that the world press, by calling the authors of terrorist action “Jihadis”, unwittingly provide religious legitimacy for their heinous crimes and accredit the idea that Islam inspires terrorism.

He argued that this was tantamount to “Islamising crime rather than denouncing the criminalisation of Islam.”

“This provides terrorist groups with recruitment publicity while stimulating in credulous people’s minds, both in the Middle East and in the West, a conflation of Islam with terrorism,” the executive director of the Geneva Centre warned.

By this standard, the Emir Abd el Qader el Jazairy is very much alive today with city squares and streets across the world bearing his name and with even a city in the U.S. state of Iowa named after him, he explained.

Not a single year has elapsed in recent times without new books and innumerable articles being published about this towering international figure, said Jazairy.

“The Emir was honoured by no lesser world leaders of his time than Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria, Tsar Alexander II, Sultan Abdelmajid I and of course Napoleon III. Praised also was he by no lesser writers and poets than Rimbaud and Voltaire, Browning and Thackeray.”

The Emir is known to have fought the French invaders of Algeria for 17 years from 1830 to 1847. He waged 116 battles and confronted, at times defeating them, five princes of the French Royal Household, ten field-marshals and 150 generals, Jazairy reminded.

“Despite the fact that the French army outnumbered 10 to 1 the troops of the Emir, despite the former’s resort to weapons of mass destruction of the times, the almighty mobile cannon, the French conquest was slow, even laborious. Its vagaries called for the replacement of the Minister of War in France 16 times during this period.”

He noted that Algeria has a long history of resisting foreign invasion and occupation. Jugurtha, born in 160 BC, for instance, a courageous leader of Algeria, resisted the Roman invasion for seven years.

“Algeria’s liberation war (1954-1962) also lasted seven years. In December 1847, the fighting officially ended leading to what Algerians refer to as a treaty to end hostilities. The French called it, not ingenuously, a surrender.”

By this treaty the French committed inter alia to the transfer of the Emir, his family and followers to Alexandria or Acre. However, the treaty was shamefully violated by France, Jazairy noted.

The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue is a think-thank dedicated to the promotion of human rights through cross-cultural, political, religious and civilizational dialogue, and through training of the upcoming generations of stakeholders in the Arab region.

The Centre works towards a value-driven human rights system, challenging politicisation and building bridges between different narratives thereon of the Global North and of the Global South.

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St Valentine’s Day: Celebrating Healthy Relationships; Challenging Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/st-valentines-day-celebrating-healthy-relationships-challenging-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=st-valentines-day-celebrating-healthy-relationships-challenging-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/st-valentines-day-celebrating-healthy-relationships-challenging-violence/#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2017 12:57:48 +0000 Bethan Cansfield and Lourdes Montero http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148940 Bethan Cansfield, Head of Enough Campaign, (Oxfam International) & Lourdes Montero, Gender Justice Manager, Oxfam Bolivia]]> Richly embroidered cloth hearts at Heartworks, Cape Town. /Stephanie Nieuwoudt/IPS

Richly embroidered cloth hearts at Heartworks, Cape Town. /Stephanie Nieuwoudt/IPS

By Bethan Cansfield and Lourdes Montero
LA PAZ, Bolivia, Feb 14 2017 (IPS)

Today, many couples, in many countries will be celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day – or ‘El día de los enamorados’ (‘Day of Lovers’) in some Latin American countries.

Whilst a chance to celebrate the spectrum of healthy loving relationships; it is also an important opportunity to highlight a crisis affecting women and girls in every corner of the world – 30% of women will experience physical or sexual violence perpetrated by a current or former partner or husband.

This figure of 30% does not take into account coercive control – a pattern of domination through intimidation, isolation, degradation and deprivation, including psychological and economic control. So whilst the figure of 30% is shockingly – we know it is just the tip of the iceberg.

No single factor alone causes partner violence, however evidence shows that one of the strongest factors that predicts this form of abuse is discriminatory shared beliefs (social norms) about what is normal and appropriate in relationships. These can include that a man has a right to assert power over a woman or that a man has a right to discipline women. Societies across the world promote masculine jealously and control as a desirable way to demonstrate love. Films, music, soap operas reinforce these ideas, as can parents and friends.

Unhealthy relationships often start early – with young men and women thinking behaviors such as teasing and name calling are normal parts of relationships. The Government of Australia has just released a powerful advert demonstrating how these early notions of relationships between boys and girls can lead to other more serious forms of violence. In one scene, a young boy slams a door on a young girl, causing her to fall over. “He just did it because he likes you,” the mother explains.

Other identities can intersect with gender to influence what is considered normal and appropriate within a relationship. For instance, in Latin American cultures, ‘concepts of machismo dictate that boys and men should be tough, sexually assertive, and dominating, whereas marianismo stresses that girls and women should be submissive and passive in their relationships with boys and men.’

To address this the Colectivo Rebeldía, Oxfam Bolivia and the Women’s Coordinator are today launching a new campaign ‘ACTÚA, detén la violencia’ to tackle violence in young people’s relationships.

Bolivia has the highest rates of physical violence against women in Latin America and the Carribean – 53.3% of Bolivian women have experienced physical or sexual partner violence and every three days a woman dies because of femicide.

Oxfam Bolivia’s research has found that nearly half of urban youth (men and women) promote sexist beliefs that normalize violence. This includes “the way you dress provokes rape”, “jealousy is part of love” or “if you really love, you forgive violence”. The study also found that 9 out of 10 youths know a friend is suffering from violence from her partner and that the majority state it is better not to intervene – 33% said that if their friend beats their partner, they do not get in because it’s their private life.

Despite this apparent indifference, 43% of young people consider that violence can decrease if the whole society gets involved, 54% believe that the fight against violence is a priority for the development of the country and 85% of young people would be willing to act to stop the violence.

In its first stage, the ACTÚA campaign aims to tackle the indifference of the friend of someone in a violent relationship or perpetrating violence in a relationship. It will develop circles of friends that socially sanction violent behaviors and develop support networks for young women facing violence. Using public and peer pressure, the campaign hopes to decrease violence in young relationships.

Whether in Bolivia or anywhere else in the world, we all need to take a stand against notions of harmful love and instead promote positive and healthy relationships with our family, friends and colleagues.

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The World Faces a ‘Terrible Lack of Trust’http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-world-faces-a-terrible-lack-of-trust/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-world-faces-a-terrible-lack-of-trust http://www.ipsnews.net/2017/02/the-world-faces-a-terrible-lack-of-trust/#comments Tue, 14 Feb 2017 09:51:32 +0000 IPS World Desk http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=149045 Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By IPS World Desk
DUBAI/ROME, Feb 14 2017 (IPS)

The world faces a “terrible lack of trust,” United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said addressing the World Government Summit in the Emirati city of Dubai, and called for reconciliation between people, their governments and global multilateral institutions.

The UN chief’s speech has been one of the most strait full bold statements made in this 5th annual World Government Summit 2017 (WGS), which brought together some 4,000 world leaders and experts at the fifth annual conference in the Middle East (12-14 February).

Improving governance, and improving confidence between governments and people, is essential and it is a condition to improve the confidence in the relations between countries, Gutterres said while describing the progress globalisation has brought to parts of the world, but also “the rust belts” where people feel left behind by their governments.

“If one looks at today’s governance problems at the country level, between countries or at multilateral governance in the world, we face a terrible lack of trust… As a result, in a world in which everything is global, in which the problems are global – from climate change to the movement of people – there is no way countries can do it by themselves.”

Guterres stressed the need for global responses, and global responses need multilateral institutions able to play their role”, and called for a surge of diplomacy for peace with “honest brokers” who can address the root causes of conflict and an international community that is organised to respond.

The UN chief also singled out the Security Council, which he said no longer corresponds to the logic of today’s world in relation to what the world was after the Second World War when the UN and its main body for maintaining peace and security were created.

Speaking at the opening of the World Government Summit in Dubai, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, said economic openness is a ground reality.

“We, as Arabs, should not lean towards economic isolation as the global market is open,” he said, adding, “We should not lose hope that we can achieve Arab progress and development, despite challenges and problems surrounding us.“

The UAE prime minister underlined that success is not measured by the size of a population nor by the modernity of countries or oil resources, but by will and management.

Tolerance, a Fundamental Value

Against this backdrop, the UAE minister of State for Tolerance, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, focused on her country’s policy of promoting tolerance and fighting extremism.

Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi

Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid Al Qasimi


This year, more than ever, people from all over the world should continue their dialogue and together find ways to promote coexistence and acceptance – and counter the waves of division that are increasingly inciting hatred and extremism, she said.

“Extremism has no religion or nationality, and violent terrorist groups threaten the safety of all countries and people. Securing borders and strengthening immigration and refugee policies alone are not the answer.”

According to Sheikha Lubna, facilitating dialogue that builds understanding between cultures is important. But governments, too, have a critical role to play, the UAE minister of State for Tolerance stressed, reminding that in her country, for example, new policies and initiatives are promoting greater understanding among all people and bringing cultures together.

An ‘Incubator’ of Tolerance

“Recently, I had the honour to be entrusted with our newly-established National Programme for Tolerance as Minister tasked with strengthening the government’s role as an “incubator” of tolerance, promoting tolerance, coexistence and respect for others throughout the UAE.

The UAE’s philosophy of acceptance is deeply rooted in our history and heritage, she said. “We have always been a gateway to the world, a hub for trade, culture and industry.”

Sheikha Lubna also underlined the fact that the UAE is home to over 200 nationalities from almost every corner of the world, with 80 per cent of its population being expatriates.

“It fills me with pride to see people of many faiths and backgrounds coexisting peacefully,” she said. “That’s part of our history.”

The UAE’s minister of State for Tolerance added “Earlier this month, I accompanied nearly 30 Christian leaders, including American Evangelicals, Catholics and Arab Christians, on a visit to a key part of the UAE’s heritage, a 7th Century monastery west of our capital, Abu Dhabi.”

The late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s founder and first president, was an advocate of peace among all cultures, a strong believer that hatred and terrorism have no place within humanity, Sheikh Lubna reminded.

Then she underlined the fact that today, the UAE is part of an international coalition combatting extremism, on and off the battlefield. “We and our partners have developed initiatives to counter extremist rhetoric, understand the root cause of dangerous ideology and provide hope and opportunity for those seeking a more peaceful path.”

Freedom for All to Practice Religious Worship

The UAE minister recalled that her country’s Constitution guarantees freedom for all to practice religious worship of their choosing. “The UAE’s anti-discriminatory law enacted in 2015 forbids discrimination against anyone because of nationality, race, class, culture, gender or religion.”

The WGS brings together prominent leaders from the public and private sectors, as well as international thought leaders and pioneers. They engage in inspirational, thought-provoking, and future-focused dialogues that aim to shape the future of governments and help improve the lives of citizens worldwide.

This year’s edition of the Summit gathered high representative from over 130 countries, with more than 100 key speakers and around 4,000 participants.

The Summit’s key themes included: Innovation of Government; the Future of Government; Government Services, and Smart Government.

The World Government Summit Organization regularly produces series of specialized studies and reports published for the first time in the region, seeking to be a platform for regional exchange of knowledge and expertise in the field of shaping the future governments.

Some key reports have dealt with the Future of Money; Best Government Emerging Technologies; Pro-Active Government and the Future of Cities.

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