Inter Press Service » Human Rights http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 24 Apr 2014 14:52:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Kyrgyzstan: Russian ’Information Wars’ Heating Up http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kyrgyzstan-russian-information-wars-heating/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kyrgyzstan-russian-information-wars-heating http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kyrgyzstan-russian-information-wars-heating/#comments Thu, 24 Apr 2014 00:34:34 +0000 Chris Rickleton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133862 Relative to other Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan has a fairly free and perennially noisy domestic media scene. Even so, Kyrgyz outlets tend to be no match for Russian state-controlled media when it comes to establishing narratives for current events. A recently released and annually updated poll funded by USAID and carried out by the Gallup-endorsed […]

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Looking for balanced news in Kyrgyzstan. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Looking for balanced news in Kyrgyzstan. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By Chris Rickleton
BISHKEK, Apr 24 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Relative to other Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan has a fairly free and perennially noisy domestic media scene. Even so, Kyrgyz outlets tend to be no match for Russian state-controlled media when it comes to establishing narratives for current events.

A recently released and annually updated poll funded by USAID and carried out by the Gallup-endorsed SIAR consulting company indicates that the Ukraine crisis is enabling Russian media outlets to expand their reach in Kyrgyzstan, a country where 94 percent of respondents claimed to obtain news about politics from television."We are located at the crossroads of a number of interests – internal and external. Political speculation is profitable and objectivity is expensive." -- Ilim Karypbekov

According to the latest poll, Kremlin-funded Russian Public Television (ORT) is the second most-watched channel in Kyrgyzstan.

It also shows that ORT’s popularity is on the rise, with 20 percent of respondents selecting it as their “most frequent” source of political information and 16 percent as the “most trusted” outlet. Those figures are up from 13 percent and 10 percent respectively in the previous year’s poll.

ORT’s rise is coming at the expense of Kyrgyzstan’s national broadcaster, OTRK, which saw its popularity percentage fall to 34 percent this year from 38 percent in 2013. Likewise, OTRK’s perceived reliability slipped to 29 percent from 32 percent.

The polling data has important implications for Kyrgyzstan’s political future, as Russian media now seems better positioned than ever to influence Kyrgyz public opinion. ORT and other Russian-controlled outlets have an established history of trying to shape its coverage to suit the Kremlin’s interests. Most notably, ORT led a media campaign against former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the run-up to his violent ouster four years ago.

In the coming weeks and months, analysts of the local press believe that a Russian “information war” will intensify as Kyrgyz officials dither on the issue of joining what is Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s pet project — the Customs Union.

Beyond the government’s hesitation about joining a Kremlin-led economic group — which currently comprises Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and which is expected to metamorphose into a Eurasian Economic Union as early as May — public opinion in Kyrgyzstan about the country’s growing fealty to its northern neighbour is growing more skeptical.

Polling data from the latest SIAR survey showed that the number of Kyrgyzstanis “categorically against” Bishkek joining the union has risen from 10 percent in 2013 to 21 percent this year.

Speaking to local media on Apr. 11, Kyrgyz officials involved in accession negotiations said most of the Kyrgyz side’s key demands for concessions had not been met.

The Customs Union — along with the sale of the country’s gas network to Russian state energy giant Gazprom and the mooted sale of a majority stake in the country’s main airport to another Kremlin firm, Rosneft — were all sources of discontent expressed at a recent 1,000-strong protest on Apr. 10 in Bishkek, organized by the nominally anti-Russia National Opposition Movement.

Nargiza Ryskulova, a Bishkek-based journalist who writes for the BBC’s Kyrgyz service, suggests most Russian-speaking Kyrgyz tend to tune in to cash-strapped OTRK for national news and ORT for international news.

“Now people are interested in Ukraine since Russia is interested in Ukraine. But many people lack an alternative to Russian coverage of world events. Internet penetration is only about a fifth of the population,” Ryskulova said.

Other observers are more worried. In a fiery Apr. 8 op-ed for the Kyrgyz news outlet AkiPress, Edil Baisalov, who served as chief of staff to the former interim government, wrote: “I am willing to bet that the average Kyrgyzstani consumes more products of Russian propaganda annually than the average Tatar, Chechen or Yakut.”

The consequence of such viewing habits, he added, can be seen in the national parliament, where lawmakers are considering bills almost identical in substance to those discussed in the Russian state Duma, and among illiberal youth groups that parrot the Kremlin’s homophobic and anti-Western rhetoric at press conferences that receive disproportionate airtime. These trends showed some Kyrgyz have become “tired of independence,” Baisalov asserted.

In print media, traditionally pro-Russian publications have been mirroring ORT’s narrative concerning Ukrainian events (i.e. that Ukrainian fascists are trampling on the rights of Russian speakers) and other topics.

The introduction to an article titled Russophobic Hysteria in the Apr. 9 edition of the Russian language weekly Delo Nomer vented against Washington-funded Radio Free Europe, which earlier had alleged that the Kyrgyz periodical received funding from Moscow.

The remainder of the article featured an interview with “political scientist and ex-diplomat” Bakyt Baketaev, who opined: “let’s speak openly – if there was a referendum on Kyrgyzstan entering the Russian Federation, many Kyrgyz would vote [yes], first and foremost those who remember the Soviet Union.”

Pro-Russian periodicals in Kyrgyzstan offer a heavy dose of anti-Americanism. Another article in same edition of Delo Nomer, for example, raised alarm about the supposed danger posed by “The United States’ Kyrgyz Front.” It linked a recent visit to Bishkek by the U.S. State Department’s Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Nisha Biswal, to the April 10 National Opposition Movement protest.

U.S. officials have denied financing such activity. Meanwhile, Dengi i Vlast, another newspaper that leans pro-Russian ran a story in its Apr. 4 edition with a headline that read “Who is this bird Jomart Otorbayev?” The story featured a cartoon of Kyrgyzstan’s new prime minister on a tank with an American flag. Otorbayev’s “great mission” is “to block Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Customs Union,” it alleged.

Funding sources for Kyrgyz media outlets are notoriously difficult to trace, prompting speculation that Russia is funneling money to local periodicals and broadcasters. It is “completely possible” that Kyrgyz media platforms receive money from Russian and other foreign sources, acknowledges Ilim Karypbekov, the chair of the public advisory board at the Kyrgyz broadcaster OTRK.

But, he adds, the republic’s media woes go deeper than that. Kyrgyz media is generally unprofitable, he says, meaning that “any sharp political confrontations” are “a means to earn money in exchange for coverage of a certain kind.”

What results is less an information war and more an “information vacuum” wherein outlets “attack politicians and each other, but don’t really highlight issues,” Karypbekov told Eurasianet.org.

Given its weak, fledgling democracy and strategic geopolitical location, Kyrgyzstan remains vulnerable to media manipulation, adds Karypbekov. “In our current situation we are located at the crossroads of a number of interests – internal and external — political speculation is profitable and objectivity is expensive,” he said.

Editor’s note: Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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U.S. Apache Delivery Highlights Mixed Messaging on Egypt http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-apache-delivery-highlights-mixed-messaging-egypt/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-apache-delivery-highlights-mixed-messaging-egypt http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-apache-delivery-highlights-mixed-messaging-egypt/#comments Thu, 24 Apr 2014 00:14:13 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133859 Last October, the Barack Obama administration suspended the delivery of attack helicopters to Egypt’s interim government following the Jul. 2 military ouster of Egypt’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi. “Delivery of these systems could resume pending Egypt’s progress toward an inclusive democratically-elected civilian government,” said Derek Chollet, the assistant secretary of defence for international security […]

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Capt. Sean Spence, the commander of B Co. TF Eagle, rides shotgun on an AH-64 Apache during an Apache extraction exercise Aug. 25 at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo. Credit: public domain

Capt. Sean Spence, the commander of B Co. TF Eagle, rides shotgun on an AH-64 Apache during an Apache extraction exercise Aug. 25 at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo. Credit: public domain

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 24 2014 (IPS)

Last October, the Barack Obama administration suspended the delivery of attack helicopters to Egypt’s interim government following the Jul. 2 military ouster of Egypt’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.

“Delivery of these systems could resume pending Egypt’s progress toward an inclusive democratically-elected civilian government,” said Derek Chollet, the assistant secretary of defence for international security affairs, during testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee Oct. 29."There is a strong risk that they will be used in carrying out serious human rights abuses - basically collective punishment of entire communities - in the Sinai." -- Michelle Dunne

So the announcement late Tuesday by the Pentagon that 10 apache helicopters will now be delivered despite agreement by major rights groups that the Egyptian government has, if anything, increased its repression in the intervening six months is being met with concern.

“It’s abundantly clear that Egypt is not taking steps toward a democratic transition,” said Sarah Margon, the Washington director of Human Rights Watch. “It’s a very confused statement.”

Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel told his Egyptian counterpart that “we are not yet able to certify that Egypt is taking steps to support a democratic transition.” At the same time he confirmed the delivery of the Apache helicopters in support of Egypt’s counterterrorism operations in the Sinai, according to a readout of their phone call Tuesday.

Secretary of State John Kerry will also be certifying to Congress that Egypt is “sustaining the strategic relationship with the United States – including by countering transnational threats such as terrorism and weapons proliferation – and that Egypt is upholding its obligations under the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty”, according to a separate statement released Tuesday.

“The U.S. administration keeps trying to split the difference, sending the message that they want to keep up security cooperation with the Egyptian government but at the same time that they don’t approve of the coup and the massive human rights abuses that have followed,” Michelle Dunne, a former State Department Middle East specialist, told IPS.

“I think these helicopters are intended to show support for the fight against terrorism in the Sinai and not for General [Abdel Fatah] al-Sisi’s presidential campaign, but that’s not an easy distinction to make,” said Dunne, now a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“The other problem with delivering the Apaches is that there is a strong risk that they will be used in carrying out serious human rights abuses — basically collective punishment of entire communities — in the Sinai,” she said.

“This would be a direct violation of President Obama’s January 2014 directive against providing conventional weapons in situations where they are likely to be used to commit human rights violations or to associate the United States with such violations,” added Dunne.

As noted by Dunne, rights groups worry that any distinctions the Obama administration may be trying to make between addressing legitimate Egyptian security concerns and disapproving of its human rights record will be lost as a result of the delivery of the Apache helicopters.

“Our concern is that these fine distinctions will be lost on most people in Egypt and will be distorted by the Egyptian government, that will claim that this indicates U.S. support,” Neil Hicks, the international policy advisor at Human Rights First, told IPS.

Almost one month ago, the Obama administration strongly denounced an Egyptian court’s decision to sentence 529 people to death for the killing of one police officer during protests of the coup against Morsi last July.

“The interim government must understand the negative message that this decision, if upheld, would send to the world about Egypt’s commitment to international law and inclusivity,” Kerry said on Mar. 26 in reaction to the mass death sentences.

The Obama administration has strongly condemned the violent crackdown by the Egyptian military against protesterrs following the ouster of Morsi, which many Egyptians supported at the time.

Citing statistics by Egyptian rights groups and other sources, a Carnegie report authored by Dunne and Scott Williamson in March found that the current level of repression in Egypt actually exceeds the scale reached under former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who tried to crush the Muslim Brotherhood in the 1950s and 1960s by rounding up hundreds of members and executing a dozen of their leaders, and in the aftermath of the assassination of former President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

A total of 3,143 people have been killed as a result of political violence between Jul. 3 last year and the end of January. Of the total, at least 2,528 civilians and 60 police were killed in political protests and clashes, and another 281 others are estimated to have been killed in terrorist attacks.

Some 16,400 people have also been arrested during political events, while another 2,590 political leaders — the vast majority associated with the Muslim Brotherhood — have been rounded up and remain in detention, the report said.

According to Stephen McInerney, the executive director of the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), the Obama administration’s decision to send the Apaches doesn’t contradict the law, “but sends the signal that concern for democratic progress is not an equal priority for this administration.

“Unfortunately, it’s not unexpected. It’s been clear that many in the administration have wanted to move forward with the resumption of military aid to Egypt,” McInerney told IPS.

Al-Sisi, who experts here say has exercised de facto power since the coup, is expected to be a shoo-in in Egypt’s presidential election late next month. He has returned many senior officials of the government of former President Hosni Mubarak, as well as many of his family’s business cronies, to positions they lost after Mubarak was forced to step down in the face of popular pressure and some urging by the U.S. and other Western governments in February 2011.

Citing increasing terrorist activity which has reportedly taken the lives of more than 430 police officers and soldiers since the coup, he urged the Obama administration Wednesday to re-instate all U.S. military and security all U.S. military assistance to Egypt. Washington has provided on average of about 1.3 billion dollars a year – almost all of it in military aid – in bilateral assistance to Cairo.

Next to Israel, Egypt has been the biggest beneficiary of U.S. bilateral assistance since the Camp David peace treaty was signed by the two nations in 1979. Besides helping to sustain the treaty, the aid has also ensured that U.S. warships are given priority access to the Suez Canal and U.S. warplanes can overfly Egyptian airspace.

The aid suspension last October infuriated the Egyptian military’s closest allies, notably Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Riyadh has promised to compensate for any shortfall in U.S. military aid by buying weapons systems other arms suppliers, including Russia, on Egypt’s behalf.

Saudi complaints that Washington has not provided sufficient support to Al-Sisi and the Egyptian military since the coup reportedly figured importantly in recent exchanges between Washington and Riyadh, including a visit by Obama himself with King Abdullah last month.

Jim Lobe contributed to this article.

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Argentina’s Informal Economy Shrinks, But Not Fast Enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/argentinas-informal-economy-shrinks-fast-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-informal-economy-shrinks-fast-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/argentinas-informal-economy-shrinks-fast-enough/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 21:29:15 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133857 At the age of 22, Franco finally landed his first job, although he is not on any payroll and receives no labour benefits. He is part of Argentina’s informal economy, where one out of three workers are employed – a proportion the government aims to reduce by means of a new law. Franco, who asked […]

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Daniel Reynoso with one of his three children at one of the spots in Buenos Aires where he sells the feather dusters that support his family. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet /IPS

Daniel Reynoso with one of his three children at one of the spots in Buenos Aires where he sells the feather dusters that support his family. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet /IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 23 2014 (IPS)

At the age of 22, Franco finally landed his first job, although he is not on any payroll and receives no labour benefits. He is part of Argentina’s informal economy, where one out of three workers are employed – a proportion the government aims to reduce by means of a new law.

Franco, who asked that his last name not be used, works in a company where 10 percent of the total 150 workers are not on the payroll – most of them young people.

“I don’t have any medical coverage, so if something happens to me in the street on the way to work, they won’t assume any responsibility,” Franco, who is also a student, told IPS. “And no contributions are made towards a pension, so this whole year I’ve been working won’t be counted towards my retirement.

“But I couldn’t afford to say no to the job because it’s off the books; I took it because I needed it.”

During the governments of the late Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and his successor, President Cristina Fernández, unemployment fell from 17.3 percent in 2003 to 6.4 percent in late 2013.

In addition, informal sector employment was reduced from 49.6 to 33.6 percent, according to official figures.

But unemployment and precarious employment are still a problem, especially for the young.

The Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security reports that young people under the age of 24 account for 58.7 percent of precarious employment.

“Since a large part of the population does not have access to posts with social protection, workers are forced to accept the labour conditions they are offered,” economist Juan Graña of the Centre of Studies on Population, Employment and Development (CEPED) and author of the book “Salario, calidad de empleo y distribución” (Salary, quality of employment and distribution), told IPS.

“Large companies directly put their workers in precarious conditions by means of legal mechanisms, thanks to the reforms of the 1990s, which expanded this kind of work through short-term contracts or trial periods, or by outsourcing part of their processes to small companies,” to cut costs, he added.

The manager of a company that sells school supplies told IPS that in small or medium companies like his, the costs of labour and social benefits represent an additional 50 percent on top of the wages paid.

“They are very high fixed costs that leave little profit margin, and if the company doesn’t manage to sell, it goes under,” said the executive, who asked to be identified only by his initials, D.G.

On Apr. 15, the centre-left government introduced a bill in Congress for the “promotion of registered labour and prevention of labour fraud”.

The bill is aimed at regularising the situation of 650,000 workers in the first two years, in order to lower the portion of the workforce active in the informal economy from 33.6 percent to 28 percent.

According to President Fernández, precarious and informal labour “is the second-most pressing problem” facing workers in Argentina, after unemployment.

The bill would cut employer contributions in half for companies with up to five workers, and would create incentives for putting employees on the payroll, based on the size of the company.

Companies with up to 15 workers would not make contributions for new employees in their first year of work, and would only pay 25 percent in the second. Businesses with between 16 and 80 employees would be given a 50 percent discount for 24 months, and those with more than 80 would have a discount of 25 percent for the same period of time.

Another central pillar of the reform is a public registry of companies that receive subsidies, credits and tax exemptions from the state. If they commit labour fraud, these benefits would be cancelled, and they would be subject to other penalties as well.

In addition, the number of labour inspectors would be increased.

The most likely to work in the informal economy are domestics, plumbers, electricians, cleaners, and textile workers, followed by agricultural labourers, construction workers, and hotel and restaurant workers. There are also many freelance professionals and self-employed workers, such as street vendors.

Daniel Reynoso, who has sold feather dusters in Buenos Aires since the age of 12, is one of them. With his work as a street vendor he supports his three children and managed to build a house in a poor suburb of the capital.

Although he likes a job where he feels “free,” such as selling feather dusters at a street stall, he laments that he has neither health coverage nor the right to a pension when he retires.

“I’m scared for my kids; when something happens to them I have to go to a clinic and pay up front, or to a public hospital,” said Reynoso, who has a feather duster workshop in his house.

Moreover, sales are not steady. “When it rains, I don’t go out, and I lose what I would have earned that day,” he told IPS.

In the past decade, some six million jobs were created in this country of 42 million.

But Fernández admits that precarious working conditions continue to undermine social equality.

Graña said, “Precarious workers, who have no institutional coverage, are in poor conditions to improve their working situation and defend their wages,” which are threatened by inflation.

Furthermore, these jobs “tend to have high turnover, which hurts people’s job prospects, since they don’t gain skills or knowledge in these jobs.”

And wages are 35 to 50 percent lower than those of employees in the formal sector of the economy.

“Precariousness is one of the main factors of income inequality in any economy,” Graña said. For that reason “any policy aimed at combating the phenomenon is welcome, because of the effect on the living standards of families and on the distribution of income.”

There are factors that influence the precariousness of labour, such as the difficulty to compete faced by companies, which cut labour costs in order to survive, the expert said. “The definitive solution for that is economic development,” he argued.

He said there is a need for measures such as the ones the bill would introduce, because the mentality is “I won’t register any of my workers until the process is subsidised.”

The economist stressed that since the late 2001 financial meltdown that plunged the economy into the most severe economic crisis in Argentine history, “the quality of the labour market has improved, and in many cases, labour flexibility measures of the 1990s have been revoked.”

But “in terms of both pay and quality, we are currently far from the levels that we once had in Argentina. The purchasing power of industrial workers is still 27 percent lower than it was in 1974,” Graña said.

Ernesto Mattos, an economist at the Centre for Research and Management of the Solidarity Economy (CIGES), underscored advances made in combating informal labour conditions for rural workers and domestics, for example, whose labour rights have been guaranteed by new legislation passed in 2011.

In his view, more credit should be made available to small businesses which, although they are low capital intensive, “hire more labour power for production.”

Growth of economic activity was the main factor in reducing the informal economy, said Mattos. But in order to continue making progress, labour training is essential “in this stage of capitalism in which technology is important,” he said.

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Persecution of Uganda’s Gays Intensifies as Rights Groups Go Underground http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/persecution-ugandas-gays-intensifies-rights-groups-go-underground/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=persecution-ugandas-gays-intensifies-rights-groups-go-underground http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/persecution-ugandas-gays-intensifies-rights-groups-go-underground/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:23:20 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133840 As she sits in a Kampala hotel holding a mobile phone that rings frequently, Sandra Ntebi tells IPS: “I’m really exhausted. I don’t know where to start. We have many cases pending.” Ntebi manages a hotline and is helping Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community find alternative, safe accommodation after they have faced […]

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Sandra Ntebi, who runs a hotline and helps Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community find alternative, safe accommodation, pictured here at the 2013 Gay Pride parade. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Sandra Ntebi, who runs a hotline and helps Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community find alternative, safe accommodation, pictured here at the 2013 Gay Pride parade. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Apr 23 2014 (IPS)

As she sits in a Kampala hotel holding a mobile phone that rings frequently, Sandra Ntebi tells IPS: “I’m really exhausted. I don’t know where to start. We have many cases pending.” Ntebi manages a hotline and is helping Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community find alternative, safe accommodation after they have faced harassment.

“Right now, some people have been thrown out of their homes, some are in jail. Every day there are cases.”

It’s nearly 4.30pm on Tuesday, Apr. 22, just over two months since Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed a draconian anti-gay bill that further criminalises homosexuality in this East African nation.Many activists had fled Uganda to seek asylum in different countries, while most LGBTI organisations were closed “due to fear”.

So far today Ntebi has received calls relating to four new cases concerning LGBTI people or those perceived to be LGBTI that include incidents of evictions by landlords, police arrests and mob attacks.

In total she and a colleague have received reports of about 130 different cases across the country since Museveni inked his signature on the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 in late February.

The law prescribes life imprisonment for some homosexual acts and also criminalises the “promotion of homosexuality”, among other measures.

“The situation is tense. Right now this act is promoting violence,” says Ntebi.

“I get the reports since I have the hotline. We sit down later with the details then categorise them into evictions, arrests and assaults.”

Today her co-worker has received a call about a new incident in Hoima, western Uganda. Among the cases Ntebi is dealing with is a fresh attack on Brenda, an HIV positive, transgender sex worker in her late 30s who lives just outside the capital, Kampala.

In March Brenda was “paraded” before local media, outed as a transsexual, beaten, undressed and arrested.

“We bailed her out, she went back to her house in the village and she couldn’t even leave because people were out every day waiting for her,” says Ntebi. “They were throwing stones.”

Brenda went to stay with a friend based on advice from the LGBTI hotline. Then on Thursday, Apr. 17, she was beaten again, taken to hospital and is now holed up in a hotel.

“We’re trying to secure a house for her to rent,” says Ntebi, who on Wednesday went to help Brenda.

Around Mar. 19, the same time that Brenda was first attacked, three Ugandan men who were perceived to be gay were assaulted and admitted to the Mulago Hospital in Kampala. A few weeks later, Ntebi says, the team were alerted to a possible suicide of an LGBTI person by an embassy.

On Apr. 3 crime intelligence officers raided the Makerere University Walter Reed Project clinic, a non-profit collaboration between Makerere University in Kampala and the U.S. Military HIV Research Programme. Police claimed the project, one of the few in Kampala willing to offer services to LGBTI people with AIDS, was “carrying out recruitment and training of young males in unnatural sex acts.”

Many activists and other members of the gay community are now in hiding, says Ntebi, who is wearing a black vest from a 2006 campaign run by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SM-UG), an NGO and the umbrella for all homosexual organisations in Uganda. The words “Leave me in peace” are embroidered on the back.

Ntebi says many activists had fled Uganda to seek asylum in different countries, while most LGBTI organisations were closed “due to fear”.

Ntebi now only goes to work at her office when it’s absolutely essential.

Beyondy is the nickname for a 23-year-old fashion designer who is in hiding.

He used to spend his days sewing a dress for a client or mastering routines for upcoming events, like the second Gay Pride parade in 2013.

Since the bill was signed he has moved to a tiny one-bedroom shack, tucked away at the back of a slum in a lively Kampala suburb. Beyondy now spends his days mostly indoors watching music videos by Beyoncé, Pink and Rita Ora, only going outside when he has to.

“I like Rita’s style – the blonde hair, her red lipstick,” cooes Beyondy, wearing a T-shirt and board shorts showing off his muscular build, when IPS met him recently.

“I wanted to be a performer, for people to see my talent and discover me. But right now I think it’s impossible. Right now it’s all about survival, saving your life and being quiet, being underground all the time.”

In the past Beyondy was attacked “a lot”, and fears he’ll be targeted again now that the anti-gay act is in force.

“You know someone was saying recently, ‘if we had a choice between forgiving a rapist and a gay person, we’d rather choose a rapist,’” he says.

Activists are hoping a petition filed in March challenging the act will come up in the country’s constitutional court early next month.

According to the Ugandan newspaper The Observer, the government has filed a defence, claiming the act does not contravene the right to equality and freedom from cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment guaranteed under the country’s constitution. The government wants the petition dismissed.

But even if the law is overturned Beyondy says it will take much more than a court ruling to change social attitudes towards homosexuality in Uganda.

In the current climate of homophobia, which activists stress has been “imported” to Uganda via western evangelists, virtually everyone is aware they can use another person’s sexuality to exact revenge.

“It’s in people’s minds and even if it’s overturned they’ll still think about it.”

But he’s adamant he will remain in Uganda to “rebuild both personally and professionally”.

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Japan Seeks Foreign Workers, Uneasily http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/japan-seeks-foreign-workers-uneasily/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=japan-seeks-foreign-workers-uneasily http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/japan-seeks-foreign-workers-uneasily/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:29:38 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133846 Desperate for more workers to support a construction boom, Japan has proposed to expand its controversial foreign trainee programme to permit more unskilled labour from Asia to work in Japanese companies for five years from the current three years. The internship plan launched in 1993 invites foreign trainees to work in Japanese companies under the […]

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Foreign workers rallying in Tokyo against discrimination and denial of basic rights. Credit: Catherine Makino/IPS.

Foreign workers rallying in Tokyo against discrimination and denial of basic rights. Credit: Catherine Makino/IPS.

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Apr 23 2014 (IPS)

Desperate for more workers to support a construction boom, Japan has proposed to expand its controversial foreign trainee programme to permit more unskilled labour from Asia to work in Japanese companies for five years from the current three years.
The internship plan launched in 1993 invites foreign trainees to work in Japanese companies under the slogan of learning new technologies before returning home.

But it is ridden with problems."The new move is a clear example of a ‘use and discard foreign labour’ goal."

More than 200 companies were reported in 2012 for abuses such as low pay and long working hours for foreign workers. Activists view the trainee system as a blatant stop-gap measure to counter Japan’s aging population – a quarter of its 130 million people are above 65. From a peak of 83 million workers in 1995, their number had fallen by almost five million in 2012.

The construction industry badly needs foreigners for jobs such as plasterers and mold makers.

The government has now proposed a plan for trainees to extend their visas by two years for “designated activities” to pave the way for employment for trainees.

Labour activists say the move is suspiciously timed for Japan to host Olympics 2020, and that it will do little for the stated policy of the trainee system to exchange technology with developing countries.

“Japan’s immigration policy refuses to treat migrant workers as people with rights that must be protected. The new move is a clear example of a ‘use and discard foreign labour’ goal,” Ippei Torii, head of the foreign workers branch at Zentotsu, a leading labour organisation, tells IPS.

Zentotsu has taken up negotiations on behalf of several foreign trainees who have been discriminated against by their employees. A typical example is the ongoing cases of six Chinese women who were paid four dollars an hour, half of the official minimum wage, for three years at a sewing factory in rural Japan.

“They could not escape because each was saddled with 8,000 dollars in debt they had incurred in their home towns in China to brokers,” says Ippei.

Currently 19 percent – or 136,603 – of all foreign workers in Japan are trainees. Nationals from China, Vietnam and the Philippines top the list. About 15,000 of the foreigners are employed in construction. Their average wage is around 1,200 dollars per month, plus payment for overtime work.

Jotaro Kato at the Asian People’s Friendship Society (APFS) tells IPS that the government must enact a working visa for unskilled workers. “The [proposed] increase in foreign trainees smacks of a typical bureaucratic approach and is not a sustainable solution to a crucial national issue.”

Following a clampdown, the number of foreigners overstaying has dropped to about 6,000, from a high of 250,000 recorded in the nineties. “Because of the crackdown, poor people from Asia are now entering Japan as trainees or extending their stay by applying for refugee status, or marrying local people in a desperate bid to live here,” Kato tells IPS.

The Construction Workers Union is opposed to the new trainee plan on the basis that it would increase the number of low-paid foreigners, posing a risk to the higher salaries of Japanese workers.

The Japan Federation of Construction issued a statement last week calling for doubling the number of female workers from the current 90,000 over the next five years to bridge the gap between supply and demand.

In a Yomuiri newspaper public opinion survey in March, only 10 percent of those polled were ready to accept unskilled migrant workers, because of concerns such as crime. An overwhelming 85 percent supported more women in the workforce as a solution.

Japan has an embarrassingly low acceptance of foreigners – less than two percent of the Japanese population. This includes almost 400,000 people under the Special Permanent Residents category reserved for people of Korean descent who were born in Japan but have not become citizens.

With only 1.1 percent of its workforce comprising foreigners, Japan is at the bottom of the list among industrialised countries. Germany comparatively has 9.4 percent and the United Kingdom 7.6 percent.

Even South Korea, facing a workers crunch, showed higher figures at 2.2 percent in 2011, the result of offers of a three-year working permit for foreign labour.

In the face of the looming demographic crisis, Japan too has had to make some changes in its immigration policies.

Two Economic Partnership Agreements were signed with Indonesia and the Philippines in 2008 that included a provision for nurses and caregivers from those countries to work in Japan. About 750 nurses have arrived in the past five years.

Japan’s nursing industry is grappling with a shortfall of 43,000 nurses, according to the Health and Welfare Ministry. Many Japanese nurses quit after starting a family because they are unable to cope with the long working hours in hospitals.

Japan introduced a policy in 1990 to permit Latin Americans of Japanese descent to work as temporary migrant labourers. More than 220,000 arrived, mostly from Brazil. These Nikkeijin as they are called are descendants of Japanese who had emigrated to Latin America in the 1920s.

The Nikkeijin policy changed soon after the 2008 global financial crisis, when the government took the unprecedented measure of offering free transport to Japanese Brazilians who opted to return to Brazil.

Indonesian and Filipino caregivers who study and work in Japan have struggled with passing tests to continue nursing in Japan. Of the first 104 Indonesians candidates, just 24 passed in 2011. Others are still studying.

“The bottom line must be a policy that accepts overseas unskilled workers as human beings who will enter Japan to work and start new lives,” says Jun Saito at the Japan Centre for Economic Research, a leading think-tank. “They are not robots to be returned after their visas end.”

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Bringing the Bridges Home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/bringing-bridges-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bringing-bridges-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/bringing-bridges-home/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 05:02:35 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133759 As foreign forces withdraw slowly from Afghanistan, they leave behind a vulnerable band of people who were their ears and guides on the ground. These people who served as interpreters, face a life of threats and uncertainties. Many have been killed. Increasingly, linguists, media professionals, NGOs and advocacy groups are stepping up demands for international […]

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A soldier and an Afghan interpreter in a scene from the German film Inbetween Worlds. Credit: Wolfgang Ennenbach/Majestic.

A soldier and an Afghan interpreter in a scene from the German film Inbetween Worlds. Credit: Wolfgang Ennenbach/Majestic.

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Apr 23 2014 (IPS)

As foreign forces withdraw slowly from Afghanistan, they leave behind a vulnerable band of people who were their ears and guides on the ground. These people who served as interpreters, face a life of threats and uncertainties. Many have been killed.

Increasingly, linguists, media professionals, NGOs and advocacy groups are stepping up demands for international recognition of interpreters’ human rights to safety and sanctuary.

“Leaving them behind is tantamount to a death sentence,” Maya Hess, forensic linguist and head of the advocacy group Red T supporting translators and interpreters tells IPS. They must be granted protective asylum by the countries employing them, she says."Leaving them behind is tantamount to a death sentence."

Red T in collaboration with the International Association of Conference Interpreters and the International Federation of Translators published the first multilingual international Conflict Zone Field Guide in 2002, with new translations being added continually. The document, a reference source in the UK’s Ministry of Defence publication ‘Linguistic Support to Operations’ spells out best practices between host nation linguists and users of their services.

Indeed, formalising the rights to safety and security provisions for civilian interpreters and translators in war zones is long overdue.

Between 2007 and 2009, says Hess, Military Essential Personnel, a U.S. defence contractor, confirmed a death toll of 30 interpreters in 30 months. In Iraq, British forces lost 21 interpreters over a 21-day period.

Many more have been injured and have suffered life threats and persecution. The Bundeswehr, the German military, has received more 700 such claims from local employees.

Noor Ahmad Noori (29), an Afghan interpreter who worked formerly for The New York Times in Afghanistan, is among the latest casualties in a long trail of bloodshed among interpreters.

He was abducted and later found beaten and stabbed to death near Lashkar Gah, a Taliban stronghold, in January.

Jawad Wafa (25) a Bundeswehr interpreter with the Kunduz Task Force within the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was found strangled in the boot of a parked vehicle on Nov. 24, 2013. His death came a month after the German armed forces’ withdrawal.

Despite repeated threats he faced, and an entitlement to protective asylum, his documents were not expedited in time.

“Red tapes costs lives,” Hess warns.

Wafa had been invited to the Bundeswehr headquarters in Mazar-e-Sharif, and his name was on the list of the 182 permits announced in October 2013 by the Federal Minister for the Interior, Hans Peter Friedrich.

A grinding maze involving a paper shuffle between the Foreign Office in Berlin, the Federal office for Migration and Refugees – which expedites eligibility permits – and the German embassy in Kabul, did not help Wafa.

In 2008, Matt Zeller, a U.S. army captain was saved “in extremis” by Janis Shinwari, his interpreter who shot down Taliban snipers just before they could pull the trigger on Zeller. When his name ended on a Taliban death list, he was swiftly given a U.S. visa thanks to Zeller’s efforts.

A year later the U.S. Congress passed the 2009 Afghan Allies Protection Act, which made 7,500 visas available to Afghan employees – mainly translators and interpreters.

In Germany, Red T, together with the International Association of Conference Interpreters, the International Federation of Translators, and the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters, sent an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel in June 2013 citing Section 22 of the German Residence Act which provides residency visas for “urgent humanitarian reasons”.

The German government acknowledged in October 2013 that translators and interpreters are a “high-risk category” because of their particular “visibility” in their role as communication brokers for the military and police. This was an important, yet insufficient step forward.

“While the intention of the German authorities to change their visa policy and grant permits to Afghan interpreters and ancillary staff may be laudable, the fact that only a few interpreters have made it to Germany since the announcement is appalling,” says Hess.

In February this year Bundeswehr interpreters Aliullah Nazary (26) and Qyamuddin Shukury (25) landed relieved and elated in Hamburg after facing months of life threats. Chilling messages were dropped on their doorsteps. “You German spy, you wait for your death now”, one read.

Approximately 500 translators and interpreters are believed to have been employed by German forces and government bodies. The latest Foreign Office figures obtained by IPS confirm that 296 eligibility permits, or Aufnahmezusagen, and 131 immigration visas have been issued, and that 107 Afghan claimants have arrived in Germany.

The low number of arrivals may be due to the transition in Afghanistan. In some cases applicants receive financial compensation after their contracts expire. Bernd Mesovic, spokesperson for Pro Asyl, says many may be holding on to their German permits in the hope that the security situation will improve in Afghanistan and Taliban threats subside. “We recommend that the process be further expedited,” says Mesovic.

“We urgently need a paradigm shift in how translators and interpreters are treated and perceived,” says Hess. “I do hope that the powers that be increasingly wake up to how dangerous this profession is, and that safe houses and security will be provided for linguists until they are able to leave.”

A recent German war drama, titled ‘Inbetween Worlds’, which centres on the story of an 18-year-old Afghan interpreter for a German squad, has brought home the plight of interpreters in the war zone to many Germans.

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U.S.-Russia Sabre Rattling May Undermine Nuke Meeting http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-russia-sabre-rattling-may-undermine-nuke-meeting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-russia-sabre-rattling-may-undermine-nuke-meeting http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-russia-sabre-rattling-may-undermine-nuke-meeting/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 20:55:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133828 The growing tension between the United States and Russia over Ukraine has threatened to unravel one of the primary peace initiatives of the United Nations: nuclear disarmament. As they trade charges against each other, the world’s two major nuclear powers have intensified their bickering – specifically on the eve of a key Preparatory Committee (PrepCoM) […]

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U.S. Permanent Representative Samantha Power (left) speaks with Russia's Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov (right), and Vitaly Churkin (back to camera), Russia's Permanent Representative, in happier times, prior to a unanimous vote by the Security Council on Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

U.S. Permanent Representative Samantha Power (left) speaks with Russia's Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov (right), and Vitaly Churkin (back to camera), Russia's Permanent Representative, in happier times, prior to a unanimous vote by the Security Council on Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

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

The growing tension between the United States and Russia over Ukraine has threatened to unravel one of the primary peace initiatives of the United Nations: nuclear disarmament.

As they trade charges against each other, the world’s two major nuclear powers have intensified their bickering – specifically on the eve of a key Preparatory Committee (PrepCoM) meeting on a treaty to stop the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction (WMD)."The spectre of war in Europe may give new impetus to efforts to ban the bomb." -- Alice Slater

The “Thirteen Steps” agreed upon at a review conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2000 and the 64-point Action Programme, together with the agreement on the Middle East WMD Free Zone proposal at the 2010 Conference, had augured well for the strengthened review process, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs Jayantha Dhanapala told IPS.

But he warned that, “However the actual achievements, the return to Cold War mindsets by the U.S. and Russia and the negative record of all the nuclear weapon states have converted the goal of a nuclear weapon free world into a mirage.

“Unless the Third Prepcom reverses these ominous trends, the 2015 Conference is doomed to fail, imperiling the future of the NPT,” warned Dhanapala, who is also president of the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs.

The Third PrepCom for the upcoming 2015 Review Conference of the NPT is scheduled to take place at the United Nations Apr. 28 through May 9.

But a positive outcome will depend largely on the United States and Russia, along with the other declared nuclear powers, Britain, France and China, who are also the five permanent members (P5) of the Security Council.

Ray Acheson, director of Reaching Critical Will, a programme of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS next week’s PrepCom is being held at a time of high tensions between the two countries with the largest stockpiles of nuclear weapons.

The United Nations describes the 1970 NPT as "a landmark international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology, to promote cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy and to further the goal of achieving nuclear disarmament and general and complete disarmament".

The treaty represents the only binding commitment in a multilateral treaty to the goal of disarmament by the nuclear-weapon states.

As of now, there are 190 parties to the treaty, including the five nuclear-weapon states, namely the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia.

But the other nuclear weapons states - India, Israel and Pakistan - have refused to join the NPT. North Korea joined and withdrew in 2003.

She said neither of these countries has fulfilled their obligation to negotiate the elimination of these weapons and in fact, both spend billions of dollars upgrading them and extending their lives into the indefinite future.

“Nuclear weapons are inherently dangerous and the risk of their use by accident or on purpose warrants urgent action on disarmament,” Acheson added.

During 2014, she pointed out, the NPT nuclear-armed states must report on their concrete activities to fulfill the disarmament-related actions of the 2010 NPT Action Plan.

The extent to which the nuclear-armed states can report the achievement of meaningful progress in implementing their commitments will be a strong indicator of their intention to serve as willing leaders and partners in this process, she noted.

But “none of the public releases issued thus far by the nuclear-armed states has given any reason to expect they have given serious consideration to the implementation of most of those commitments.”

Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told IPS there is “alarming sabre rattling on the eve of the NPT PrepCom.”

She said the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) builds up its military forces to “protect” Eastern Europe. The media reports only part of the story, justifying NATO war games based on events in Ukraine; former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton compares Putin to Hitler; and the New York Times front page blares “Cold War Echo, Obama Strategy Writes Off Putin”.

“Yet there’s little reporting on Russia’s security fears as NATO expands up to its borders, inviting even Ukraine and Georgia to join,” said Slater, who also serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000.

This, she said, despite President Ronald Reagan and President George Bush’s promises to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, that NATO would not expand beyond East Germany.

Nor is it reported how the U.S., in 2001, quit the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Treaty, planting missiles in Poland, Romania and Turkey, she added.

In his closing statement as president of the historic 1995 NPT Review and Extension Conference, which extended the treaty for an indefinite duration, Dhanapala said, “The permanence of the Treaty does not represent a permanence of unbalanced obligations, nor does it represent the permanence of nuclear apartheid between nuclear haves and have-nots.

“What it does represent is our collective dedication to the permanence of an international legal barrier against nuclear proliferation so that we can forge ahead in our tasks towards a nuclear weapons-free world.”

Slater told IPS that deteriorating U.S.-Russian relations bodes poorly for progress at the paralysed NPT process, which even before this latest eruption of enmity failed to implement the many promises for nuclear disarmament since 1970.

But this new crisis may motivate nations to press more vigorously for the process that began in Oslo (at the 2013 conference on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons), addressing the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons and urging their legal ban.

With 16,000 nuclear bombs in Russia and the U.S., non-nuclear weapons states must step up their efforts for a ban treaty, she added.

The P-5 nuclear powers boycotted these meetings in Oslo (in 2013) and Mexico (February 2014) while Indian and Pakistan joined 127 nations in Oslo and 144 in Mexico. This year, Austria will host a follow-up.

This new process raises a contradiction highlighting the growing reality gap in the “nuclear umbrella” states, Slater said.

They ostensibly support nuclear disarmament and deplore the catastrophic consequences of nuclear war in this burgeoning new global conversation about its humanitarian effects, while continuing to rely on lethal nuclear deterrence, she noted.

Article VI of the NPT requires all treaty parties to be responsible for its fulfillment.

“The spectre of war in Europe may give new impetus to efforts to ban the bomb,” warned Slater.

Acheson told IPS that unlike the other weapons of mass destruction – chemical and biological weapons – nuclear weapons are not yet subject to an explicit legal prohibition.

“Now is the time to address this anomaly, which has been allowed to persist for far too long. History shows that legal prohibitions of weapon systems, their possession as well as their use, facilitate their elimination.”

She said weapons that have been outlawed increasingly become seen as illegitimate.

They lose their political status and, along with it, the money and resources for their production, modernisation, proliferation, and perpetuation.

In the context of rising tensions between two countries with nuclear weapons it is more imperative than ever that non-nuclear weapon states take the lead to ban nuclear weapons, Acheson stressed.

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Nigeria – From Sticks and Machetes to Rocket-propelled Grenades http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/nigeria-sticks-machetes-rocket-propelled-grenades/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nigeria-sticks-machetes-rocket-propelled-grenades http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/nigeria-sticks-machetes-rocket-propelled-grenades/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:04:38 +0000 Sam Olukoya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133802 Nigerians are beginning to adjust to the sad reality that they live in a country where suicide bombers and terrorists could be lurking around the next corner thanks to a ready supply of advanced weapons smuggled through the country’s porous borders.  Last week, Ngupar Kemzy’s cousin, Andy Nepli, told him that he planned to spend […]

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Boko Haram's latest bomb attack in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Apr. 14, 2014, claimed 75 lives. Courtesy: Ayo Bello

Boko Haram's latest bomb attack in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Apr. 14, 2014, claimed 75 lives. Courtesy: Ayo Bello

By Sam Olukoya
LAGOS, Nigeria, Apr 22 2014 (IPS)

Nigerians are beginning to adjust to the sad reality that they live in a country where suicide bombers and terrorists could be lurking around the next corner thanks to a ready supply of advanced weapons smuggled through the country’s porous borders. 

Last week, Ngupar Kemzy’s cousin, Andy Nepli, told him that he planned to spend the Easter holidays with him.

But two days later, on Apr. 14, 32-year-old Nepli was one of the 75 people killed in two powerful explosions at a crowded bus station in Nyanya, a suburb in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.“Those using these modern weapons have attained a boldness they never would have had if they were handling crude weapons.” -- Steve Obodokwe, of the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development

Many of the victims were so badly wounded that it was difficult to identify them.

“We only knew it was him after checking his clothes and seeing his identity card,” Kemzy, who rushed to the scene, told IPS. “Human body parts were littered all over the place,” he said.

On the same night, Nigeria was forced to contend with yet another horror when 129 schoolgirls were abducted from their hostel in Chibok, Borno State in the country’s northeast.

Boko Haram, a group waging a violent campaign for the imposition of Islamic rule in this West African nation, claimed responsibility for the bombing. The group is suspected to also be responsible for the abduction of the schoolgirls in Chibok.

Bombings, abductions and a scorched earth policy of burning down entire villages and killing the inhabitants are some of the violent techniques used by the extremist group.

Boko Haram, which is believed to have links with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Somali-based Al-Shabaab, is mainly active in northeastern Nigeria

Global human rights movement Amnesty International says 1,500 people were killed within the first three month of this year by Boko Haram and “uncontrolled reprisals by Nigeria’s security forces.”

A transformation to modern weaponry is said to have aided the escalation of the crisis in the country.

Besides Boko Haram, several other armed ethnic militia operate in Central Nigeria. And armed groups have moved from using crude weapons like sticks, machetes, cudgels, and dane guns to more lethal and advanced weapons like machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

“Those using these modern weapons have attained a boldness they never would have had if they were handling crude weapons,” Steve Obodokwe, of the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, told IPS.

“With their modern weapons, armed groups have been able to gather the courage to attack even military barracks,” said Obodokwe.

There is a ready supply of weapons smuggled into Nigeria through its porous borders. Some weapons are believed to have entered the country following armed conflicts in countries like Libya and Mali.

Former Nigerian defence minister Olusola Obada says some of the smuggled weapons were those looted from Libyan armouries during the 2011 crisis to oust the late Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi (1942 – 2011).

It is also believed that some of the weapons, especially those being used by Boko Haram, entered Nigeria through Al-Qaeda’s network.

“It is not out of place to suggest that some of the weapons in Nigeria were supplied by Islamist groups in Somalia and Mali,” says Obodokwe.

With its links to Al-Qaeda and a good supply of arms, Boko Haram has successfully carried out several high-profile terrorist attacks in Nigeria. These include attacks on military bases and the 2011 bombing of both the national police and United Nations headquarters in Abuja.

“The consequences of these successful attacks is that Boko Haram has demystified Nigeria’s security agencies,” Ifeanyi Okechukwu, national coordinator of the West Africa Network for Peace Building, which works with international organisations to prevent armed conflict, told IPS.

He says the success of Boko Haram has encouraged other groups here to pick up arms against their opponents, knowing that security agencies are incapable of stopping them.

The great cost to Nigeria

The conflicts in Nigeria have come at great cost. The International Crisis Group, an independent organisation working to prevent deadly conflicts, says the Boko Haram’s insurgency alone has “displaced close to half a million people, destroyed hundreds of schools and government buildings and devastated an already ravaged economy in the northeast, one of Nigeria’s poorest regions.”

The organisation fears that with no end in sight, the insurgency could spill over “to other parts of the north and risks reaching Niger and Cameroon, weak countries poorly equipped to combat a radical Islamist armed group.”

Some Nigerians are beginning to lose faith in the ability of security agents to stop Boko Haram and other militant groups in the country. But the government has continued to assure the populace that it will win the war against terror.

“Terror will not stop Nigeria from moving. The terrorists and those who are sponsoring them will never stop this country from moving, we will continue to move from strength to strength,” President Goodluck Jonathan said at a political rally a day after the Abuja bus station bombings.

Nigeria is scheduled to hold general elections next year.

Here, the buildup to elections is usually characterised by politicians arming their supporters in their quest for power. But with so many armed groups and with so many illegal firearms already in circulation, the build-up to next year’s elections might just stretch Nigeria beyond its limits.

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Cuba’s Burgeoning Private Sector Hungry for Flora and Fauna http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cubas-burgeoning-private-sector-hungry-flora-fauna/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-burgeoning-private-sector-hungry-flora-fauna http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cubas-burgeoning-private-sector-hungry-flora-fauna/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 13:34:45 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133819 The lack of markets to supply raw materials for Cuba’s new private sector, along with the poverty in isolated rural communities, is fuelling the poaching of endangered species of flora and fauna. In 2010, the socialist government of Raúl Castro gave the green light to private enterprise in a limited number of activities, mainly in […]

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Carpenter Antonio Gutiérrez organises a load of mahogany, precious wood seized by the authorities in the Ciénaga de Zapata wetlands. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Carpenter Antonio Gutiérrez organises a load of mahogany, precious wood seized by the authorities in the Ciénaga de Zapata wetlands. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Apr 22 2014 (IPS)

The lack of markets to supply raw materials for Cuba’s new private sector, along with the poverty in isolated rural communities, is fuelling the poaching of endangered species of flora and fauna.

In 2010, the socialist government of Raúl Castro gave the green light to private enterprise in a limited number of activities, mainly in the services sector.

But without wholesale markets to supply the 455,000 “cuentapropistas” – officially registered self-employed people – unforeseen phenomena soon appeared, like the rise in poaching and illegal logging.

Forests, which cover just under 29 percent of the territory of this Caribbean island nation, are suffering the consequences.

“You can get a permit to work as a carpenter, but it’s hard to get the raw materials,” Antonio Gutiérrez, a carpenter who works at a sawmill in the Ciénaga de Zapata, the largest Caribbean island wetland, told Tierramérica. “You can also build more homes, or upgrade homes. People need boards, windows, everything…and to solve the problem they go into the bush and cut.”

Last year, the forest ranger corps levied 19,993 fines for a total of 125,000 dollars, and seized 2,274 metres of wood. Although there are no statistics on wood confiscated in previous years, the authorities say illegal logging is on the rise.

“That’s confiscated mahogany and oak,” said Gutiérrez, 48, pointing to a pile of thin tree trunks on the ground. “Those trees had a lot of growing to do to become real logs.”

He maintained that more wood should be sold to people in order to safeguard forests from illegal logging.

The Agriculture Ministry’s forestry director, Isabel Rusó, told the press in March that the law in effect since 1998 provides for fines that are not effective in dissuading illegal logging. She also said private businesses either have to face a sea of red tape to purchase wood from state-owned companies or buy wood on the black market.

A new forestry bill is to be introduced in parliament in 2015.

But the problems are not only limited to the country’s forests.

Last year, the authorities confiscated 1,696 boats and registered 2,959 cases of illegal fishing – up from 1,987 in 2011 and just 996 in 2012.

In the western province of Pinar del Río, which has rich nature reserves, over two tonnes of poached sea turtles were seized, most of which belonged to endangered or threatened species.

In addition, 219 simple fishing boats were confiscated, and fines were levied for the use of banned fishing techniques, the capture of protected or toxic species, and vandalism against state fishing companies, among other offences.

The capture of the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) “is indiscriminate because it is done at night and the females are often on their way to lay their eggs in the sand,”
Pedro Fernández, a 62-year-old bricklayer from Havana who has been a hobby fisherman for four decades, told Tierramérica.

“The turtles are killed and cleaned, and the waste is dumped at sea,” he added. “Because of the way things are done, it’s hard to control and assess the real magnitude of the problem,” said Fernández, who added that he had never fished illegally.

He said that to catch the turtles, the fishermen place net traps at the bottom of the sea for a month or more.

From May to September, loggerhead turtles, green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) lay their eggs on Cuba’s beaches.

Many of the beaches are protected areas, such as the ones in the Jardines de la Reina archipelago, the San Felipe keys, the Largo del Sur key, the Isle of Youth (Cuba’s second-biggest island), and the Guanahacabibes peninsula in Pinar del Río.

But that doesn’t stop the poachers. Nor do the stiff penalties against poaching or the strict police controls.

The meat of different animals and fish and seafood sell for astronomical prices on the black market. One kilo of loggerhead sea turtle or crocodile meat fetches between five and seven dollars.

The average salary of a state employee – the government still employs roughly 80 percent of the workforce – is the equivalent of 19 dollars a month. But some Cubans have other sources of income, and can afford such forbidden luxuries.

In this business, however, not everyone is always lucky. A young man from Havana returned last month from a trip to Pinar del Río, 160 km west of Havana, with empty hands, after making the journey to buy loggerhead turtle steaks.

“No fisherman sold me anything,” the young man, who occasionally sells prohibited foods,” told IPS. “People buy up this soft, tasty protein-rich meat really quickly.”

Poaching and illegal logging are increasing along Cuba’s coasts and in its forests, mangroves, swamps and marshes – even in the country’s 103 protected areas.

The damage caused by poaching endangered species is the most visible face of the illegal hunting, fishing and logging in this country, which has 1,163 endangered species of animals and 848 endangered species of plants.

The shrinking populations of manatees, dolphins, crocodiles, caimans, green and loggerhead sea turtles, pirarucu, black coral, queen conch, parrots, and the multicoloured polymita land snail are all targeted by poachers.

Generally, poachers are men, although women take part in transporting and selling the products.

The authorities are beefing up oversight and inspection, to prevent international smuggling as well, while stepping up environmental education.

“But alternatives must be found to boost the development of populations that live near or inside the nature reserves,” Carlos Rojas, the manager of the Laguna Guanaroca-Gavilanes protected area, told Tierramérica.

In the nature reserve, located 11 km from city of Cienfuegos in southeast Cuba, which depends on both tourism and fishing, poaching has been reduced “due to fear of the law, but not because there’s environmental consciousness,” he said.

“Educational programmes help, but we see that people still feel like they have the right to fish. The bans cause conflicts when it comes to how they make a living,” Rojas added.

One positive step in his administration was to increase the number of people from neighbouring communities on the reserve’s payroll. But Rojas lamented that a project for sustainable fishing had never been implemented. And he said ecotourism would be another path to environmentally-friendly local livelihoods.

Demand is the main driver of poaching of fish and seafood in the reserve’s lagoon, he said. And there are newer, growing phenomena, like collectors, or the lack of markets providing supplies for the private sector, he added.

“Permits were issued for making crafts and selling food, but no one knows where some of the things that are sold came from,” he cautioned.

Two years ago, the non-governmental Cuban Association of Artists and Artisans adopted restrictive measures for those who sold crafts made with coral or shells from vulnerable species.

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

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The Global Trading System Aims to Improve Children’s Lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/global-trading-system-aims-improve-childrens-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-trading-system-aims-improve-childrens-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/global-trading-system-aims-improve-childrens-lives/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 13:21:30 +0000 Roberto Azevedo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133818 In this column, Roberto Azevedo, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), writes that trade can help to create the conditions in which children can lead better lives.

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In this column, Roberto Azevedo, Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), writes that trade can help to create the conditions in which children can lead better lives.

By Roberto Azevedo
GENEVA, Apr 22 2014 (IPS)

Although some people don’t see the connection, the global trading system is aimed at creating some of the essential conditions needed to improve children’s lives and their prospects in the future.

We can identify three flash points where trade and children’s interests intersect, and where perhaps we can do a bit more to maximise our impact. One relates to developed countries, and two to developing nations.

The first point is this: the crisis in recent years has hit many western economies hard — and one of the most worrying effects has been very high levels of youth unemployment.

WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo. Credit: WTO/CC BY SA-2.0

WTO Director General Roberto Azevêdo. Credit: WTO/CC BY SA-2.0

Levels have topped 50 percent in some countries. The effects of this are very significant – and are much more damaging than simply the loss of productive capacity in the economy.

Surveys of young people highlight the corrosive effect that unemployment can have on their confidence, motivation, and view of the future – raising the spectre of a “lost generation”.

Trade can be part of the solution, because one of the key differences that trade makes is through job creation.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) reached a major multilateral trade deal in Bali last December which could make a big difference here, as economists predict that it could create 21 million jobs.

Of course the relationship of cause and effect is complex. The WTO conducted a major study on this issue with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and others in 2012. The evidence shows that trade can play a powerful role – but to be effective, trade reforms have to be embedded in supportive policies.

Countries where trade openness has failed to stimulate growth commonly have unstable macroeconomic policies, inadequate property rights, insufficient public investment in overcoming supply-side constraints, or other socio-political limitations.

So for the positive effects of trade to be realised in tackling youth unemployment, we need to recognise the inter-linkages to other areas of policy.

Export-orientated jobs typically pay higher wages to their workers. In Western Europe those working in export-focused companies collect a 10-20 percent premium over the average wage. And in sub-Saharan Africa that figure is even higher, at 34 percent.

Of course there are challenges here too in ensuring that low-skilled workers are not left behind.

My second point is about the persistent tragedy of child poverty.

By supporting economic growth and poverty alleviation, trade can be an important engine for change, and therefore can make a significant difference to children’s prospects.

The leaders of the Young Lives survey conducted by Oxford University over 15 years in India, Ethiopia, Peru and Vietnam found that growth provides financial space for governments and families to invest in children and create improved infrastructure and opportunity.

The fact that the Millennium Development Goal to halve the rate of extreme poverty by 2015 was met well ahead of time was illustrative of this.

Take China, where the pursuit of an export-led growth model has led it to become the world’s second largest economy and now the world’s biggest trading nation. At the same time it has reduced the poverty level from 60 to 12 percent between 1990 and 2010.

Other economies have followed a similar trajectory, using the trading system to rapidly expand economic growth and slash rates of extreme poverty.

Look at Vietnam or the recent graduates from least developed country status: Samoa, Cape Verde and the Maldives. They show again the difference that trade and increased investment can make in achieving more inclusive socio-economic development.

However the rate of poverty reduction as a whole is not always matched in the area of child poverty. Again, the Young Lives survey argues that while economic growth is important, what matters more for children is the nature or quality of that growth.

We have to harness growth more effectively and convert it into social change that benefits poor children and their families. This is an urgent challenge for policy-makers at the international level to provide the right frameworks and mechanisms to support quality growth, and at the domestic level to ensure that no-one falls behind, particularly children.

So the debate that is currently underway to design the successors to the Millennium Development Goals will be crucial here, not least as it will dictate the agenda until 2030.

My final point is that lifting children out of poverty is essential, but it is not enough.

We need to look at children’s lives in a more holistic way.

Robert F. Kennedy warned of the narrowness of economic measurements. He said: “The gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play… It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”

Of course this is what the Human Development Index is all about – the need to place people at the centre of policy-making.

Trade is not just about dollars and cents. We need to look at the wider environment.

I believe that trade can help to create the conditions in which children can lead better lives. And at the most fundamental level, we can do this through supporting the family – by reducing the potential for conflict, helping to create a stable environment and predictable conditions, and supporting higher income levels.

This, in turn, can support better education and healthcare, while improved connections through trade also support wider access to medicine.

Amartya Sen, one of the creators of the Human Development Index, argues that true development comes through freedom.

And I believe that by encouraging openness, cooperation and democracy, trade supports this as well.
(END/COPYRIGHT IPS)

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Imprisoning Themselves to Stay Safe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/imprisoning-stay-safe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=imprisoning-stay-safe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/imprisoning-stay-safe/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 07:51:09 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133813 “I don’t dare tell you who the murderers are but their target is just us, Turkmens,” says Ahmed Abdulla Muhtaroglu, sitting by the portrait of his brother who was killed last year. IPS met Muhtaroglu in Tuz Khormato, a predominantly Turkmen district 170 km north of Baghdad. Iraqi Turkmens are descendants of waves of Turkic […]

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A policeman on guard at the entrance of the Turkmen district in Tuz Khormato. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

A policeman on guard at the entrance of the Turkmen district in Tuz Khormato. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Karlos Zurutuza
TUZ KHORMATO, Iraq, Apr 22 2014 (IPS)

“I don’t dare tell you who the murderers are but their target is just us, Turkmens,” says Ahmed Abdulla Muhtaroglu, sitting by the portrait of his brother who was killed last year.

IPS met Muhtaroglu in Tuz Khormato, a predominantly Turkmen district 170 km north of Baghdad. Iraqi Turkmens are descendants of waves of Turkic migration to the ancient Mesopotamia region where Iraq now lies."We have been forced to build our own prison for ourselves as a mean to survive." -- Hanna Muhamed, a candidate for the election

The population of Turkmens in Iraq, who include both Shia and Sunni Muslims, is estimated at 500,000 to 600,000 by international sources, and 2.5 to three million by local Turkmens.

“There is no worse place in the world for Turkmens than Tuz,” says Muhtaroglu, local leader of the Turkmen Front, their main political party. “We have turned into victims of a plot to wipe us out. Some 500 Turkmen families left the district only last year.”

Population displacements are common in this country torn by sectarian violence. But displacement has taken on a new dimension in this town of 60,000.

According to the Iraq Body Count database, Tuz witnessed the latest attack Apr. 8, when four residents were killed by a car bomb. There have been more brutal attacks; in January last year, 42 members of the community were killed in a suicide attack during a funeral.

Former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein took Tuz Khormato away from Kirkuk, 230 km north of Baghdad, in 1976, and attached it to Salahadin province as part of a process to change the demographics of oil-rich Kirkuk in favour of Arabs. Today, both Kirkuk and Tuz are among “disputed territories” whose status is to be defined in a referendum – which is being postponed since 2007.

The “disputed territories” are one of the main lines of fracture in Iraq. Both Arabs and Kurds, the government in Baghdad and the Kurdish government in Erbil, are vying to take control of these territories. Turkmens have been caught in the quagmire.

Hanna Muhamed, 40, a candidate for the election to the 328-seat parliament in Iraq due Apr. 30, tells IPS that an independent region for Turkmens would be the best solution. She says she is contesting from Tuz because “it may be easier for a woman to get elected.” She is counting on the fact that it is still rare for a woman to contest in Iraq.

“We have been forced to build our own prison for ourselves as a mean to survive,” she says while campaigning on the outskirts of the city.

Tuz is easy to get to – just look for the concrete walls erected opposite the central bazaar area.

The makeshift fortress is accessible only through checkpoints. Local policeman Samir – he didn’t want his full name disclosed – posted at one such checkpoint tells IPS that the community started building it two years ago to avoid attacks. But it’s still not protection enough.

A few metres away, Mohamed Hamid points to the spot where he lost his daughter in September last year. Ten-year-old Hanna Hamid was buried under the wall that surrounds the Hamids’ house.

The bomb was meant to destroy the opposite building belonging to a Turkmen family. Two of the members of this family were wounded in the bomb attack.

And, there are more everyday problems. The streets here are not paved, so it’s not difficult for Ahmed, a local resident, to dig a trench. Once he’s done he will lay a tube to channel the putrid waters outside the wall, as drainage problems add to the more severe security ones. He wants to prevent his two nephews from getting sick from the stench when they play outside. They are the sons of his brother killed in an explosion six months ago.

“We offered Ahmed to his widow to take of her and the kids but she didn’t accept,” says Ahmed’s mother Zohaila, still in mourning clothes. “I can hardly support them with the 150,000 dinars a month [about 90 euros] I get for searching women at the entrance to the mosque.”

Deep in the heart of the walled area, Shia icons are ubiquitous around the Imam Ahmed mosque – from the portraits of Imam Ali, a descendant of prophet Muhammad according to the Shias, to those of Moqtada al-Sadr, a political and religious Shia leader and a key player in post-Saddam Iraq. By the side of these portraits stands a billboard with names and pictures of those killed in the several attacks in Tuz.

“Terrorists have no religion or race,” says local policeman Massoud. That’s something local residents seem to make a point of saying.

In its May 2013 report, the Institute for International Law and Human Rights says Iraqi Turkmen have been “intimidated by Kurdish and central government authorities for their presence in the disputed territories.”

The organisation based in Baghdad, Washington and Brussels says Turkmen have been targeted on religious grounds “by both Shia and Sunni extrajudicial militant groups,” and that community women are “particularly vulnerable to violence.”

“We are sandwiched between Arabs and Kurds: reaching an agreement with one implies confronting the other,” Arsad Salihi, one of seven Turkmen MPs, tells IPS from his home in Kirkuk.

The Turkmen senior leader says he would not rule out eventual integration with the Kurdish Autonomous Region. But, he says, Kurds must cease their “continuous and arbitrary harassment” of his community.

Khalid Schwani, Kurdish MP in Baghdad for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a leading party headed by President Jalal Talabani, strongly refutes such allegations. He says the government in Baghdad has been deliberately delaying a settlement on the areas in dispute, and that his party will come to “direct agreements” with both Arabs and Turkmens. Both Tuz and Kirkuk are among the disputed territories.

“Tuz would come back to Kirkuk (from Salahadin province) and in return Salahadin could keep control over Hawija –a predominantly Arab majority city southwest of Kirkuk.”

Whatever the future may bring, bricklayer Ihmat Altun says he will not be there to see it. “I’m moving to Istanbul with my family. I won’t wait until we get killed in this slaughterhouse,” he says as the guard at the checkpoint lifts the barrier for him.

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Obama Seeks to Reassure Anxious Asians on “Rebalance” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/obama-seeks-reassure-anxious-asians-rebalance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-seeks-reassure-anxious-asians-rebalance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/obama-seeks-reassure-anxious-asians-rebalance/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 00:29:07 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133810 As he embarks Tuesday on a major trip through East Asia, U.S. President Barack Obama will be focused on reassuring anxious – albeit sometimes annoying – allies that Washington remains determined to deepen its commitment to the region. Just how annoying some allies can be was underlined on the eve of his departure as Japan’s […]

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President Barack Obama talks with Vice President Joe Biden before boarding Air Force One at Pittsburgh International Airport for a domestic trip, April 16, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama talks with Vice President Joe Biden before boarding Air Force One at Pittsburgh International Airport for a domestic trip, April 16, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 22 2014 (IPS)

As he embarks Tuesday on a major trip through East Asia, U.S. President Barack Obama will be focused on reassuring anxious – albeit sometimes annoying – allies that Washington remains determined to deepen its commitment to the region.

Just how annoying some allies can be was underlined on the eve of his departure as Japan’s premier, Shinzo Abe, provoked renewed protests from both China and South Korea over his sending a ceremonial offering to the Yasukuni Shrine, the temple which honours Tokyo’s war dead, including senior officers responsible for atrocities committed by Japan in both countries during World War II.There is little question that security concerns, particularly those aroused by China’s recent assertiveness, will loom large.

As for anxiety, Asian commentators have made little secret of their concern that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continuing tensions with Ukraine could set a precedent for a resurgent China, whose increasingly assertive behaviour in pressing its territorial claims in the East and South China seas has provoked a number of its neighbours to upgrade military ties to the U.S., as well as increase their own military spending.

Moreover, Obama, whose extrication from the deep hole his predecessor dug for him in the Greater Middle East has gone more slowly than had been hoped, has necessarily been distracted by the ongoing Ukraine crisis which, in turn, has prompted the U.S.’s NATO allies – especially the alliance’s newest member along Russia’s western periphery – to seek reassurances of their own.

“Can Mr. Obama afford to invest more time in Asia when he is bogged down with crises in Ukraine and Syria?” asked the New York Times’ “editorial observer”, Carol Giacomo, Monday.

Obama was originally scheduled to make this trip last fall, but he opted instead to stay home to deal with the Republican shutdown of the government – the latest example of the kind of partisan-driven action that has also sown doubts among Asian allies, as well as others, about the ability of Washington to follow through on its foreign commitments.

This week’s tour will begin with a state visit to Japan, during which he will meet with the troublesome Abe, whose personal visit last year to the Yasukeni Shrine drew a harsh public rebuke from Washington.

The main substantive agenda item on that leg of the trip, according to administration officials, will be to try to narrow differences on agricultural and automobile provisions in the pending 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, the main pillar of the administration’s non-military “pivot” or “rebalancing” toward the Asia/Pacific launched in 2010.

From Tokyo, Obama will fly to Seoul where he will take up both trade and security issues, including a visit to the Combined Forces Command to address U.S. troops charged with helping defend South Korea against the nuclear-armed North.

Obama will then become the first U.S. president to visit Malaysia since Lyndon Johnson nearly 50 years ago, in part to launch a “Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative” and meet with Malaysia civil society activists.

His last stop will be the Philippines where, among other events, he will attend a state dinner hosted by President Benigno Aquino III and meet U.S. and Filipino soldiers and veterans to underline Washington’s longstanding military relationship.

While Obama and his entourage will emphasise the growing economic links that tie the U.S. to the region – if, for no other reason than to counter the widespread impression that Washington’s “pivot” is primarily aimed at increasing its military presence to “contain” China – there is little question that security concerns, particularly those aroused by China’s recent assertiveness, will loom large.

Indeed, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea conflict with those of both Malaysia and the Philippines with which the U.S. has a 63-year-old mutual defence treaty and which has not been shy about contesting Beijing claims – both through Law of the Sea Convention and most recently by successfully resupplying a long-stranded Filipino naval vessel blockaded by Chinese naval forces.

Nor has Aquino been shy about tightening military links with Washington, inviting it to enhance its military presence in the archipelago and negotiating an “access agreement” that could eventually return U.S. forces to Subic Bay naval base from which they were essentially evicted in 1991 at the end of the Cold War.

Security concerns are likely to play at least as strong a role in the early part of Obama’s tour.

While North Korea’s nuclear arms programme and missile launches remain a major preoccupation for both South Korea and Japan, China’s claims in the East China Sea – and most recently its declaration last fall of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) – increased tensions with both countries, especially Japan which has scrambled warplanes in response to Chinese aircraft that entered the zone near the disputed Senkaku Islands, which China claims as the Diaoyu Islands.

Although Washington responded to Beijing’s declaration with its show of force – an overflight by B-52 bombers – it disappointed Tokyo, with which it signed a mutual-security treaty in 1952, by instructing U.S. commercial airliners to comply with China’s identification requirements.

Some Japanese officials and analysts have publicly criticised what they regard as an insufficiently assertive U.S. response to Russia’s absorption of Crimea despite a 1994 agreement between Washington, Kiev, London, and Moscow guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

They worry that Beijing may now be tempted to make a similar move on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, just as some in Southeast Asia have expressed similar concerns about China’s intentions in the South China Sea.

But most U.S. analysts, including the administration, reject the analogy.

“We have longstanding alliances in Asia with most of the countries where the maritime territorial disputes with China are most severe, and we have stated time and again that we will meet our alliance commitments,” said Kenneth Lieberthal, a Brookings Institution expert who served as President Bill Clinton’s senior Asia adviser, last week.

“We don’t have any such commitments to Ukraine. We don’t have an alliance. We have never assured Ukraine’s territorial integrity by threatening the use of force…It’s a different situation, and I think the Chinese are very clear about those differences.”

Alan Romberg, a former top State Department expert who now directs the East Asia programme at the Stimson Centre here, agreed. “It’s a totally different situation,” he told IPS.

Besides the lack of any defence agreement, “if you look at the overall importance of East Asia to the U.S. and global peace and security,” he added, “there’s also no comparison.”

Obama, who will travel to China in the fall, has made clear that he nonetheless wants to avoid unnecessarily antagonising Beijing and has tried to tamp down tensions between it and Tokyo, in part by trying to dissuade leaders in both countries from stoking growing nationalist sentiments among their citizens.

Washington has also tried hard in recent months to reconcile Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye – to the extent of personally convening a summit with the two nationalist leaders on the sidelines of a nuclear security conference at The Hague last month.

But Abe’s latest bequest to the notorious shrine, particularly coming on the eve of Obama’s trip, is unlikely to help matters.

“The U.S. can be a leader, a catalyst, and a stabiliser in the region, but it can’t do it all by itself,” noted Romberg. “It’s important that other countries, particularly allies, coordinate and cooperate, and not spend their time nattering at each other all the time.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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Azerbaijan Backing Turkey’s Crackdown on Gülen Movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/azerbaijan-backing-turkeys-crackdown-gulen-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=azerbaijan-backing-turkeys-crackdown-gulen-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/azerbaijan-backing-turkeys-crackdown-gulen-movement/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 13:53:03 +0000 Shahla Sultanova http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133803 Azerbaijan appears to be joining in Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s campaign against a religious movement led by U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen. Erdogan claims that adherents of the Gülen movement are intent on bringing down his government, and over the past year, he has carried out a no-holds-barred crackdown on suspected Gülenists. On […]

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By Shahla Sultanova
BAKU, Apr 21 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Azerbaijan appears to be joining in Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s campaign against a religious movement led by U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Erdogan claims that adherents of the Gülen movement are intent on bringing down his government, and over the past year, he has carried out a no-holds-barred crackdown on suspected Gülenists.Gülen movement representatives deny Erdoğan’s allegations about engaging in anti-state activity -- but jitters about groups critical of governments run strong in Azerbaijan.

On Apr. 8, Erdoğan told members of his Justice and Development Party that he had discussed the movement with Azerbaijani officials during an early April visit to Baku and handed over a list of Azerbaijanis considered to be Gülen supporters. Azerbaijan is Turkey’s closest regional ally.

For the past several years, the Azerbaijani government has tried to restrict the activities of Islamic groups, but, until recently, had made no public move against Gülen sympathisers.

Such individuals — called nurçular in reference to the 20th-century Sunni theologian Said Nursi, who inspired Gülen’s education-based initiatives — do not carry the same weight in Azerbaijani society as they do in Turkey. But over the past couple of weeks, there have been several indicators that Baku is toughening its stance.

Gülen movement representatives deny Erdoğan’s allegations about engaging in anti-state activity — but jitters about groups critical of governments run strong in Azerbaijan.

In recent weeks, rampant speculation on social networks and pro-government media outlets in Baku have focused on which Azerbaijani government members could sympathise with the Gülen movement. One purported Gülen sympathiser, presidential administration spokesperson Elnur Aslanov, was fired on Mar. 17.

The Azerbaijani government has not commented on the reports. But, arguably, events already speak for them.

In early March, Khalik Mammadov, vice-president of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR), announced that the government-run energy company had taken over 11 Turkish-language high schools, 13 university-exam preparation centres and the private, Baku-based Caucasus University, all run by a Turkish educational company called Çağ Öğrətim (Era Education).

Since 2011 SOCAR has run a network of schools with the purported aim of improving Azerbaijani educational standards. Çağ Öğrətim, now known as the Baku International Education Centre, has operated in Azerbaijan since 1992, and has enjoyed a reputation for producing disciplined students sensitive to Islamic ethics and capable of entering top-notch universities worldwide.

Çağ Öğrətim has never acknowledged a link with the Gülen movement, but most Azerbaijani education specialists and political experts have viewed its facilities as part of the Gülen movement’s 140-country network of schools.

Çağ Öğrətim is part of the International Association of Turkish and Azerbaijani Manufacturers and Businessmen, a group that contains many Turkish companies that advocate Gülen’s principles.

SOCAR representatives have not elaborated on the conglomerate’s interest in the Çağ Öğrətim schools – all but Caucasus University were acquired last year — but some observers see a link to Turkey’s suspicions of the Gülen movement.

“I think, for Azerbaijani authorities, the idea is certainly that ‘we can control them more efficiently if we manage them,’” commented Paris-based Turkey specialist Bayram Balci, who formerly worked in Baku for the French Institute of Anatolian Studies (IFEA).

In March, in a move seen as intended to target Gülen’s finances, Turkey shut down Gülen-associated private schools that, like Çağ Öğrətim’s Araz courses, prepare students for university-entrance exams. Erdoğan asked other countries to follow suit.

Balci reasons that the Turkish government likely urged “fraternal” Azerbaijan, a country that shares close linguistic and cultural ties with Turkey, to “pay attention” to such schools as well. “For the Azerbaijani government, this is a good opportunity to show to Ankara that Baku is always in solidarity with Ankara.”

SOCAR, Turkey’s long-time pipeline partner, would seem a natural candidate for any such exercise. The company’s spokespeople could not be reached for comment. Similarly, Çağ Öğrətim did not respond to requests for interviews about the switchover to SOCAR.

Caucasus University Rector Ahmet Saniç told EurasiaNet.org that he prefers not to discuss the issue “for awhile.”

Even if there was no pressure coming from Ankara, Azerbaijani leaders would seem to have reason to be wary of Çağ Öğrətim’s high schools and exam-preparation centres.

Aside from Baku, the schools exist in key regional population hubs such as Ganja, Lenkoran and Sumgait as well as more remote locations. That presence in the regions is a potential source of concern for the Azerbaijani government, which has faced large-scale regional protests in recent years, some observers believe.

“As alumni of those schools, like everywhere else in the world, they have their own community. In Azerbaijan, where political parties and other institutions have been weakened, their [school] network … looks even more distinguished,” said Altay Goyushov, a professor of Islamic history at Baku State University.

“That is what the Azerbaijani government does not like: the competition.”

Yet Erestin Orujlu, director of Baku’s East-West Research Centre, believes that certain officials are using the hub-hub about the movement in Azerbaijan simply “to weaken each other’s position.”

Aside from Aslanov, a published list of alleged Azerbaijani Gülenists also included Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov, State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations Director Elshad Iskenderov and, ironically, SOCAR’s Mammadov.

Like Aslanov, who now works in the Ministry of Communications, the Defense Ministry has denied the allegations about Defense Minister Hasanov’s alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement. The other named individuals above have not publicly commented.

For some Azerbaijanis, the silence comes as no surprise. The allegations are “trumped up,” charged Orujlu. “The Azerbaijani government does not face any threat from the nurçu movement.”

Editor’s note:  Shahla Sultanova is a freelance journalist focusing on Azerbaijan. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org

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India’s Women Lose the Election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indias-women-lose-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-women-lose-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indias-women-lose-election/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 07:54:54 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133789 “Men just do not want to give up their seats, it’s as simple as that,” says 67-year-old candidate in the Indian election Subhhasini Ali, voicing a gloomy view across women’s groups in India. Ali, a two-time member of Parliament and key functionary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), an arm of the Communist […]

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A protest against a proposed nuclear plant in the Indian state Gujarat. Women are asking for stronger representation in Parliament to voice their views. Credit: Krishnakant/IPS.

A protest against a proposed nuclear plant in the Indian state Gujarat. Women are asking for stronger representation in Parliament to voice their views. Credit: Krishnakant/IPS.

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Apr 21 2014 (IPS)

“Men just do not want to give up their seats, it’s as simple as that,” says 67-year-old candidate in the Indian election Subhhasini Ali, voicing a gloomy view across women’s groups in India.

Ali, a two-time member of Parliament and key functionary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), an arm of the Communist Party of India-Marxists (CPI-M), is contesting from Barrackpore, a constituency in the eastern Indian state West Bengal.“This election, we get the feeling that we have lost. Women are getting more and more sidelined." -- Jyotsna Chatterji, the Joint Women’s Programme

She is among a few women contesting. Political parties, even those vociferously supporting reservation for women in Parliament, have failed to put up on average even one woman for every 10 males contesting India’s 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament.

Women candidates are only seven percent among 3,355 candidates in the first five phases of the nine-stage election, says the Delhi-based public interest organisation, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), that is campaigning for greater transparency and more inclusive representation in Indian elections.

Women activists looking at state-wise trends expect no improvement by way of inclusion of women in the final phases of the election.

Women constitute 388 million, or 47.6 percent of the 814.5 million voters eligible to vote in the election running from Apr. 7 to May 12.

“When our presence is not considered important in the Parliament, when decisions about our future are taken without consulting us, why should we cast our votes to elect another group of politicians who do not believe in the cause of women empowerment in this country,” says Ranjana Kumari from the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research.

“This election, we get the feeling that we have lost. Women are getting more and more sidelined,” Jyotsna Chatterji from the non-profit Joint Women’s Programme (JWP) tells IPS.

In the 15th general election in 2009, 556 women out of 8,070 contestants from 363 political parties  were given tickets to contest, according to data from the Election Commission. That was just 6.9 percent of the candidates, making representation in this election hardly better. Fifty-nine women – 10.9 percent – won. This was the highest number of women contestants and winners since 1957.

A 1996 Women Reservation Bill (WRB) proposing reservation of a third of the seats to women in the lower house of Parliament and in state legislatures has been stymied by various political parties for more than 18 years now. Women groups pushing for greater representation, for whom the failure to pass the WRB has remained a political raw nerve since, blame this on the entrenched patriarchal mindset of male politicians.

If enacted, 180 berths in the Lok Sabha would be reserved for women. Political parties opposing the WRB say a quota within the quota should be given to women from backward communities. Dalits and tribal communities already have 120 seats reserved in the Lok Sabha. In 2009, 17 women got elected under this quota.

“Many political parties had agreed to the WRB’s stipulation about voluntarily giving 33 percent tickets to women members, legal quota aside,” says Chatterji, who spearheaded the reservation movement in the late1990s with a group of other activists. Political parties have fallen far short of this.

Given women’s visibly increased participation in professional spheres, public debates, and also increased voting in elections, women groups say they had hoped political parties would walk the gender talk and give at least 15 to 20 percent tickets to women, recognising the major socio-political changes under way.

“Nothing is going to change in women’s representation unless the [Women’s Reservation] Bill is passed,” says Ali.

The three main political parties – the ruling Congress party, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) widely expected to form the new government, and the few months old Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) have all promised in their manifestos to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill if voted to power.

“Unless certain attitudes are overcome it is useless to expect individual parties to put up more women candidates, and moreover where no party is obliged to do it,” Malini Bhattacharya, 70, twice member of Parliament and former member of the National Commission for Women, tells IPS.

Ruth Manorama, 62, Dalit women’s rights activist, who heads the National Alliance of Women, and is contesting from the Bangalore South constituency on a Janata Dal (Secular) party ticket, is more optimistic. “To give a bigger role to women in political decision making, we need to go step by step,” Manorama tells IPS.

Others argue for bolder change. “Political party structures and the election process itself need drastic change if women are to participate in large numbers,” says Tapashi Praharaj of AIDWA. “Women’s winning ability is consistently under question, without however attempting to build them up.”

“The huge funds required to fight an election today is another obstacle for women to contest elections,” says Chatterji. The government raised spending limits for a candidate in this election to seven million rupees (116,000 dollars).

Chatterji says while male leaders argue they cannot find suitable women candidates, there are many eligible women who have not caught the eye of political parties.

More than two million women have served in decision-making bodies in India’s local governments, or panchayat raj, under the 33 percent seat reservation since 1993. In some states that quota has been raised to 50 percent. Urban local bodies too have reserved seats for women. These quotas have created a significant mass of grassroots women leaders.

India, the world’s largest democracy, has a mere 11.4 percent women in both houses of Parliament, compared to the world average of 21.8 percent. Afghanistan has 27.6 percent women in Parliament and Pakistan 18.5 percent, according to 2014 data from the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

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Poland Uses Ukraine to Push Coal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/poland-uses-ukraine-push-coal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poland-uses-ukraine-push-coal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/poland-uses-ukraine-push-coal/#comments Sun, 20 Apr 2014 08:05:16 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133785 A European ‘energy union’ plan proposed by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as an EU response to the crisis in Ukraine could be a Trojan horse for fossil fuels. On account of Poland’s proximity and deep historical ties to Ukraine, the country’s centre-right government led by Donald Tusk has assumed a prominent position in attempts […]

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Environmentalists protesting against coal outside the Polish Ministry of Economy. Credit: Claudia Ciobanu/IPS.

Environmentalists protesting against coal outside the Polish Ministry of Economy. Credit: Claudia Ciobanu/IPS.

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Apr 20 2014 (IPS)

A European ‘energy union’ plan proposed by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as an EU response to the crisis in Ukraine could be a Trojan horse for fossil fuels.

On account of Poland’s proximity and deep historical ties to Ukraine, the country’s centre-right government led by Donald Tusk has assumed a prominent position in attempts to ease the crisis in Ukraine. Notoriously, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski helped negotiate a February deal between then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders of Euromaidan, the name given to the pro-EU protests in Kiev.Asking for a prominent role for coal and shale gas is mostly a Polish game.

The Polish government’s assertiveness came with quick electoral gains. According to a poll conducted in early April by polling agency TNS Polska, Tusk’s Civic Platform for the first time in years took a lead in voters’ preferences over the conservative Peace and Justice Party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

“Not only is Civic Platform back in the lead, but also more Poles are ready to vote and vote for the government,” Lukasz Lipinski, an analyst at think tank Polityka Insight in Warsaw, told IPS. “All opposition parties now want to move the debate [ahead of the May 25 European elections] to domestic issues because on those it is much easier to criticise the Civic Platform after six years of government.”

Yet Tusk’s executive insists on Ukraine because of the benefits the topic can still bring. In the last weekend of March, the prime minister announced a Polish proposal for a European energy union that would make Europe resilient to crises like the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

“The experience of the last few weeks [Russia’s invasion of Ukraine] shows that Europe must strive towards solidarity when it comes to energy,” said Tusk speaking in Tychy, a city in the southern coal-producing Silesia region.

He went on to outline the six dimensions of the ‘energy union’: the creation of an effective gas solidarity mechanism in case of supply crises; financing from the European Union’s funds for infrastructure ensuring energy solidarity in particular in the east of the EU; collective energy purchasing; rehabilitation of coal as a source of energy; shale gas extraction; and radical diversification of gas supply to the EU.

“It is very disappointing to note the total absence of energy efficiency measures from this vision, even though it featured centrally in the March European Council on Crimea conclusions,” Julia Michalak, EU climate policy officer at the NGO coalition Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, told IPS. “If the Crimea crisis did not make the government realise that energy efficiency is the easiest and cheapest way to achieve real energy security for Europe, I’m not sure what would.”

While some of the measures proposed by Tusk would indeed lead (assuming they could be implemented) to increased European solidarity in the energy sector, asking for a prominent role for coal and shale gas is mostly a Polish game.

At the moment, the EU has no common binding EU policies on shale gas – various EU countries such as France and Bulgaria even have moratoriums on exploration. And the EU’s long-term climate objectives, primarily the 2050 decarbonisation goal, make a true coal resurrection unlikely.

According to Michalak, the coal and shale gas elements of the Polish six-point plan must be understood, on the one hand, as aimed at domestic audiences who want to see their government play hard ball and, on the other, as a negotiating tool meant to draw some specific gains out of Brussels.

The Tusk government has made herculean efforts to persuade foreign companies interested in shale gas to stick to the country, including firing environment minister Marcin Korolec during the climate change talks COP19 last year for reportedly not being shale gas friendly enough. Nevertheless, in April this year, France’s TOTAL became the fourth company to announce dropping exploratory works in Poland, as shale gas here is proving more scarce than initially thought.

The Polish national consensus on coal too is starting to show minor cracks.

Nearly 90 percent of electricity used in Poland comes from coal, and the government’s long-term energy strategy envisages a core role for coal up to 2060. Tusk’s executive has been unsuccessfully trying to torpedo the EU’s adoption of decarbonisation targets, so at the moment it is unclear how authorities will reconcile EU commitments with a coal-dependent economy.

Last year, the chief executive of state energy company PGE resigned, arguing that an expansion by 1,800 MW of Opole coal plant in south-western Poland is unprofitable. The government chose to go ahead with expansion plans anyway.

Despite the generalised perception in Poland that coal is a cheap form of energy, this month saw leading newspapers (including the conservative Rzeczpospolita) discussing externalities of coal following a study by think tank Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies showing that, between 1990-2012, Polish subsidies for coal amounted to 170 bn PLN (40 billion euros).

In 2013, a series of international financial institutions, including the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, announced significant restrictions to their financing of coal – lending to Polish coal, for instance, would be impossible for these institutions under the new guidelines.

Poland also has to implement the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive which calls for stricter pollution standards at energy producing units as of 2016 or closure of plants which do not comply. And it is potentially in this space that some of the benefits of Poland’s tough game on coal in Brussels could be seen.

In February, the European Commission allowed Poland to exempt 73 of its energy producing units from the requirements of the Directive, including two outdated units at Belchatow coal plant in central Poland, Europe’s largest thermal coal plant (5,298 MW) and biggest CO2 emitter.

Additionally, it has emerged this month that Poland intends to use regional funds meant for tackling urban air pollution from the next EU budget (2014-2020) to finance modernisation measures at the country’s biggest coal and gas producers, both private and state-owned.

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In U.S., Black Preschool Students “Punished More Severely” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-black-preschool-students-punished-severely/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-black-preschool-students-punished-severely http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-black-preschool-students-punished-severely/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 13:41:12 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133777 In the United States, African American children continue to face more barriers to success than any other race, new research suggests. A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation lists 12 categories that can contribute to a child’s success, including enrolment in preschool, living with two parents and distance from the poverty line. Under these metrics, […]

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By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 19 2014 (IPS)

In the United States, African American children continue to face more barriers to success than any other race, new research suggests.

A new report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation lists 12 categories that can contribute to a child’s success, including enrolment in preschool, living with two parents and distance from the poverty line. Under these metrics, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders scored highest (with a total score of 776 out of 1000), followed by whites (704).“It’s not just poverty, not just that black kids are worse behaved. It is important to see that there is something going on that is pervasive, chronic and systematic.” -- David Osher

African American children not only scored the lowest under this ranking, but with a score of just 345 they were found to have less than half of the indicators for potential success as other races in the United States.

“We know that the current status of poor kids is bad, the current status of black kids is bad, and the combination of poverty and racial discrimination is particularly toxic,” David Osher, vice-president of the American Institute for Research, told IPS. “But we also know enough to make a difference, like the emerging understanding that kicking kids out of schools is not a good solution.”

Osher refers to new civil rights-related data released by the U.S. Department of Education last month. These findings suggest that African American students are being suspended from school at inordinate levels, even at the very earliest grades.

While a fifth of public preschool students in the United States are African American, nearly half of all preschool students who received more than one out-of-school preschool suspension are African American. White students, on the other hand, represent 43 percent of public preschool enrolment but make up just 23 percent of preschoolers given out-of-school suspension.

“This data collection shines a clear, unbiased light on places that are delivering on the promise of an equal education for every child and places where the largest gaps remain,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said on releasing the new data. “In all, it is clear that the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed.”

The study marked the first time that a federal initiative known as the Civil Rights Data Collection included preschool, but the numbers reflect similar trends at all levels of lower and secondary school.

“Black children are not behaving worse,” Jim Eichner, the managing director of programmes at the Advancement Project, an advocacy group, told IPS. “But they are being punished and punished more severely.”

Zero tolerance

While the reasons children are suspended in preschool are not reported, anecdotally such actions appear to be being taken for relatively minor infractions, such as like “not paying attention, being late or talking back,” Eichner says.

Out-of-school suspension has multiple and varied negative impacts on the student and school community. Not only do students miss class time, but they tend to receive the message they are not welcome in school.

Such actions also tend to create new mistrust between the student and teachers that can challenge future learning.

In addition, out-of-school suspension can jeopardise a family’s income if a parent needs to leave work. Or, if a parent cannot leave work, the child may not be sent to a well-supervised home.

Finally, some advocates worry that excluding a child fails to teach him or her how to manage the behaviour that originally caused the problem.

Suspending children at such a young age comes from a “zero tolerance” discipline policy. Such an approach stems from anti-drugs policy adopted by the U.S. criminal justice system during the 1980s, and brought into schools as an attempt to combat increased violence and school shootings.

Yet the broader approach has been seen as something of a failure by the U.S. criminal justice system, a view increasingly being adopted by those working in the school system, as well.

Both Osher and Eichner, for instance, are involved in studying and promoting alternatives to zero-tolerance policies. Eichner particularly points to restorative justice techniques that have students work together to mend any problems, adding that punitive atmospheres have been found to harm all students.

Implicit bias

Although the Civil Rights Data Collection does not investigate why these disparities occur, Osher and Eichner both explain that this is one effect of overarching social, economic and political structures.

“There are disparities in all aspects of youth life: education, juvenile justice and corrections, health. When you control for any of the explanations people come up with, they don’t work,” Osher says.

“It’s not just poverty, not just that black kids are worse behaved. It is important to see that there is something going on that is pervasive, chronic and systematic.”

He notes that here are several characteristics related to classrooms from which more kids are suspended. These include class size, the ratio between teachers and students, teacher stress levels, and the availability of mental health consultation.

Both Osher and Eichner also note the role of implicit bias in teachers.

“People can be very well-intended, but in moments of stress they can make a subtle set of calculations that are probably intuitive on whether to get more help or whether to tell the kid to get out,” said Osher.

This implicit bias appears to be particularly notable when dealing with young black preschool students. Researchers have found, for instance, that people tend to overestimate the age of black students, adding as much as three years, thus perceiving the student as less childlike and less innocent.

The first step in ending implicit bias is to name it and talk about it, scholars say.

Some are working on “peer coaching” models, for instance, in which teachers film themselves teaching. Peers can then point out ways a teacher might be acting with bias – and recommend ways to overcome it.

New approaches like this make Osher optimistic that ongoing today’s racial disparity can be decreased.

“These indicators don’t have to be predictors of the future,” he says. “Rather, they’re indicators for what public policy should do.”

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Q&A: The Case for Cutting African Poverty in Half http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-case-cutting-african-poverty-half/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-case-cutting-african-poverty-half http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/qa-case-cutting-african-poverty-half/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 18:58:08 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133768 Bryant Harris interviews MTHULI NCUBE, Chief Economist for the African Development Bank

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Informal traders at Malanga market on the outskirts of Maputo, Mozambique. Most of the products on offer are purchased in Zimbabwe or South Africa. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

Informal traders at Malanga market on the outskirts of Maputo, Mozambique. Most of the products on offer are purchased in Zimbabwe or South Africa. Credit: Nastasya Tay/IPS

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

As the World Bank wrapped up its semi-annual joint meetings with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) here last weekend, it reaffirmed its commitment to bringing extreme poverty below three percent of the global population by 2030 while increasing the income of the poorest 40 percent of the population of each country.

However, some suggest that in sub-Saharan Africa, this may be impossible.It’s not easy to fix a country, rebuild institutions and get growth going while making sure it’s consistent, shared and inclusive. Poverty pockets exist in the large, vital countries.

“Even under our ‘best case’ scenario of accelerated consumption growth and income redistribution from the 10 percent richest to the 40 percent poorest segment of population, the 2030 poverty rate would be around 10 percent,” says a new report from the African Development Bank (AfDB). “A more realistic goal for the region seems to be reducing poverty by a range from half to two thirds.”

Although extreme poverty will likely remain high in Africa by 2030, AfDB’s chief economist, Mthuli Ncube, the new report’s chief author, painted a cautiously optimistic picture as to the prospects for poverty reduction in Africa during an interview with IPS.

Q: Even though the World Bank goal is to reduce extreme poverty by less than three percent globally by 2030, Africa won’t be able to meet that goal. Can you give us more background as to why that is?

A: Our view is that it’s a good goal to have … but it differs from region to region. The region that is likely to achieve this ambitious goal is Asia, not Africa. Although Africa has made tremendous progress, there’s still a lot of work to do. Under our baseline scenario, Africa will achieve something like 25 to 27 percent poverty levels in the year 2030. Currently it’s about 48 percent. So in this case we’re talking about something like a 50 percent reduction, maybe.

It’s a monumental task. Why? We’ve some challenges in Africa. One is fragility. If you look at some of the large countries with a lot of poverty – like the [Democratic Republic of Congo], it is a fragile country. It’s not easy to fix a country, rebuild institutions and get growth going while making sure it’s consistent, shared and inclusive. Poverty pockets exist in the large, vital countries.

Even if you have growth, growth is just simply not shared. If you use a more inclusive definition of growth and poverty reduction … service delivery around health care and education is very difficult. These are large countries where governments are decentralised.

Q: Nigeria is one of the more populous countries, and it’s now surpassed South Africa as Africa’s largest economy. Yet it still seems like there’s a large degree of extreme poverty there. How does income inequality play into extreme poverty?

A: In Nigeria, the new figure says that the size of the economy is 510 billion dollars, larger than South Africa. Income per capita has gone up to about 2,400 dollars, so it looks much better than before. But after this announcement, it doesn’t change people’s lives. They’re still poor. So it becomes an overall aggregate figure and that speaks to inequality.

Inequality is high and it also has a way of slowing a country down in its poverty-reduction drive. The more poverty you have, the less productive you become, which impacts your ability to grow.

Our analysts show that the long-term [obstacle] in dealing with extreme poverty is to get the children of the poor into school, to have them stay in school and finish school. That is the only way. Education is the biggest driver of getting people out of extreme poverty … and into the middle class. And then, because they all have decent incomes and jobs, they will keep their children out of poverty.

Let’s not forget, in the interim, the role of short-term social protection programmes. Brazil had an incredible track record under [President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva], with a programme called Bolsa Familia that got 30 to 40 million people out of poverty through social protection programmes.

There are countries in Africa trying to do that – Rwanda, South Africa and Ethiopia. Ethiopia is the one country that I think is going to rotate out of extreme poverty by 2030, so it’s going to be the most successful in dealing with poverty out of the large-population countries.

Ultimately there need to be some short-term measures, but the long-term measure is education.

Q: Which sub-Saharan African countries are doing particularly well at reducing extreme poverty?

A: Ethiopia is the one that we can really highlight because it’s a large population, nearly 85 million, and they’re dealing with the reduction of extreme poverty as a problem. First, the big story about poverty reduction is sustaining growth, and Ethiopia’s had a wonderful growth rate for the past 10 years.

Second is making sure that it’s inclusive, shared and creates opportunity. It should create jobs and finance services for access to education, health, housing and so forth. All those are strategies for sharing wealth.

It’s also about social protection programmes that keep the people out of poverty and then allow them to make progress. Let me tell you this story about the Grinka Programme in Rwanda. You leave one pregnant cow to a poor household, and that cow will have a calf and another one and so forth. And if it’s a female calf, you pass that calf on to the next poor family and then the next poor family.

In the next few years, that programme is going to take about 300,000 families in Rwanda out of poverty. Why? These families can harvest the milk and consume it. Secondly, they can sell the milk and the manure, but also use [the manure] to grow vegetables, which they can then sell and make money. So you create a whole economic ecosystem around the cow.

I even suggested this for Somalia. Maybe there’s an asset-replacement programme that could cause similar results elsewhere. This is a case of what I would call productive social protection, because you’re giving someone an asset that produces something and it actually works.

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Ostracised and Isolated: Muslim Prisoners in the U.S. http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ostracised-isolated-muslim-prisoners-u-s/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ostracised-isolated-muslim-prisoners-u-s http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ostracised-isolated-muslim-prisoners-u-s/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 15:30:20 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133763 This is the second installment of a two-part series examining the use of ‘lawfare’ on Muslim citizens accused of terror-related activity.

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Tarek Mehanna (right) poses for a photograph with his mother and brother at his PhD ceremony. Photo courtesy the Mehanne family.

Tarek Mehanna (right) poses for a photograph with his mother and brother at his PhD ceremony. Photo courtesy the Mehanne family.

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

Such stigma now surrounds the word ‘terrorist’ that most recoil from it, or anyone associated with it, as though from a thing contagious; as though, by simple association, one could land in that black hole where civil liberties are suspended in the name of national security.

For many Muslim citizens of the United States, such ostracism has become a matter of routine, forcing family members of terror suspects to double up as legal advocates and political supporters for their brothers, husbands and sons.“We are a very tight-knit family, and this has been hell for us." -- Tamer Mehanna

A budding nationwide movement to shed light on rights abuses in domestic terror cases is straining to turn that tide. One of its primary sites of congregation is the patch of concrete outside the New York Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC), where suspects deemed violent are held incommunicado.

But the families that gather at the monthly vigils held there, sponsored by a growing coalition known as the No Separate Justice Campaign, speak of a different side to the story: one that involves the government abusing post-9/11 laws to round up non-violent, law-abiding Muslims for exercising their rights to free speech and religion.

At a Mar. 10 vigil outside the MCC, IPS spoke with Tamer Mehanna, brother of Tarek Mehanna, a Pittsburgh-born pharmacist who is serving out a 17-year sentence in Terra Haute, Indiana.

Prior to his conviction on several counts including material support for terrorism, Tarek spent two years in 23-hour isolation, the MCC in New York being just one of the locations where he was all but prevented from communicating with the outside world.

Advocates say Mehanna’s case represents the ‘separate justice system’ for Muslims, in microcosm.

Tamer recounted how, between 2004 and 2008, the FBI courted his brother, using everything from polite requests to psychological intimidation to convince him to become an informant. When all failed, Tarek was arrested at an airport in New York City on his way to Saudi Arabia.

"Thought Crimes": The Case of Tarek Mehanna

Experts say the case against Tarek Mehanna represents one of the most salient examples of prosecution for thought crimes in U.S. legal history.

Initially arrested for having allegedly given false testimony to an FBI official, Tarek was released on bail, then arrested a second time on charges of conspiring to shoot up a shopping mall, though no evidence for this allegation was ever offered in court.

Over the course of 35 days, the prosecution proceeded to build a case against Tarek based on records of online chats, his translation of an ancient Arabic text entitled ’39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad’ and his plans to take up a pharmaceutical position at a prestigious hospital in Saudi Arabia.

Tarek’s brother Tamer Mehnna told IPS that the prosecution never once referred to a specific action that could be construed as providing material support to terrorism. It appeared he was on the stand for nothing more than reading and knowledge sharing among the Muslim community of Worcester, Massachusetts.

Andrew March, a Yale professor who was summoned as an expert witness for the defense, summed up the trial succinctly when he said: “As a political scientist specializing in Islamic law and war, I frequently read, store, share and translate texts and videos by jihadi groups. As a political philosopher, I debate the ethics of killing. As a citizen, I express views, thoughts and emotions about killing to other citizens...At Mr. Mehanna’s trial, I saw how those same actions can constitute federal crimes.”

In addition to shelling out 1.3 million dollars in bail, Tarek’s family was shunned by their community in Massachusetts, spent endless hours in court and even gave up their jobs in order to advocate on his behalf.

“We are a very tight-knit family, and this has been hell for us,” Tamer told IPS. “When my brother was arrested, my mother had to watch her son, a respectable guy, being thrown on the ground and handcuffed like an animal in front of crowds of spectators – it was deeply traumatic.

“The second time he was arrested she was stronger, but it was my father’s turn to break down. Before this happened, I never even saw my father shed a tear,” he added. “But this just crushed him. He fell into a depression, into hopelessness, even lashed out at us for advocating on Tarek’s behalf.”

In their firm belief in Tarek’s innocence, the Mehanna family is not alone. An upcoming study co-authored by members of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) and Project SALAM (Support And Legal Advocacy for Muslims) documents hundreds of cases of Muslims imprisoned on terror-related charges despite a lack of evidence linking them with any tangible crime.

Former NCPCF Executive Director Stephen Downs told IPS that family members of what he calls ‘political prisoners’ – Muslim citizens tried and sentenced for nothing more than political views or religious beliefs – are deeply traumatised and often isolated.

“They share commonalities,” he said, “of being made to feel unwelcome at their mosques, losing their jobs, having people slip into depression. These outcomes are entirely predictable, but to have them deliberately inflicted on you by your own government is kind of shocking.”

Bi-annual conferences hosted by NCPCF attract 30 or 40 family members, who Downs says cherish the opportunity to come together and be heard, as respectable citizens with genuine grievances.

“They get to talk to the few people in the world who understand what they’re going through,” he said, “because if you haven’t experienced it, you just don’t get it.”

Extreme isolation

Family members speaking to IPS on condition of anonymity said their isolation from the community is nothing compared to the extreme forms of solitary confinement imposed on their loved ones, most of whom are housed in what the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP) calls Communication Management Units (CMUs).

According to Alexis Agathocleous, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), CMUs came quietly into existence during the George W. Bush administration, the first in Terre Haute, Indiana in 2006 and the second in Marion, Illinois in 2008.

“These units are quite unparalleled within the federal prison system,” Agathocleous told IPS. “They segregate prisoners from the rest of the population and impose very strict restrictions on prisoners’ ability to communicate with the outside world – this translates to drastically reduced access to social telephone calls and visits, and when visits do occur they are strictly non-contact.”

Of the roughly 80 prisoners held in CMUs, Agathocleous estimates that between 66 and 72 percent are Muslims, despite the fact that Muslims make up just six percent of the federal prison population.

He referred to this significant over-representation as “troubling”, adding, “There seems to be the use of religious profiling to select prisoners for CMU designation.”

Speaking at a rain-soaked vigil outside the MCC in early April, Andy Stepanian – an animal rights activist who spent six months in the CMU at Marion – said the Muslim men he met there were “exceptionally generous and caring.”

“There has not been a single night in the four and a half years since I’ve gotten out that I’ve not either had a nightmare or stayed up for hours wondering, ‘Why was I the lucky one who got out? Is it just because of the pigment of my skin?’” Stepanian said.

In 2010 CCR filed litigation representing several inmates housed in CMUs, challenging both the arbitrary and seemingly retaliatory nature of the designation, which is made worse by the fact that the BoP offers “no meaningful process through which [prisoners] can earn their way out – no hearing, no discernible limit on the amount of time someone can spend in a CMU and no meaningful criteria that a prisoner can work at in order to [gain] their release,” Agathocleous said.

Those fortunate enough to afford the monthly trips out to Indiana and Illinois have recorded their testimony of these tightly controlled visits, painful on both sides of the Plexiglas screens that separate loved ones.

At a recent NCPCF conference, Majida Salem, wife of Ghassan Elashi, recounted how her 12-year-old Down’s syndrome child refused to enter the visitation room at Marion.

“He cried and said, ‘It’s an ugly visit. Baba no touch… it’s bad,’” Salem said. “To me this is so merciless, keeping a man who did nothing but feed widows and orphans locked up in a CMU… for 65 years.”

The post Ostracised and Isolated: Muslim Prisoners in the U.S. appeared first on Inter Press Service.

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South Sudan Dictates Media Coverage of Conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/south-sudan-dictates-media-coverage-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-dictates-media-coverage-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/south-sudan-dictates-media-coverage-conflict/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 07:14:28 +0000 Sadik Wani http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133723 As rebel forces loyal to South Sudan’s former vice president Riek Machar declared on Tuesday Apr. 15 that they had captured the key oil town of Bentiu, the government has been accused of clamping down on local media in an attempt to influence the reporting on the conflict. Though journalists here say that the government […]

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Traditional dancers during celebrations to mark South Sudan's first anniversary of independence on Jul. 9, 2012 in Juba. However, journalists say the government has stifled freedom of the media. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

Traditional dancers during celebrations to mark South Sudan's first anniversary of independence on Jul. 9, 2012 in Juba. However, journalists say the government has stifled freedom of the media. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

By Sadik Wani
JUBA, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

As rebel forces loyal to South Sudan’s former vice president Riek Machar declared on Tuesday Apr. 15 that they had captured the key oil town of Bentiu, the government has been accused of clamping down on local media in an attempt to influence the reporting on the conflict.

Though journalists here say that the government clampdown first began after independence in 2011, the situation has worsened since December when fighting broke out between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir and Machar at military barracks in Juba, the country’s capital. 

Other cases of South Sudan’s media clampdown

  • Dec. 7, 2013: South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS) officials confiscated copies of the Arabic daily Al Masir and the English daily Juba Monitor because they both carried a stories were senior members of the ruling party, including Riek Machar, criticised President Salva Kiir’s leadership and accused him of having dictatorial tendencies.

  • Dec. 11, 2013: NSS forces raided the printing press of the privately-owned English newspaper, The Citizen, and confiscated all copies. The paper had published a story detailing how security operatives arrested and detained the paper’s Editor–in-Chief, Nhial Bol, a few days earlier.

  • Jan. 16, 2014: NSS confiscated the entire print run of the English language daily, the Juba Monitor, because two articles were considered unfit for the public to read. One was an opinion piece by veteran journalist and the paper’s editor-in-chief, Alfred Taban, in which he proposed an interim government be formed to lead the country until elections in 2015. The second was an opinion piece giving a historical retrospective about past tribal tensions within South Sudan’s army.

  • Mar. 13, 2014: Voice of America South Sudan stated that an employee was picked up from the Juba office for questioning by national security officers of the South Sudan government.

  • Mar. 31, 2014: NSS operatives arrested Moses Legge, a reporter with Eye Radio. They interrogated him for several hours, confiscated his audio recorder and camera and only returned the equipment the following day.

The conflict spread to other parts of South Sudan and resulted in the death of thousands and the displacement of some 863,000 people.

“We have recorded more than five cases of journalists being summoned for interrogation or being arrested and detained in Juba alone and more than 10 other cases in other parts of the country since the start of the conflict in December,” said Oliver Modi Philip, chairperson of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS).

“These people [in government] are telling our journalists to report in a certain way that favours the government. They don’t want voices of people in the opposition to be heard. But as a union we are telling journalists that they should stick to their ethics and ensure they have balanced stories,” Philip told IPS.

On Apr. 10, National Security Service (NSS) operatives confiscated copies of the Juba Monitor because the newspaper published an opinion piece profiling the life of former Minister of Environment Alfred Ladu Gore, who is allied to Machar.

And last month, on Mar. 18 NSS operatives confiscated copies of the same newspaper because the Juba Monitor published a story saying that rebels were planning to advance on the Jonglei state capital, Bor.

On that same day, the NSS confiscated the registration certificate of Eye Media, the proprietors of Eye Radio, a Juba-based radio station. The station is still on air but the clampdown began when one of their reporters, Nichola Mandil, who was reporting on the peace process in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, was summoned by the NSS upon his return to Juba. Mandil and two of his colleagues were interrogated for two days because they station ran an interview with Gore who criticised Kiir, calling for him to step down.

The station’s chief executive Stephen Omiri was also summoned for questioning.

Beatrice Murail, Eye Radio’s editor who approved the interview for broadcast, was forced to resign and leave South Sudan. She has since returned to her home country of France.

“The media environment has become really difficult. It is difficult to report anything fairly and in a balanced manner in this kind of environment,” Omiri told IPS.

“We are being forced to report only what pleases the government. I don’t know how we are going to work,” he added.

South Sudanese officials have insisted that journalists refer to last year’s outbreak of violence in Juba as a coup attempt.

Up to now a majority of reporters working for private media houses have referred to the incident as an “alleged coup” attempt as Machar denied allegations that he was trying to overthrow Kiir. Machar went into hiding in December and in February announced that he had formed a resistance group against the government.

“You should clearly say that it was a coup attempt led by Riek Machar,” South Sudan’s Information Minister Micheal Makuei Lueth told reporters last month during a press conference in Juba where local and a few international journalists were present.

Lueth, who is also the government’s spokesperson, warned local journalists not to interview rebels fighting his government or they would risk imprisonment.

“If you interview rebels and play such interviews here in South Sudan you are agitating [the population]. You are making hostile propaganda and for that matter we will take you where we take people who are in conflict with the law,” he had said.

“Go and do whatever you want to do outside South Sudan but we will not allow any journalist who is hostile to the government to continue to disseminate this poison to the people,” Lueth said.

Last November Lueth directed all journalists to register with the government. However, most media outlets refused to do so and the deadline expired in December.

In Wau, the capital of Western Bahr al Ghazal state, security officials have demanded that reporters ask for permission to cover stories.

Michael Atit a journalist with Voice of Hope radio, which is funded by the Catholic Diocese of Wau, was harassed by security officials last month.

“They told me that every time I want to work on a story I should first get permission from the national security. They also said after gathering audio I should bring it to them so they can decide if I can use it on the radio or not,” Atit told IPS.

Atit refused to abide by the police demands.

The intimidation of journalists is in contrast to South Sudan’s February 2013 agreement to become the first country to adopt a new United Nations-backed initiative aimed at creating a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers.

Edmond Yakani of local civil society organisation, Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation, criticised the government’s clampdown saying it would stifle the free growth of democracy in the country.

“People rely on the media for balanced information so they can make informed decisions. But this move by the government to stifle freedom of expression and speech, and freedom of the media is an attempt to feed us with rumours and one-sided information,” Yakani told IPS.

“At this critical time in our country it would be good for the government to allow the media to operate freely so that people can debate the issues affecting our country. It is only when you allow free speech that democracy can grow,” he added.

Meanwhile, Atit said that he and other journalists in Wau felt insecure because their movements were being monitored.

“I feel it’s not worth working as  journalist in Wau anymore,” Atit said, explaining that he was considering quitting.

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COLUMN: Gabriel García Márquez, the Story-Teller of the Country of the War Without End http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/column-gabriel-garcia-marquez-story-teller-country-war-without-end/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=column-gabriel-garcia-marquez-story-teller-country-war-without-end http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/column-gabriel-garcia-marquez-story-teller-country-war-without-end/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 01:42:49 +0000 Diana Cariboni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133757 The first time I read Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014) was when I was proofreading the galleys of “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor”, which the Editorial Sudamericana was getting ready to reprint in Argentina. I was working in the offices of the Sudamericana publishing house, in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of San Telmo, where I […]

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García Márquez in 1984. Credit: F3rn4nd0, edited by Mangostar C BY-SA 3.0

García Márquez in 1984. Credit: F3rn4nd0, edited by Mangostar C BY-SA 3.0

By Diana Cariboni
MONTEVIDEO, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

The first time I read Gabriel García Márquez (1927-2014) was when I was proofreading the galleys of “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor”, which the Editorial Sudamericana was getting ready to reprint in Argentina.

I was working in the offices of the Sudamericana publishing house, in the Buenos Aires neighbourhood of San Telmo, where I could find myself editing a gothic novel or a literary classic or a work by the Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik, due to the varied menu.

I was 17 years old and I was mesmerised by that short tale, a journalistic report by García Márquez published in a number of instalments in the El Espectador newspaper in Bogotá, in 1955, which came out as a book in 1970.

The complete title was “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor: Who Drifted on a Liferaft for Ten Days Without Food or Water, Was Proclaimed a National Hero, Kissed by Beauty Queens, Made Rich Through Publicity, and Then Spurned by the Government and Forgotten for All Time”.

Through the first-person account of the exploits of the survivor, García Márquez denounced that the shipwreck of the sailor and his seven companions, who drowned, was due to overweight contraband on the Colombian Navy’s destroyer Caldas.

Colombia at the time was under a military dictatorship, so the report led to the closure of the newspaper and the first of García Márquez’s various periods of exile. The last one began in 1997. He never returned to live in Colombia.

From there, of course, I jumped to “One Hundred Years of Solitude”, the masterpiece that the same publishing house, the Editorial Sudamericana, published in 1967, which was going to revolutionise Spanish language literature and influence the rest of the world’s image and cultural impression of Latin America.

We Latin Americans fell in love, and were shocked, by the Colombia that García Márquez described in this novel and in his other great works of fiction.

The cruelty of Colombia’s wars, the solitude of its heroes, the pathetic flip-flops of its politicians and military leaders, the eternal rule of its dictators, the ominous foreign presence, the state of abandon of its rural villages – all of it contained the realistic feel of first-hand experience. And, while unique, it was also similar to what was happening in so many other corners of the region.

But in the voice of García Márquez it took on another dimension, dreamlike, exuberant and humorous, which transported us as readers and allowed us to reflect on our own woes even with a kind of joy.

Like other great writers, García Márquez built a universe of his own, made up of real and invented places, unlikely characters, and lineages and genealogies.

Their names, like Macondo or Aureliano Buendía, now form part of the collective memory of Latin America, just like what happened centuries earlier with El Quijote.

I devoured all of his short stories and novels, from “La Hojarasca” (Leaf Storm – 1955) to “Memoria de mis putas tristes” (Memories of My Melancholy Whores – 2004), through the formidable and very dissimilar “El otoño del patriarca” (The Autumn of the Patriarch – 1975) and “El amor en los tiempos del cólera” (Love in the Time of Cholera – 1985).

When I was proofreading the galleys of “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor”, I didn’t yet know that I was going to become a journalist.

Many years later I travelled to Colombia as a reporter, and had the chance to see the land that I had caught a glimpse of through the books of García Márquez, who in 1982 was awarded the Nobel Literature prize.

I saw for myself how the war continued, undaunted, with shifting protagonists and nerve centres, but with the same trail of blood and the same grinding dispossession and neglect.

Since 2012, the Colombian authorities and the main leftist guerrilla group have been discussing in Havana how to put an end to the last half century of war.

García Márquez, who died of cancer on Thursday Apr. 17 in Mexico, did not live to see his country at peace. Hopefully his fellow Colombians won’t have to wait another 50 years.

Diana Cariboni is Co-Editor in Chief of IPS.

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