Inter Press Service » Human Rights http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 08 Dec 2016 09:52:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 India Steps Up Citizen Activism to Protect Womenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/india-steps-up-citizen-activism-to-protect-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-steps-up-citizen-activism-to-protect-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/india-steps-up-citizen-activism-to-protect-women/#comments Wed, 07 Dec 2016 14:34:28 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148122 Red Brigade, a female-only collective, equips Indian women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Red Brigade, a female-only collective, equips Indian women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Dec 7 2016 (IPS)

Last month, Delhi Police launched a unique initiative to check spiralling crimes against women in the city, also known dubiously as the “rape capital” of India. It formed a squad of plainclothes officers called “police mitras” (friends of the police) — comprising farmers, homemakers and former Army men — to assist them in the prevention and detection of crime and maintenance of law and order.

In another scheme, police chiefs launched their own version of “Charlie’s Angels” — a specially trained squad of crime-fighting, butt-kicking constables in white kimonos who take on sexual predators across the country. The 40-member women’s squad trained in martial arts guards “vulnerable” landmarks in the city such as schools and metro stations, while undercover as regular citizens."I carry pepper spray and a knife with me as I return late from the office." -- Shashibala Mehra, 52, an accountant in New Delhi

India, considered one of the world’s most unsafe countries for women, has lately seen a raft of innovative initiatives to safeguard women from sexual crimes. Ironically, despite increasingly stringent laws and a visible beefing up of police protection, crimes against women have surged.

According to a report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, such crimes (primarily rapes, molestations and stalking) have skyrocketed by a whopping 60 percent between 2010 and 2011 and 2014 and 2015.

A report by the National Crime Records Bureau found 337,922 reports of violence, including rape, cruelty and abduction, against women in 2014, up 9 percent from 2013. The number of reported rapes in the country also rose by 9 percent to 33,707 in 2014, the last year for which such figures were available.

In addition, sexual harassment on Indian streets or in other public spaces is a common experience for women. A survey by the NGO ActionAid found 79 percent of Indian women have been subjected to harassment or violence in public.

The rise in attacks on women has also led to a mushrooming of volunteer-led projects which provide a valuable social service. For instance, one such initiative — Blank Noise — in one of its campaigns #WalkAlone, asked women across the country to break their silence and walk alone to fight the fear of being harassed on the streets. In another campaign, women were urged to send in the clothing they were wearing when they were harassed which were then used to create public installations.

By engaging not only perpetrators and victims, but also spectators and passers-by, Blank Noise, launched in 2003, relies on ‘Action Heroes’ or a network of volunteers, from across age groups, gender and sexuality to put forth its message. Effective legal mechanisms, staging theatrical public protests and publicizing offences help the organization mobilize citizens against sexual harassment in public spaces. Week-long courses are also offered to teach women how to be active in building safe spaces.

Schoolboys are sensitized about sexual crimes at a seminar in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Schoolboys are sensitized about sexual crimes at a seminar in New Delhi. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Although the Indian Parliament passed a strong anti-rape law while also making human trafficking, acid attacks and stalking stringently punishable, it hasn’t translated into diminishing crimes against women. Some women’s rights activists believe that women are inviting a counter-attack by claiming their right in public spaces.

“There’s a lot of media coverage, candlelight marches and social media angst if women are outraged but in reality little has changed, ” says Pratibha Malik, an activist with a pan-India non-profit Aashrita. “I feel the very presence of women in non-traditional spaces like offices, in bars, restaurants etc in a patriarchal society like India’s is responsible for this backlash.”

The trigger for much of legislative and police action was the December 2012 rape of a 23-year-old Indian medical student in a moving bus when she was returning from a movie with a male friend. The couple were attacked by a group of men, including one aged 14. The woman was raped several times and later died, while her friend was beaten with an iron rod. The incident sparked mass protests demanding action.

Following the episode, which created global headlines, a committee — Justice Verma Committee — was instituted and its report cited “the failure of governance to provide a safe and dignified environment for the women of India, who are constantly exposed to sexual violence.”

The three attackers in the 2012 rape were sentenced to death and within months the government passed a bill broadening the definition of sexual offences to include forced penetration by any object, stalking, acid violence and disrobing.

However, such actions by the State haven’t really resulted in much succour for the fairer sex.
They feel they have to take charge of their own security. Many women IPS spoke to, say they feel danger still lurks around street corners, especially in the big cities, where venturing out at night is still considered an `adventure’.

“I don’t feel safe in public places at all nor while using public transport. I know nobody will come forward to help me if I get into trouble,” says Rekha Kumari, 30, a cook.

“I carry pepper spray and a knife with me as I return late from the office,” says Shashibala Mehra, 52, an accountant in New Delhi. “Throughout my 40-minute commute back home I keep talking to my husband on phone just so that he knows when I’m in trouble.”

Laxmi Aggarwal, 27, an acid attack victim who has now become an activist championing the ban on the sale of acid in India, says the government has done little to prevent its sale. “Young, vulnerable girls are attacked in many parts of rural India,” she says.

Aggarwal has joined hands with an organization called Stop Acid Attacks to assist other victims of such attacks and also fight for their rights in local courts.

Realizing how some Indian law enforcement agencies can no longer be trusted for their safety, many women are also resorting to buying weapons and pepper spray, downloading security apps, signing up for self-defence classes, and joining self-help groups.

Campaigns which help victims of violence fight social stigma have urged the government to enforce stricter laws and promote gender equality. Red Brigades, a female-only collective, for instance, equips women and girls with self-defence techniques and targets males who have committed sexual assault. Blank Noise, another volunteer-led project, is working to tackle street harassment and change public attitudes towards sexual violence.

Such initiatives, say activists, are vital to safeguard Indian women who are stepping out of their homes to work, travel and lead a full life.

“We try to make erring men see reason after talking to the man and his parents. If he still doesn’t listen, we go to the police station,” says Usha Vishwakarma. “If he’s still adamant, we go into the action stage.”

An important part of the support Red Brigade offers involves helping victims get rid of the self-guilt that the violence they suffered was their fault.

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The End of a Cycle ?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/italian-politics-the-end-of-a-cycle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=italian-politics-the-end-of-a-cycle http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/italian-politics-the-end-of-a-cycle/#comments Tue, 06 Dec 2016 22:02:56 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148117 By Roberto Savio
ROME, Dec 6 2016 (IPS)

Is the demise of Renzi really a local affair? There is no doubt that a referendum on a constitutional change can be a matter of confidence in him, having personalized the issue to a point that it became basically a vote on the young Prime Minister. But if you look at the sociology of the vote, you find that the No vote was again coming from the poorest parts of Italy. A case study is Milan. Voters living in the centre voted Yes, and those in the periphery voted No. Is this not similar to what has happened in Brexit and in the US elections? And Renzi fell into the same trap like Cameron, calling for a referendum on a very complex issue and putting at stake his own credibility and prestige, to be swept away by an unexpected tide of resentment. Lamented Renzi: “I had no idea I was so hated”.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

This is important. It shows how politicians, even those as brilliant as Renzi, do not realize that there is a tsunami of resentment that has been out there for some years, has been ignored by the establishment, by the media and by politics. Finally, everybody is linking the next elections in the Netherlands in March, in France in May and in Germany in August, as dates when the populist, nationalist and xenophobia tides will rise even more.

A huge sigh of relief was heard all over Europe after the candidate of the extreme right wing Freedom Party, Hofer, lost 47% to 53%to a Green Party candidate, Van der Bellen. Ulrich Kleber, a German minister declared: “Trump was the turning point. The liberal majority is pushing back.” Business as usual. In the last meeting of the Eurogroup, the proposal of the Commission for a loose fiscal budget was defeated following German pressure.

In fact, polls indicate today the Freedom party appears poised to win over the old coalition of social democrats and Christian democrats which have been running Austria since the end of the war. And as Dutch polls show today, in mid March, the xenophobe Party for Freedom, run by the oxygenated Geert Wilders, is close to getting 21%, over the Party for Freedom and Democracy, that would get 19%. And in France to block Le Pen from winning, at the end everybody will be obliged to vote for Fillon, who is so far to the right that on several issues is barely distinguishable. Finally in Germany, Angela Merkel has announced that she will run a campaign devoid from any ideology, so as not to accentuate any difference with the extreme right wing party AfD in the coming elections in August.

What is also disconcerting is that the political system is still looking to elections as conditioned by local factors. Clearly, Trump could be elected only in the United States. But it should now be clear that what is happening is a result of a global reaction from citizens. But how can we expect from those who have been supporting and singing neoliberal globalization since 1989 to admit their guilt? It is a sign of the time that now the IMF, World Bank and OECD are those who are calling for a return to the role of the state as the regulator and decrying how social and economic inequalities are a brake to growth.

The question is whether it is too late. By now, it will be extremely difficult to bring finance again under regulation (especially with Trump who will eliminate the few regulations still in place, and made by bankers, the backbone of his cabinet). For more than a generation the market has been considered as the only legitimate actor in economy and society. The values inscribed in the large majority of constitutions, like justice, solidarity, participation, and cooperation have been substituted by competition, enrichment, and individualism. Today, children in China, Russia, the United States and Europe are not united by values, but by brand: Adidas, Coca Cola. Citizens have become consumers. In the near future, data collected about each citizen through Internet, on their lives, activities and consumes, will further steer their lives. Fropm 16 % now , robotization will become 40% of the total production of goods and services in 2040. Just think how many drivers will lose their job with car automatization. And those displaced in factories are the cream of workers, not the low level job holders who vote for populism.

What went also unnoticed is that all the populist parties are totally against all international agreement, and international treatyies. The European parties are against unity in Europe. Trump wants to get out from any existing agreements. And together they look to the Climate Treaty as something which goes against their individual interests. They all speak of their national identity, of their glorious past, and how to get rid of multilateralism and internationalism. As a matter of fact, now in the Trump administration the term “globalist” is a derogatory one. A globalist is the enemy who wants to link the US to other countries and views. And yet, the UKIP in England, the Front National in France, the 5 Stelle in Italy and so on, beside some highly publisized meetings, have never been able to establish a platform together on any international issue, other than the abolition of the European Union. Now that Trump has named as his chief strategist Brennon, who has announced that part of his job is to strengthen the populist and right wing parties in Europe, it will be interesting to see how and on what basis they can establish an alliance, besides excluding gay marriages and extra uterine births.

Yet, there is a common trait on international issues. The sympathy for Putin, who is seen as a defender of national values and the inventor of the “illiberal democracy” that Orban in Hungary has officially adopted, followed by other members of the Visegrad pact – Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia – with Erdogan looking benevolently from Turkey. Putin has a growing support from Fillon in France, Salvini in Italy, Farage in England, Wilders in the Netherlands, and now Trump giving the final push for Putin’s legitimization.

But the question is if the response to the neoliberal globalization elected by its victims is organic and adequate? Will they be able to do what the discredited system that globalization has put in crisis, has not been able to do? This is the central question to consider.

If we look at the cabinet that Trump is assembling, there is a great space for doubt. It is a good image of what would be to put Dracula as the guard of a blood bank. The candidate for Secretary of Education is for increasing private education. The candidate for Secretary of Health is for dismantling the public health system. Almost all or a good part of them are multimillionaires. The advisers are all from large corporations. How such a gathering of the rich and powerful will be able to identify with the victims of globalization is difficult to comprehend. Trump speeches against Wall Street, social injustice and a precarious existence who pout him in parallel with Sanders, have disappeared. The energy companies got their biggest boost in several years, supported by the fact that Trump wants to quit the Paris Treaty on Climate, and enlarge the use of fossils. But at the same time hundreds of cities are passing legislations for climate control. It is impossible to say what the Trump administration will mean for the world, or for the United States itself. But signs are that greed certainly will be legitimized. Historians say that greed and fear are the two main factors for any change in history. Fear of immigrants is the main fuel for xenophobia . No wonder that nationalism, xenophobia and populism are on the rise.

The problem is that the growing debate on globalization’s victims is based on symptoms and not on the causes. If we asked a passer-by on a street during the Soviet Union period : “ What is the paradigm that guides the political economic and social options here?”, The answer most certainly would have been “Communism, or socialism”. Here such a question since 1989 would have provoked a blank stare, while we were living in a similar tight and all pervasive paradigm: market, elimination as much as possible of the state, of the public and reduction as much as possible of non productive social costs. Individualism and competition are winning factors – protect and support wealth and reduce personnel and costs as much as possible. There is a different generational change. Young people have dropped out of politics, lost vision and become just administrative options that have become more corrupted and have found refuge in the virtual world of the Internet. But they gather in clusters, of like-minded people. If I am a leftist, I gather with another leftist. I will never meet a right wing guy, as I would do in real life. And in those clusters the ones who emerge are the most radical. So we have a growing world of radicalized and self-reverent young people, who have lost the ability to debate. When they meet, they talk music, sports, fashion, but never ideas or ideals to avoid conflict and quarrels.

Without the young people who want to change the world they are in, the elevator of history gets stuck. And if many other anti historical trends are added together, the ability to correct mistakes and imbalances disappear. It is anti historical to block immigration when industrialized countries all have negative birth rates and productivity and pensions are in danger. It is anti historical to erect again customs, reduce trade, reduce incomes and increase costs. It is anti historical to accept that fiscal paradise subtracts 12% of the world budget. It is anti historical to eliminate international agreements, international cooperation, and go back to small national boundaries. It is anti historical that the rich become richer (today 88 individuals have the same wealth as that of 2.2 billion people), and the poor even poorer. It is anti historical to ignore the looming problem of the climate for which we are already late in waking up. It is almost like breaking a large glass we think it is advantageous because we will have many little fragments. China, India, Japan, Russia and now the US are all going nationalists. The US always took the lead, not without resistance, to be the guarantor of world stability, giving themselves their manifest destiny of an exceptional country. Now they want to have a manifest destiny by thinking only about themselves. Trump will find out that this is a diminutio capiti of the US.

We are therefore at a historical juncture. We are coming from 70 years of growth of international cooperation, the creation of a United Nations devoted to peace and development, the creation of a European Union based on the same philosophy, and an enormous flourishing of pacts on trade, health, education, labour, sports, tourism and whatever else that brings people together. This trend is now getting inverted. The neoliberal globalization pushed all those trends in a specific and unchallengeable direction: market is the only player; man is not any longer the centre of the society. The trend where we are going is clear especially after 9 November – to a world of Trumps. But is that the response to the problems that are bringing large masses to change their political representation? Not if we do not discuss and adopt a paradigm, shared by a large majority, and assure again social justice, democracy and participation. Is it so difficult to read history?

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Leave No One Behind: The Right to Developmenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/leave-no-one-behind-the-right-to-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leave-no-one-behind-the-right-to-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/leave-no-one-behind-the-right-to-development/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 16:23:34 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148094 Children pick through garbage in the FATA region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Children pick through garbage in the FATA region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Rose Delaney
ROME, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

As Human Rights Day approaches Dec. 10, it offers a moment to pause and look back at the roots of the global development process as a platform for stepping forward. On this day 30 years ago, the international community made a commitment to eliminate all obstacles to equality and inclusivity.

Dec. 4, 1986 marks the date the United Nations General Assembly officially adopted the Declaration on the Right to Development, a landmark text which describes development as an “inalienable human right”.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights encourages all stakeholders to “approach the 30th anniversary of the Declaration with a sense of urgency.”

“The 30th anniversary of the Declaration on the Right to Development must remind us that marginalized people – including migrants, indigenous peoples, and other minorities, as well as persons with disabilities – have a right to development, and that the true purpose of any economic endeavor is to improve the well-being of people.”

The groundbreaking 1986 declaration called for the establishment of inclusive global societies wherein the elimination of all forms of discrimination would be implemented to ensure sustainability. Developing countries in the Global South perceived to be “lagging behind” would be restored through the “international cooperation” advocated by the text.

The declaration stressed the importance of active and meaningful participation in the development process, even by those traditionally silenced and stigmatized by society. The marginalized poor were encouraged to speak out in the name of their rights. The emphasis on inclusivity highlighted the importance of non-discrimination and equal opportunity in the development process.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development includes, in its consensus, the right to development. The main objectives of the 1986 declaration are also reflected in both SDG16 for the promotion of peaceful and inclusive societies in addition to SDG17 which calls for the strengthening of global partnerships.

Undoubtedly, as we approach the 30th anniversary of the 1986 declaration, there are several significant achievements to reflect on, most notably the reduction of more than half of the population of people living in extreme poverty and in conditions of undernourishment in developing regions. In addition, the adoption of the declaration also resulted in improved access to clean drinking water and a much-needed increase in official development assistance.

However, despite significant progress, poverty and inequality persist. According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, world wealth remains unevenly distributed. Over 700 million people still live on the equivalent of less than two dollars per day. The limited access to healthcare, higher education and employment suffered by vulnerable segments of society runs the risk of pushing 100 million more into poverty by 2030, according to the World Bank.

Increased inequality and injustice in the developing world indicate the shortcomings of the 1986 declaration. An ongoing debate circles around its ineffectiveness, with many arguing that there is a lack of clear, coherent guidelines and thus far, it cannot be recognized as a legally binding instrument.

Differing interpretations of the declaration have also resulted in the absence of clear-cut solutions to critical development problems. While the United Nations Development Programme claims that any action, in order to be developmental, must be human rights-based, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action in addition to the UN 2030 agenda state that the right to development calls not only for enforcing action at the domestic level, but also for enabling action at the international level.

Both states and individuals share an equal responsibility to contribute to the creation and maintenance of a peaceful and inclusive global society.

Although the 1986 declaration was at first celebrated and welcomed by the international community, in recent years it has received less support from developing countries.  Rising inequality, limited economic opportunity and lack of access to basic services have led to lost faith in its true effectiveness.

Recently, a promising step forward was made for the development agenda, especially to tackle the past “ineffectiveness” of the right to development, when the Human Rights Council Resolution 33/L.29 was adopted at the council’s 33rd session this September.

The resolution stressed the need to need to operationalize the Right to Development as a priority and called for the elaboration of a legally binding international instrument on the Right to Development in addition to the formation of a Special Rapporteur mandate devoted to the issue.

The council’s resolution – although welcomed by countries in the Global South – was met with extreme reluctance by developed countries, whose delegates claimed the resolution unnecessarily duplicated the work of other mechanisms already put in place.

On Dec. 5, The Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue and the Permanent Mission of the Government of Azerbaijan hosted a panel discussion on the rising debates surrounding the right to development in 2016. The core objective was to of emphasize the importance of granting a voice to the voiceless and most importantly, and the necessity of global solidarity as a means of eradicating underdevelopment.

The approach undertaken by the Geneva Centre and the government of Azerbaijan places civil society at the heart of the development process, as defined 30 years ago, in the 1986 declaration. The power of interconnected global communities knows no bounds, especially to build bridges between the developed and developing world, and ultimately, eliminate persistent North-South divides.

In his opening address, H. E. Dr. Hanif Al Qassim recognized the advancements in terms of development achieved over the past thirty years, but regretted that the ongoing violence, conflict and displacement were in contradiction with the vision expressed by the Declaration in 1986. He recalled that violence was trampling on both human rights and development, and encouraged the audience to use the opportunity of the debate to revitalize their commitments in this sense.

Ambassador Idriss Jazairy, Executive Director and moderator of the panel discussion, emphasized the importance of global solidarity in age of ongoing violence, corruption, economic crises, and most notably, mass displacement, the world over.

In his opening remarks, Ambsaddor Jazairy discussed the revitalization of a peaceful international community and called for the inclusion of the 1986 Declaration  in the International Bill of Human Rights.

“Development is a human and a peoples’ right. The individual is entitled to have the means to thrive professionally, and peoples have the right to break the chains of subordination to an unjust global order,” he said.

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Trump Needs Lessons in Geopolitics : Musharrafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:28:01 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148080 By David White
LONDON, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

US President-elect Donald Trump has shown he has much to learn about South Asia,
Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with IPS. But he counted on Trump having an open mind.

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

Musharraf was commenting on statements made by Trump in a radio talk show during his presidential campaign in September, when he described India as being “the check to Pakistan”.

“I think that these statements do cause worry,” Musharraf said. However, he thought that Trump had a “fresh” and “uninitiated” mind on the subject..

“He maybe lacks full understanding of international issues and regional geostrategic issues here, confronting us,” Musharraf said. “But he has an open mind, he can learn, he can be told, he can be briefed.”Musharraf said America’s “War on Terror”, declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, had been “to an extent successful” in military terms. But he added: “Wherever military victory takes place it has to be converted into a political victory, and I personally feel that is where the United States fails.”

He added a warning that pro-India US policy might force Pakistan to rely more heavily on its already extensive ties with China. “I think Donald Trump must understand you are no longer in a unipolar world, so countries will have choice to shift towards other poles. So don’t do that,” he urged, making clear that by “other poles” he was referring to China and Russia.

Failure to move towards a détente between Pakistan and India was another factor that might force Pakistan more into China’s zone of influence, Musharraf said. But he added: “It is not in Pakistan’s interest to be in the orbit of any one force.”

He emphasised Pakistan’s deep linkages with the US and other western countries and its reliance on them as export markets. “We can’t switch trade to China, and that would be a very foolish policy and strategy,” he said. However, China’s support and economic presence put Pakistan in a difficult situation of needing to balance its relations.

“Pakistan has a relationship with China. The United States should not mind it,” Musharraf said.

Commenting on other remarks made by Trump during his campaign – suggesting that it might be better if Japan, South Korea and possibly Saudi Arabia had their own nuclear weapons – Musharraf rejected the idea of Pakistan supplying the Saudis with a nuclear capability.

“We won’t do that. Once bitten, many times shy, I think. We were proliferators once. I think we’ve learnt. And this is not a mere trade of industrial goods,” Musharraf said. “I think this is too serious a matter. We can’t do that.”

Musharraf said America’s “War on Terror”, declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, had been “to an extent successful” in military terms. But he added: “Wherever military victory takes place it has to be converted into a political victory, and I personally feel that is where the United States fails.”

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The United Nations Volunteer: From Global To Localhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/the-united-nations-volunteer-from-global-to-local/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-united-nations-volunteer-from-global-to-local http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/the-united-nations-volunteer-from-global-to-local/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:04:17 +0000 Siddharth Chatterjee http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148083 Siddharth Chatterjee is the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative to Kenya ]]> George Gachie, Kenya National UN Volunteer shares a moment with school children in Kibera slums, the community where  he is leading a Participatory Slum Upgrading Project for  UN-Habitat. Photo Credit; UNDP Kenya

George Gachie, Kenya National UN Volunteer shares a moment with school children in Kibera slums, the community where he is leading a Participatory Slum Upgrading Project for UN-Habitat. Photo Credit; UNDP Kenya

By Siddharth Chatterjee
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

Today 05 December is International Volunteer Day, and every year we recognize the invaluable contributions of volunteers to peace and development.

Consider this. George Gachie has been serving as a national United Nations Volunteer (UNV) with UN-Habitat for over three years. He grew up in the Kibera Slums – a challenging environment, where young people have very few opportunities and early pregnancy, school dropout, organized gangs, crime, diseases and drug abuse are common. In order to make it out of this situation one had to be smart. But as George himself put it during a recent UNV Blue-Room Talks event in Nairobi, ‘I am happy because it is volunteerism that got me out of the situation’.

In an acknowledgement of the expected role of the youth in delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals, volunteerism has now been recognized as a key driver in the development space. For Kenya, this is particularly apt given the large number of youth graduating every year but who find only limited employment opportunities.

Volunteerism is offering not only a chance to contribute to social development and a sense of self-worth, it also provides them with priceless lessons that sets them up for entering the job market and setting a foundation for their career.

The United Nations Volunteer programme has for many years delivered social services across a range of sectors. Today, the UNV Kenya programme remains one of largest UNV operations in the world, with 148 national and 47 International serving UN Volunteers. Kenya also contributes the largest number of UN Volunteers serving abroad, a testimony to the country’s commitment to humanitarian action and development.

Studies show that engaging in volunteerism from a young age helps people take their first steps towards long-term involvement in development. It is thus a perfect avenue to address the oft-repeated lament by corporate employers that the education system does not prepare students for the job market.

In that sense, volunteering is not just a way to get more numbers to ‘get the job done’, but a transformative opportunity for people from all walks of life, and a two-way exchange between the volunteer and the people they work with. By creating a sense of cohesion, reciprocity and solidarity within society, volunteering builds social capital, because it converts individual action into collective response directed towards a social end.

Volunteering also makes a significant economic contribution globally. It’s generally estimated that volunteers contribute an average of $400 billion to the global economy annually.

UNDP’s Administrator Ms Helen Clark has spoken about “ the tremendous impact UN Volunteers are making within the UN system. In implementing the SDGs, UNDP will continue to see volunteers as catalysts for change who amplify citizens’ voices and facilitate participation so that development can be truly people-centred”.

The impact of a volunteerism programme must be felt at the local level by building the capacity of people, including the marginalized, and should make the governance process more participatory and inclusive.

UNV has a strong track record of getting development results. In Kenya, UNV supported a neighborhood volunteer scheme to help ensure peaceful elections in 2013.

UN volunteers, including data analysts, planners, legal assistants and communication experts are deployed in 35 out of the 47 counties in the country, bringing critical capacity to the devolution process in Kenya.

In addition, 25 national and international UN Volunteers are engaged to support the humanitarian challenges on refugees in the country and well over 50 volunteers support operations of the United Nations Environment Program at its headquarters in Nairobi.

Having seen the contribution of volunteers, we can confidently vouch for community-based volunteering structures in all counties, to not only provide gainful occupation for Kenya’s youth, but to give them greater voice and participation in decision-making.

On the occasion of this year’s International Volunteer Day, the UN is committed to working with the Kenyan Government to integrate the concepts of volunteerism into development programming.

This can be done through various modalities, including facilitating volunteer schemes that target the contributions or integration of particular groups. Another area that holds great potential in advancing the course of volunteerism includes documentation of the various dimensions of volunteer involvement including its impacts on marginalized groups.

Volunteerism can be a powerful wind in our sails as we seek to achieve the SDGs and advance human development in Kenya.

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Pakistan and India Unlikely to Move to All-out War: Musharrafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/#comments Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:53:54 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148065 By David White
LONDON, Dec 3 2016 (IPS)

High levels of both conventional and nuclear deterrence are likely to prevent the recent surge in clashes between India and Pakistan from escalating into all-out war, according to Pakistan’s former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf.

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

In an exclusive interview with IPS in London, Musharraf predicted that low-intensity conflict would continue in disputed border areas. But he did not share the belief of many Pakistanis that hostilities could slide into full-scale war between the two nuclear-armed countries.

“Any military commander knows the force levels being maintained by either side,” he said. “I don’t think war is a possibility because the lethality and accuracy of weapons has increased so much.”

Although Pakistan has reserved the right to make a nuclear first strike, he said it had sufficient controls to ensure that its nuclear weapons, including new short-range tactical missiles, were not used accidentally or stolen by terrorist groups. “They are in good hands, in secure hands.” he said.

“Thank God, the level of conventional deterrence that we have in terms of weapons and manpower is enough to deter conventional war. So therefore I’m reasonably sure that in case of a war it is the conventional side which will be played and we will not go on to the unconventional.”

The 73-yeasr-old Musharraf made his comments during a wide-ranging discussion at his London home, in which he set out plans for a return to front-line politics in Pakistan. He said he might have reacted “more strongly” in recent clashes than the Pakistani authorities had done.Although Pakistan has reserved the right to make a nuclear first strike, he said it had sufficient controls to ensure that its nuclear weapons, including new short-range tactical missiles, were not used accidentally or stolen by terrorist groups. “They are in good hands, in secure hands.” he said.

The two countries had previously made progress on territorial disputes including in Kashmir. But India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi , who won power in 2014, was “on a collision course” with Pakistan that precluded a peaceful resolution, he said.

Musharraf also issued a strong warning about the threat to Pakistan coming from sectarian conflicts in the Middle East, saying it would be “extremely dangerous” for Pakistan to get dragged into the war in Yemen alongside its long-standing Saudi allies.

Pakistan was initially named by Saudi Arabia as part of a 34-nation coalition but held back from participating in the Saudi-led campaign supporting Yemen’s exiled government against Houthi Shia rebels.

Pakistan, with Iran as its neighbour, should not be taking sides, he warned. “We cannot do something which arouses internal conflict within Pakistan.”

The vexed question of terrorist “safe havens”, which Pakistan has been accused of providing near the border with Afghanistan, had to be addressed by both sides, Musharraf insisted. “Why is it Pakistan’s responsibility to control movement across the border?” he asked, arguing that terrorists were also being harboured in Afghanistan.

He had warm words, however, for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, describing him as “definitely a good person”. This was despite the fact that efforts to build closer ties by training Afghan cadets in Pakistan had fizzled out.

His relationship with Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai was more difficult. “I just didn’t like him,” Musharraf said, “because I think he was not a straight dealer.”

This is the second of three articles based on Musharraf’s interview with IPS.

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Civil Society On Aleppo: UN General Assembly Must Act http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act/#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2016 22:40:07 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148060 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/civil-society-on-aleppo-un-general-assembly-must-act/feed/ 1 UN “Profoundly Sorry” for Haiti Cholera Outbreakhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/un-profoundly-sorry-for-haiti-cholera-outbreak/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-profoundly-sorry-for-haiti-cholera-outbreak http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/un-profoundly-sorry-for-haiti-cholera-outbreak/#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2016 00:53:08 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148041 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the General Assembly during a briefing on the United Nations’ New Approach to Cholera in Haiti. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addresses the General Assembly during a briefing on the United Nations’ New Approach to Cholera in Haiti. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 2 2016 (IPS)

For the first time, the United Nations issued a formal apology for their role in the cholera outbreak in Haiti and announced new steps to alleviate the ongoing health crisis.

Speaking to the members of the UN General Assembly, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made an emotional statement, expressing his deep regret for the suffering and loss of life that resulted from the cholera epidemic.

“On behalf of the United Nations, I want to say very clearly: we apologise to the Haitian people. We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role,” said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Thursday.

Ban first delivered the apology, which was broadcast live on television in Haiti, in Creole, before switching to French and English.

The cholera outbreak, which occurred soon after the earthquake in 2010, killed nearly 10,000 and has to date infected close to 800,000, roughly one in twelve, Haitians.

We simply did not do enough with regard to the cholera outbreak and its spread in Haiti. We are profoundly sorry for our role,” Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Numerous reports including one by the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention pinpointed the appearance of the first cholera cases to the arrival of UN peacekeepers from Nepal.

Just one month before leaving office, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon noted that the cholera outbreak has created a “blemish” on the reputation of both UN peacekeeping and the organisation as a whole.

The UN first admitted its role in the cholera crisis in August when, during a briefing, spokesman Farhan Haq said that the that international organisation became “convinced that it needs to do much more regarding its own involvement in the initial outbreak.”

Desir Jean-Clair from Boucan Care, a cholera survivor whose mother died from cholera described the apology as a “victory.”

“We sent thousands of letters and were in the street to get this victory for them to say today that they were responsible,” he told The Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti. “They said that and we thank them. But it can’t end here. Because today there is still cholera in the whole country.”

While U.S. Senator Edward Markey, who had called for the apology, stated that it was “overdue” and is an “important first step for justice” for Haitians.

“The people of Haiti have long deserved more than just acknowledgment for the pain and sacrifice they have suffered in great part due to UN negligence,” said the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Africa and Global Health Policy.

Though it does represent a shift after over six years of denial of involvement or responsibility on the part of the UN, the apology stops short of explicitly acknowledging the responsibility of the UN in introducing cholera into Haiti.

“We now recognise that we had a role in this, but to go to the extent of taking full responsibility for all is a step that would not be possible for us to take,” said Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson during a briefing.

He noted the major reason for the limitation is to ensure the continuation of peacekeeping and humanitarian operations.

“We have to continue to do this work, There might be tragic mistakes in the future also, but we have to keep that long-term perspective,” he said.

The apology also comes after a U.S. appeals court upheld the UN’s immunity in August from a lawsuit filed on behalf of thousands of Haitian cholera victims.

Eliasson noted that the court decision helped protect key UN peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. It was therefore a “triggering” point for the apology and roadmap, he added.

“That is the reason we can now move forward to take this position of accepting moral responsibility and go to the extent that we express an apology…that is a way for us to send a message of support,” Eliasson stated.

However, words can only go so far, both Eliasson and Ban Ki-moon said.

“For the sake of the Haitian people, but also for the sake of the United Nations itself, we have a moral responsibility to act, and we have a collective responsibility to deliver,” Ban said.

In a report, the Secretary-General lays out a new two-track approach in order to reduce and end cholera transmission and long-term development of the country’s water, sanitation and health sectors respectively. Though work on track one is already underway, including the deployment of rapid response teams and vaccination programs, track two still is yet to be determined as consultations are ongoing.

Ban proposed a community approach for track two, working directly with the most affected Haitians. Though individual reparations could still be an element, Ban noted the difficulties to carry out such a program including the identification of deceased individuals and ensuring the provision of a meaningful fixed amount per cholera death.

The organisation has requested a total of $400 million over two years for the program, and has set up a voluntary funding system for both tracks. So far, an estimated $150 million has been received.

In order for the UN to achieve its ambitious program, it requires UN member states to make voluntary contributions.

“UN action requires member state action. Without your political will and financial support, we have only good intentions and words,” Ban said.

“With their history of suffering and hardships, the people of Haiti deserve this tangible expression of our solidarity,” he concluded.

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Fidel Castro, a Larger-than-Life Leader in Tumultuous Timeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/fidel-castro-an-extraordinary-leader-in-tumultuous-times/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fidel-castro-an-extraordinary-leader-in-tumultuous-times http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/fidel-castro-an-extraordinary-leader-in-tumultuous-times/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 15:51:59 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148033 The urn holding the ashes of Fidel Castro is seen covered by a Cuban flag on a military jeep on Nov. 30, at the start of an 800-km funeral procession that will reach a cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on Dec. 4. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The urn holding the ashes of Fidel Castro is seen covered by a Cuban flag on a military jeep on Nov. 30, at the start of an 800-km funeral procession that will reach a cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on Dec. 4. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

Among the many leaders who left their mark on history in the 20th century, Fidel Castro – who died Nov. 25 at the age of 90 – stood out for propelling Cuba into a global role that was unexpectedly prominent for a small country, in an era when arms were frequently taken up to settle national and international disputes.

The Cold War imposed certain political choices as well as the consequences in terms of hostilities. By choosing Communism as its path in 1961, two years after the triumph of the revolution, Cuba became a pawn that infiltrated the enemy chessboard, facing the risks posed by such a vulnerable and threatening position.

In Latin America, the “Western, Christian” side mainly degenerated into military dictatorships, nearly all of them anti-Communist and with direct links to the United States, with a few exceptions like the progressive government of General Juan Velasco Alvarado in Peru (1968-1975).

On the other side, guerrilla movements supported or stimulated by Cuba, like the 1966-1967 incursion led by Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia, mushroomed. The military defeat of these movements was a general, but not absolute, rule.

For example, there was the Sandinista triumph in Nicaragua in 1979, and in Colombia the half-decade conflict raged until this year, when a peace deal was finally signed by the government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels.

The armed conflicts were not limited to the countries of Latin America. The Vietnam war shook the world in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Communist victory over U.S. forces prevented another country from being split in two, like Korea or Germany.

In Africa, the decolonisation of some countries cost rivers of blood. Algeria, for example, won its independence from France in 1962 after a war that left a death toll of 1.5 million, according to the Algerians, or just over one-third of that number, according to the French.

Against this backdrop, Castro led an incredible set of accomplishments that earned Cuba a projection and influence far out of proportion to the size of a country of fewer than 10 million people up to 1980 and 11.2 million today.

He fomented and trained guerrilla movements that challenged governments and armed forces in several countries of Latin America. Many felt Cuba offered an alternative, more authentic, brand of Communism that contrasted with the Soviet Union’s, which was seen as bureaucratic, based on repression, even of other peoples, and by then bereft of revolutionary zeal.

The defence of social equality, the top priority put on children, advances in education and health, and solidarity with oppressed peoples or nations hit by tragedies around the world are attractive components of Cuba’s style of Communism, despite its dictatorial nature.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans took part in the mammoth rally held Nov. 29 to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, attended by leaders from every continent. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans took part in the mammoth rally held Nov. 29 to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, attended by leaders from every continent. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

It was not democracy – a value not highly respected decades ago, not even by the propagandists of freedom in the Western world, who also disseminated, or were linked to, dictatorships.

Cuban troops and doctors spread in large numbers throughout Africa and Latin America, in campaigns providing support and assistance, on some occasions playing a central role.

The action abroad that had the greatest impact was in Angola, where Cuba’s military aid was decisive in the country’s successful bid for independence, by cutting off the advance of South African troops that almost reached Luanda in the attempt to prevent the birth of the new nation, which occurred on Nov. 11, 1975.

For decades, Cuban troops were in Angola training the military and strengthening national defence, along with the Cuban doctors and teachers who helped care for and teach a new generation of Angolans.

The operation in Angola showed that Cuba was more than a mere pawn of the former Soviet Union. On May 27, 1977 there was an attempted coup d’etat by a faction of the governing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led by Nito Alves.

Loyal to then President Agostinho Neto, the Cubans helped block the coup. They retook the main radio station in Luanda, which had been occupied by rebels, and returned it to government control. It was a Cuban voice fheard over the radio announcing the success of the operation.

The Soviets were on the side of the coup plotters, according to Angola’s leaders of the time. Diplomats from Moscow were expelled from the country, as were members of the Communist Party of Portugal.

A worse fate was suffered by the followers of Nito Alves accused of participating in the uprising: thousands of them were shot and killed. The number of victims has never been confirmed.

More recently, tens of thousands of Cuban doctors have spread a humane image of Cuba throughout Latin America, after they did so in many African countries. Thousands of them have worked in Venezuela since late president Hugo Chavez first took power in 1999. In Brazil, more than 11,000 Cuban doctors have been providing healthcare in poor and remote areas since 2013.

The Cuban revolution and its achievements are inextricably intertwined with the figure of Fidel Castro, whose leadership was so dominating that he probably would not have needed the rules of his political regime to constantly assert his power and authority over all activities in Cuba.

“Why hold elections?” many Cubans used to argue, in response to the frequent criticism of how long the Castro administration remained in power, without submitting itself to a real vote.

The impression is that his leadership was excessive, that it went far beyond the limits of the Caribbean island nation. His capacity for action was reflected in working meetings held in the wee hours of the morning, as well as in his meetings with visiting leaders.

His hours-long speeches were also delivered abroad, when he visited countries governed by friends, such as Chile in 1971 – governed at the time by socialist President Salvador Allende (1970-1973) – and Angola in 1977, under President Agostinho Neto.

“They don’t have a Fidel,” said Cubans in Angola, to criticise and explain errors committed by the government there, lamenting the lack of such an infallible leader as theirs, in a country whose development they were trying to support.

A product and subject of an era marked by the Cold War, Castro seemed destined to cause controversy, as a historic figure praised by some and condemned as a despot by others. But his political legacy will wane if Communism does not find a way to reconcile with democracy.

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Pervez Musharraf Sets out ‘Higher’ Comeback Planshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 10:14:51 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148028 Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

By David White
LONDON, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf says he intends to make a second bid for a political comeback next year, aiming to return from self-imposed exile to forge a new party that would bridge ethnic and sectarian divides.

In an exclusive interview with IPS in London, Musharraf said he wanted to have “something effective on the ground” in Pakistan by June next year so that the new political entity could contest general elections scheduled for March 2018. He was prepared to go to court in Pakistan to face any charges against him as long as he was allowed to move around.

He laid out his plans in a wide-ranging interview that also dealt with responses to terrorism, the recent escalation in border hostilities between Pakistan and India, the threat from sectarian conflict in the Middle East and concerns about Donald Trump’s impending presidency in the US.

“I have to bring the people together and give them the proper leadership,” he said. Speaking in the living-room of the central London flat that became his main base after he resigned from office in 2008, he said the current leadership was incapable of meeting Pakistan’s internal and external challenges.

“At the moment politics in Pakistan is polarised and all parties are ethnically based. I think that is bad for the Federation of Pakistan,” Musharraf said.

He claimed he still had popular support, despite a disappointing reception on his previous return to Pakistan in 2013, which he blamed partly on a change of venue. Facing a treason trial and other charges that include alleged complicity in the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, he was allowed to leave Pakistan again in March this year.

musharrafstanding_300Musharraf, who is 73, admitted that the outlook for resolving the court cases was “not all that good”, accusing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government of conducting a vendetta against him. “The cases have to be dealt with to a certain extent so that my movement does not get restricted. Otherwise they can continue,” he said.

“I know that the military will always be in my favour to protect me,” Musharraf, a former army commander, added, although they could not dictate terms to the courts.

In May, the former president was declared an absconder by a special court hearing treason charges against him for taking emergency rule powers in 2007.

On the Benazir Bhutto assassination, Musharraf stood by the version put forward by the government at the time blaming Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who denied involvement and was later killed in a US drone attack. But the former president said he had no knowledge of any conspiracy behind the attack.

In remarks following the interview, Musharraf made clear he had no intention of seeking a seat in the national assembly, having been debarred from standing in the 2013 election. “The aim is far greater, far higher,” he said.

He said he had held discussions with other Pakistani politicians in person in Dubai and by telephone. He dismissed media reports suggesting a possible role as president of Muttahida Qaumi Movement and its splinter group the Pak Sarzameen Party, arguing that they were too narrowly based in Urdu-speaking urban areas of southeast Pakistan. However, these so-called Muhajir groups would be an important part of the new national party he was planning to form, he said

Musharraf said a harder clampdown was required on all elements of separatist and sectarian terrorism in the country. “We haven’t taken a very holistic approach towards it,” he said, saying the authorities could make more use of “second-line” auxiliary forces such as the Frontier Corps, which should be strengthened with better weaponry. “The army should be relieved of these policing jobs.”

More needed to be done to regulate madrassas and bring them into Pakistan’s mainstream education system, he said. “Most of them are not oriented towards terrorism. Some of them certainly are, and we need to close them down.”

Musharraf played down the danger of a “blowback” for Pakistan from its support for irregular militant groups in Kashmir and Afghanistan. But he accepted that “some elements” had links to terrorist attacks in Pakistan and there was a risk that some might now become proxies for ISIS.

He defended humanitarian work carried out by associates of militant Islamic group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India has blamed for deadly attacks including those in Mumbai in 2008 and which is widely banned as a terrorist organisation. The organisation had been “much maligned”, Musharraf said. “They have taken the religious youth away from terrorism towards welfare activity,” he argued. “And if we keep pushing them to the wall these same youths are going to turn towards terrorism and the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.”

Musharraf maintained that up to his departure his government “achieved tremendously” in its aims or promoting welfare, development and security. But he admitted making errors in sidelining Pakistan’s chief justice – a move that provoked nationwide protests although Musharraf still says it was deserved – and in ordering a corruption amnesty for civil servants and politicians, “which made me unpopular.”

Further articles from this interview dealing with regional security and relations with the US and China will be published shortly.

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Rohingya Refugees Trapped in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:35:50 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148012 The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Amid growing persecution by Myanmar’s military, thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in its western state of Rakhine have fled their frontier villages and are languishing along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border for lack of shelter and emergency supplies.

In response to alleged coordinated attacks on three border posts on Oct. 9 that killed nine guards, Myanmar troops swarmed into areas along the country’s frontier with Bangladesh, forcing the Rohingyas to leave their homes."Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.” -- John McKissick of UNHCR

London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), a political group based in Rakhine state (Arakan), Myanmar, said on Nov. 28 that Myanmar security forces have killed over 500 people, raped hundreds of women, burned down over 2,500 houses, destroyed mosques and religious schools, and perpetrated other abuses in the latest round of violence.

The international community and rights groups, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have expressed grave concern over the brutalities in Myanmar. They termed the operation the most serious since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in Rakhine in 2012.

Up to 250,000 people are said to have been displaced so far and thousands more affected by the recent operation. Both Myanmar’s military and government deny the allegations by the rights groups and the displaced minority.

Amid the evolving situation, Bangladesh, a next-door neighbour of Myanmar, is unwilling to allow the entry of more Rohingyas, as it has already been hosting some 300,000 undocumented Rohingyas since 1977. The Bangladesh government says it is not its lone responsibility to give them refuge.

In an Nov. 20 interview with United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent news agency, director general of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Abul Hossain said Bangladesh would not allow anybody to enter its territory illegally.

Terming the Rohingya crisis an international issue, Maj. Gen. Hossain said Bangladesh has already been hosting a large number of Rohingya refugees and managing them has become a problem. “We’re trying to manage our border efficiently so that any illegal intrusion, including the entry of militants and terrorists, is prevented.”

The Myanmar government has denied them citizenship even though they have been living there for generations, as the Buddhist majority of Rakhine state considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

On Nov. 24, Amnesty International said the Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers have been forced into hiding across the Na’f River that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar, and they are now suffering for lack of food and medical care.

Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Rohingyas were also entering Bangladesh through remote hilly areas and it was difficult to stem the flow.

“We hope that the Myanmar government will come to a solution soon,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has appealed to the government of Bangladesh to keep its border with Myanmar open and allow safe passage to any civilians fleeing the violence.

According to the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, some 9,000 Rohingya people have already entered Bangladesh with the help of smugglers who know how to dodge the Bangladesh border guards (BGB). Bangladesh has reinforced both its border and coast guards since the escalation of operation by the Myanmar military and sent back many people. Some 3,000 Rohingyas are also said to have fled to China.

Prothom Alo, a leading Bengali national daily, reported that some 1,100 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh on Nov. 28 alone, with Myanmar’s military burning down their houses and firing shots indiscriminately.

Amid international pressure to accept the newly displaced Rohingya people, the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh summoned the Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka on Nov. 23 and conveyed its deep concern at the military operation forcing Rohingya Muslims to flee their frontier homes.

Later, in a statement, Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry said it had asked Myanmar to “ensure the integrity of its border and to stop the influx of people from Rakhine state. Despite our border guards’ sincere efforts to prevent the influx, thousands of distressed Myanmar citizens, including women, children and elderly people, continue to cross the border into Bangladesh.”

Though the Bangladesh government is unwilling to accept the Rohingyas, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of Bangladesh’s two major parties, has been urging the government to give shelter to the displaced Rohingya people on humanitarian grounds.

In a statement, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, who is also a former Prime Minister, said, “Many Rohingya refugees have long been staying in our country which is densely populated and witnessing a shrinking of livable land. We’re also facing various social problems for it. Despite that, I call upon the authorities concerned to give the Rohingya refugees shelter as much as possible on humanitarian ground to save their lives.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has denounced the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar and also asked Bangladesh not to push the fleeing Rohingyas back across the border.

“The Rohingyas are being squeezed by the callous actions of both the Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities. Fleeing collective punishment in Myanmar, they are being pushed back by the Bangladeshi authorities. Trapped between these cruel fates, their desperate need for food, water and medical care is not being addressed,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia director.

In Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, thousands of people took to the streets on Nov. 25 in protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. The protesters also burned an effigy of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a flag of Myanmar, carrying banners that read ‘Open the border to save the Rohingyas’.

A vigorous social media campaign is also underway to put pressure on Bangladesh’s authorities to allow the displaced Rohingyas to enter the country.

UNICEF has said thousands of malnourished children are suffering from lack of medical care and in danger of starving.

Amid the horrific situation, the UNHCR head in Bangladesh, John McKissick, on Nov. 24 told BBC Bangla that “Rohingya Muslims in Burma are being ethnically cleansed. Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.”

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Zaw Htay responded that McKissick “should maintain his professionalism and his ethics as a United Nations officer because his comments are just allegations.”

Last week, Human Rights Watch released satellite images showing that over 1,000 Rohingya homes have been destroyed in five villages of Rakhine state.

The New York-based group in a statement that satellite images taken on Nov. 10, 17 and 18 showed 820 destroyed buildings, bringing the total number it says it has documented to 1,250.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, the United States reiterated its call for a full, formal and transparent investigation into violence in Rakhine state and laid emphasis on international community’s participation for finding a solution there.

A human rights icon whose activism earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, Suu Kyi is now being criticised globally for her silence over the dire situation in her own country.

The first democratic election in 25 years was held in Myanmar in November last year, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) winning it with a thumping majority. Though she could not assume the presidency due to a constitutional bar, Suu Kyi is considered a de-facto leader as she serves as State Counsellor.

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Looking into the Eyes of Central American Refugees in a Time of Hate and Fear http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/looking-into-the-eyes-of-central-american-refugees-in-a-time-of-hate-and-fear/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=looking-into-the-eyes-of-central-american-refugees-in-a-time-of-hate-and-fear http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/looking-into-the-eyes-of-central-american-refugees-in-a-time-of-hate-and-fear/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 04:00:35 +0000 Madeleine Penman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148007 The Suchuiate River crossing between Mexico and Guatemala. Those with visas cross the bridge, and those without visas – including people fleeing violence from Central America – have to take a makeshift tyre raft. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

The Suchuiate River crossing between Mexico and Guatemala. Those with visas cross the bridge, and those without visas – including people fleeing violence from Central America – have to take a makeshift tyre raft. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

By Madeleine Penman
MEXICO CITY, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Ten years ago I arrived in Mexico for the first time. A heavy backpack strapped around my waist, I toddled over a large, concrete bridge that divides Mexico and Guatemala.

When I crossed the border, a man with his shirt unbuttoned down to his belly and sweat pouring down his chest took my passport, glanced at it for no more than two seconds, then stamped it with a smile and cheerily barked to me “welcome to Mexico.”

My entry into Mexico couldn’t have been easier, because I’m from Australia and don’t need a visa. But for hundreds of thousands of men, women, children and entire families fleeing violence and crossing Mexico’s southern border from some of the most dangerous corners of the world, it is a very different story.

Instead of a smile, they will face unfounded suspicion, fear, prejudice and even hate.

Knowing full well of the likelihood of being denied entrance and, instead, facing possible deportation to the war-like horrors and violence in Honduras and El Salvador, many are effectively forced to enter clandestinely.

One of the routes that migrants and asylum seekers are forced to take through Mexico includes travelling atop these freight trains and risking their lives. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

One of the routes that migrants and asylum seekers are forced to take through Mexico includes travelling atop these freight trains and risking their lives. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

Ten years after I used this border crossing for the first time, I came back as part of an international observation mission and have spoken to dozens of people whose lives have been turned upside down. We spoke to a man in a wheelchair who had lost both of his legs when he fell off the freight train dubbed “The Beast” that migrants and asylum-seekers travel on top of to get through Mexico. He was taken to a hospital in Mexico, who then referred him to Mexican migration authorities. He told us that migration authorities ignored his request to lodge an asylum claim and deported him back to Honduras straight away. He said he spent just four days there, fearing for his life, and then came back to Mexico immediately. He had still been unable to lodge an asylum claim given his fear of being detained.

Some 400,000 people are estimated to be crossing Mexico’s southern border every year. Many of these are in need of international protection, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has called on governments in the region to recognise the humanitarian crisis affecting the Central American countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

Amnesty’s own research has shown how the generalised violence in El Salvador and Honduras makes them some of the deadliest places on the planet. A few days ago, I spoke to a young fisherman from El Salvador who had fled his country with more than 30 members of his family because the extortions and war taxes that criminal gangs imposed on them at home, and impose on entire industries in El Salvador in order to let them operate, made living there impossible. Saying no to gangs (“maras”) often means a death sentence.

Mexico has a history of receiving people fleeing violence and showing solidarity and hospitality to those in need of protection.

In the 1980s, tens of thousands of Guatemalans fled civil war and came as refugees to Mexico. Thirty years later, Mexico seems to be forgetting this welcoming face. On mission, well after we crossed the border and were inside Mexican territory, in a stretch of just two hundred kilometres along the coast of the southern state of Chiapas, we went through seven migratory control checkpoints that at times includes military personnel, federal police and many migration agents ready to detain anyone without papers.

Mexico has invested significant resources in enforcement and security along its southern border in recent years. Some of this money comes from US government funding from the Merida Initiative, an extensive security assistance package.

A prison or a migratory checkpoint? Difficult to tell. The “CAITF” border control checkpoint in Huixtla, Chiapas. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

A prison or a migratory checkpoint? Difficult to tell. The “CAITF” border control checkpoint in Huixtla, Chiapas. Credit: Madeleine Penman / Amnesty International.

The increase in checkpoints and security has resulted in a spike in detentions and deportations of Central American people from Mexico, in many cases returning people to threats, attacks and even killings. Of all the checkpoints I passed through, one of them stood out in particular.

It was a special customs control centre that stood out on the highway like an enormous spaceship, airport, or prison. It had Federal Police officers, an army barracks, customs, bright lights, watch towers, and an incredible amount of infrastructure.

The problem with this focus on detentions, enforcement, security and deportations is that many people who are in danger and should be recognised as refugees are not being identified by Mexican migration agents.

Under international and domestic law, migration agents are obliged to refer anyone who expresses a fear of returning to their countries to Mexico´s refugee agency, COMAR – Comisión Mexicana de Ayuda a Refugiados.

However, the vast majority of people are detained and returned to their countries with their fears being overlooked. Why is this so? Do authorities really think that traumatised people fleeing their countries are such a threat? Are they hearing their stories?

I met a woman who told me that in Honduras, as a woman, she couldn’t wear skirts, tights, she couldn’t dye her hair, she could barely do anything without gangs threatening her. She spoke to me on the side of the road, with no money, waiting to move to find transport that could take her to a safer place. Others from El Salvador told me that just transiting between one neighbourhood and another put you at risk, as gangs would suspect you as a possible rival for being an outsider.

We are living in a time of extreme hate and fear. Unless we listen to people´s stories and act, our societies and policies will continue to create walls of prejudice rather than bridges of protection and justice. After this trip along Mexico’s southern border, more than ever I pledge to welcome refugees, in my heart and in my society. I hope you can look into their eyes and welcome them too.

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Journalists Honoured for their Courage, Resolvehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalists-honoured-for-their-courage-resolve/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalists-honoured-for-their-courage-resolve http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalists-honoured-for-their-courage-resolve/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 03:18:20 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148004 Burton Benjamin Memorial Award recipient Christiane Amanpour with IPFA honorees Malini Subramaniam, Óscar Martínez, and Can Dündar at the International Press Freedom Awards. Nov. 22, 2016, New York. Credit: CPJ/Barbara Nitke.

Burton Benjamin Memorial Award recipient Christiane Amanpour with IPFA honorees Malini Subramaniam, Óscar Martínez, and Can Dündar at the International Press Freedom Awards. Nov. 22, 2016, New York. Credit: CPJ/Barbara Nitke.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Journalism has become one of the world’s most dangerous professions, making the courageous achievements of this year’s four International Press Freedom Award winners particularly meaningful.

The four winners from El Salvador, India, Turkey and Egypt were honoured for their courageous achievements by the Committee to Protect Journalists at the 26th International Press Freedom Awards on November 21.

“These awardees are truly remarkable journalists, all of whom have carried out their work with the knowledge that doing so puts them in real danger,” said CPJ’s Board Chairman Sandra Mims Rowe.

“It is heartening to see such resolve, and to know that even under the most threatening conditions, journalists will always find a way to do their job,” she continued.

Since 1992, CPJ found that 1220 journalists have been killed, the majority of whom were murdered with complete impunity. In 2015 alone, nearly 200 journalists were also imprisoned worldwide.

Can Dündar, one of the awardees and chief editor of Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, was arrested in November 2015 and sentenced to 6 years in prison after publishing a report claiming Turkey’s intelligence service’s plans to send weapons to Syrian rebel groups.

“It is our right to write, and the people’s right to know. We are not only defending a profession, but we are defending the people’s right to be informed,” -- Can Dündar.

Dündar, who was arrested on charges of disclosing state secrets, espionage and aiding a terrorist group, told IPS of the importance of press freedom.

“It is our right to write, and the people’s right to know. We are not only defending a profession, but we are defending the people’s right to be informed,” he said.

“This award is a kind of message from the world to us that they are aware of our struggle,” Dündar continued.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s Press Freedom Index, Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries. Since the election of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 2014, more than 1800 cases were opened against journalists and cartoonists for insulting the leader.

The country’s media crackdown has only deepened since the coup attempt in July as the Turkish government has allegedly used its state of emergency and anti-terror laws to shut down over 100 news agencies and imprison approximately 120 journalists.

Óscar Martínez, another awardee and investigative reporter from El Salvador, also highlighted the important role of media to IPS, stating: “Only in countries where the press can exercise its right to freely inform is it possible to illuminate those dark corners [of societies] that would otherwise stay in the dark.”

One such dark corner is the ongoing violence in El Salvador. The Central American nation is now the world’s most violent country that is not at war, with over 6,500 murders in 2015 alone. After reporting on extrajudicial killings by police, Martínez received death threats and was forced to temporarily flee the country.

Though CPJ’s award can help the press freedom cause, Martínez added that governments must ensure and provide real protection for journalists.

Malini Subramaniam similarly reports on abuses by police and security forces and extrajudicial killings, but in India’s “Red Corridor” where a five-decade long conflict between Maoists and the government has persisted.

Working in the Indian State of Chhattisgarh, first as a development worker then as a journalist, Subramaniam told IPS that she saw indigenous residents, known as adivasis, caught in the crossfire without essential services or a voice.

“These stories were not coming out…I realised that these stories need to be told,” Subramaniam told IPS, adding that the dangers of telling the story did not matter to her.

Due to her critical reports on human rights abuses, Subramaniam has had to cope with numerous instances of police interrogation and harassment, eventually forcing Subramaniam to leave the Bastar district of Chhattisgarh.

However, Subramaniam noted that she is just one of the journalists that faced such perils there. According to CPJ, at least four journalists are imprisoned in the Central Indian state, and other journalists including a BBC correspondent have been forced to flee the area for fear of reprisal.

“It’s not just about an individual, it is about the larger field,” Subramaniam told IPS.

“This award will sort of amplify the situation that is there in Bastar as far as reporting is concerned, what’s happening to the journalists that are there and as a message to the government of India to wake up,” she continued.

CPJ also honoured Mahmoud Abou Zeid, an Egyptian photojournalist who has been in prison since August 2013.

Zeid, who is also known as Shawkan, was arrested while covering clashes between Egyptian security forces and supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi. Among the charges he faces is weapons possession, illegal assembly and murder.

Egypt is the second largest jailer of journalists in the world, only second to China, CPJ found.

Attending the awards ceremony on behalf of Shawkan was his childhood friend Ahmed Abu Seif.

“I still sometimes want to wake up and for somebody to tell me that it is just a dream,” Seif told IPS, adding that it hurts him that Shawkan is not there himself to receive CPJ’s award.

“This award means a lot for recognising a journalist behind bars. It’s also a sign to tell the Egyptian government that…even if you don’t recognise him as a journalist, we do,” he continued.

The fight for press freedom is not limited to countries like Egypt and Turkey, but also continues to remain an issue in the United States.

Receiving the Burton Benjamin Memorial award was Christiane Amanpour who pointed to the perils American journalists face and may continue to face after President-elect Trump assumes office.

“I never in a million years thought I would be up here on stage appealing for the freedom and safety of American journalists at home,” she told attendees, pointing to a tweet by President-elect Trump that said “professional protesters” were “incited by the media.”

She particularly noted the issues U.S. media faced while reporting the presidential campaigns in balancing neutrality and truth, but said that this cannot continue.

“I learned long ago, covering the ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia, never to equate victim with aggressor, never to create a false moral or factual equivalence, because then you are an accomplice to the most unspeakable crimes and consequences. I believe in being truthful, not neutral and I believe we must stop banalising the truth,” she said.

She added that the media can either contribute to a more functional system or to deepen the political dysfunction.

“This above all is an appeal to protect journalism itself…we have to stand up together–for divided we will all fall,” she concluded.

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“Bonn Has Become an Insider Tip on the International Stage”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 07:00:04 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147958 VN Campus Bonn (© Michael Sondermann/Bundesstadt Bonn)

UN Campus Bonn (© Michael Sondermann/Bundesstadt Bonn)

By Baher Kamal
ROME/BONN, Nov 29 2016 (IPS)

With around 320,000 inhabitants on 141 square kilometres, no other relatively small city has played such a historically critical role like the City of Bonn.

Founded 2,100 years ago by the Romans, from being the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven to being the capital of Germany for over 50 years (1949-1990; seat of the Federal Government and Parliament until 1999), Bonn is also one of the best-guarded safe-deposit boxes of European and recent world history.

IPS interviews the City of Bonn’s Mayor Ashok-Alexander Sridharan.

IPS: For over half a century Bonn was the centre for top world leaders deciding on the future of Germany and Europe. What in your opinion is the City of Bonn’s best-kept political secret from that period?

Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of the City of Bonn

Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of the City of Bonn

Sridharan: The fact that Bonn today has become an insider tip on the international stage – especially in the area of sustainability – certainly originates from those roughly five decades when Bonn acted as capital city for the most successful democracy on German ground. It was this valuable heritage that Bonn could draw back on when the decision was taken in the Federal Republic of Germany to make Bonn Germany’s United Nations City.

IPS: After New York and Geneva, Bonn has become one of the world’s biggest venues for United Nations organisations, with the presence of a total of 19 agencies. And your City is strongly involved in international development cooperation at the municipal level, on international youth projects and on the international dialogue of cultures. What are your current and future plans for the City?

Sridharan: At international level, Bonn is successfully establishing itself as Germany’s United Nations City with a strong focus on sustainability-related issues. ‘UN Bonn – Shaping a Sustainable Future’ is the joint slogan of our Bonn-based UN agencies. With the UNSSC Knowledge Centre for Sustainable Development, we have been able to welcome another important UN agency on board this year. And in December, the UN SDG Action Campaign will open its central campaign office in our city.

Bonn has increasingly developed into a sustainability hub. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) play a central role in this context.

Naturally, our city is also called upon to take up this issue in its own affairs. It is for a number of years now that we have successfully engaged in municipal development cooperation. We maintain partnerships with Bukhara (Uzbekistan), Cape Coast (Ghana), Chengdu (P.R. China), La Paz (Bolivia), Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and Minsk (Belarus), for instance.

Moreover, we are integrating the sustainable approach locally in our own day-to-day affairs. We promote fair trade and sustainable procurement, as well as eco-friendly mobility. Also, we are stepping up the use of renewable energies and advocate social interaction and a sense of togetherness in our local community.

IPS: The City of Bonn is also one of the largest international media hubs. Deutsche Welle, based here, organizes an annual Global Media Forum bringing over 2,000 professionals from all continents. Are there any new initiatives by your City in the field of international information and communication?

Sridharan: We use every opportunity to raise awareness for the special capabilities in our city among journalists from all over the globe coming to Bonn for whatever reason. We do so as Germany’s United Nations City with a focus on sustainability, but also as birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, as important IT centre in Germany, and much more.

Bonn is home to tens of thousands of migrants, representing nearly one third of its total population. ​​While migration and refugees have occupied the front pages of newspapers in Europe for long now, London has overwhelmingly welcomed their Mayor, Sadiq Khan, whose Pakistani father drove buses to send his children to school.

The City of Bonn has an elected Mayor in Sridharan, born of Indian and German parents. It’s a win-win for all parties no doubt and yet so little is highlighted in the North of the value migrants bring to European economies; and even less is known to the potential migrants themselves in the South what lay ahead for them in Europe, a shock that they can hardly visualise from their positions of hardship and the manipulation of human traffickers.
Our communication is internationally oriented and we release quite a lot in English, such as on our special service website www.bonn-international.org or in our Bonn International Newsletter.

IPS: How are you managing your City’s share of migrants and what measures have you initiated on integration? How many are there now waiting for formal migrant status and have the number of migrants gone up this year? Are there any climate migrants? How do you strike a balance between what is considered humane and the need to adhere to and execute policies?

Sridharan: Between September 2015 and February 2016 the number of refugees reached a peak with roughly 150 people arriving here every single week, persons who were seeking shelter in Germany.

This was a big challenge for all: for the refugees with an unclear future in their new surroundings, for our administration that was faced with the tremendous task of providing temporary accommodation for a great number of people, including very traumatized refugees.

Last, not least, for our local citizens, now encountering many different new neighbors with a foreign language and culture! These were difficult months, especially since we had to accommodate several hundred refugees in our gymnasiums. At the same time, innumerable volunteers saw to it that Bonn was able to truly welcome these refugees and to take good care of them.

It is with relief that I can say that today’s situation is a little more relaxed. At this time, we are accommodating 3,000 refugees in municipal housing, an increasing number of them with permanent resident status.

Another 3,000 people in Bonn have received residence permits after their application for asylum had been granted. The number of people applying for asylum has decreased, as no more refugees are being sent to the City of Bonn by our authorities at this time. People coming from what is considered a safe country must go back home, which they often do voluntarily.

At the same time, we have been able to improve the type of accommodation we offer. Nobody must sleep in gymnasiums without any private space. The temporary housing we are able to offer now still has provisional character, but with some private space and independence. Also, we are managing to build more reasonably priced apartments, which we were already lacking before the refugees arrived in Bonn.

The birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven

The birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven

We do our best to integrate the refugees here: They can visit language classes. International classes preparing for the German schools have been established. Our Job Center runs a special Integration Point offering services for the people seeking work in Germany and wanting to stay.

Refugees come from many countries. People from Syria make up the largest group, comprising roughly 1,100 persons at this time. Whether or not the small number of other refugees from Africa includes so-called climate migrants, we do not know.

Finally: We have many migrants in Bonn. However, refugees who need special support for their integration in our city and community only make up a small share. It helps that the structures that have been established for our growing international community in Bonn are already there – for people who come to work or to study in Bonn or even to move here with their entire family.

The thought behind Agenda 2030 ‘Leaving no one behind’ is something we are living here in Bonn – just like elsewhere in cities in Germany, Europe and all over the world.

In December, the Pope has invited to a European meeting of mayors at the Vatican for an exchange of experience among city representatives on the ways refugees are being welcomed here. I will be delighted to share our experiences on that occasion.

IPS: The City of Bonn has always worked on sustainable project partnerships and contributed to international cooperation. What are your new initiatives on international cooperation?

Sridharan: In a globalized world with tight networks and strong dependencies cities must cooperate at international level. This holds true especially for cities like Bonn – a city that has always maintained close contacts around the globe, as United Nations City, business location and science hub.

We have joined a number of different international city networks. In October, I was elected Vice President of ICLEI. ICLEI is a city network for sustainability with over 1,500 members worldwide.

Every year, several hundred city representatives meet here in Bonn to discuss topical issues on climate adaptation and urban resilience during our annual ICLEI Resilient Cities Conference. We will seek to intensify this type of cooperation in the future.

Cooperating with our partner cities from Africa, South America and Central Asia plays an important part in this context as well. In recent years we have run a project with our partner city of Cape Coast in Ghana for the restoration of a fresh-water lagoon. With La Paz we have just initiated a joint project tackling waste separation and disposal. I am convinced that municipal cooperation will become ever more important still.

By 2050, four out of five people worldwide will live in cities. The heads of state and government will have to learn that the global development goals may not be reached without including the cities. This implies that cities will receive the necessary funds to fulfill their important tasks.
Functioning cities and municipalities are of utmost importance when it comes to keeping up state order and structures. This holds true especially if we take a look at the crisis regions in North Africa, the Middle East and South-Western Asia.

I have every confidence that municipalities can render highly important contribution, even when it is small,  towards consolidating administrative structures in these countries.

IPS:  Your City hosts key conferences; the City is pro-active on climate change. Although Mayors deal on a daily basis with the most pressing development issues, very little global development funding, reported to be 1%, is channelled through local governments. Are you working with other Mayors globally to correct or revise the allocation of resources?

Sridharan: Municipal development cooperation, the cooperation of cities and municipalities worldwide, is an area of politics which is increasingly gaining importance. The Federal Government has recognized this and has considerably stepped up funding for municipal cooperation with emerging and developing countries. It is a matter of fact that cities and municipalities can only render their small proportion towards global cooperation.

However, practical experience, face-to-face contact with local citizens and an exchange at eye level make municipal cooperation an indispensable element of international development cooperation.

Laying down a separate goal for cities under Agenda 2030 and adopting a New Urban Agenda during the Habitat III conference in Quito at the beginning of October are encouraging signals.

By 2050, four out of five people worldwide will live in cities. The heads of state and government will have to learn that the global development goals may not be reached without including the cities. This implies that cities will receive the necessary funds to fulfill their important tasks.

Together with my fellow mayors from other cities, I will continue to advocate for more support of the local level.

IPS: Where do you want to see your City? What is your dream, vision for the City of Bonn? How do you want to see Bonn further evolving?

Sridharan: I think Bonn is on a good way: as second political center in the Federal Republic and Germany’s United Nations City, we fulfill a number of national tasks for our country. We have gained a sound reputation as IT center and rank fourth Germany-wide as far as the number of employees in this field is concerned.

We are home to some global players like Deutsche Post DHL Group and Telekom and to some extraordinary scientific institutions doing top-flight research. Being birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, we are looking forward to celebrating the 250th birthday of our most famous son in 2020.

I am aware that this is a lot that needs to be maintained and consolidated. We will continue to develop Bonn into a location for dialogue and exchange on global issues concerning the future of mankind.

This is my declared goal. But most importantly and our biggest asset: that is Bonn’s citizens – well educated, willing to excel, open-minded and with a Rhenish cheerful nature.

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“Dead Men Don’t Vote” in Gambiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/dead-men-dont-vote-in-gambia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dead-men-dont-vote-in-gambia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/dead-men-dont-vote-in-gambia/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 00:36:22 +0000 David Kode http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147997 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/dead-men-dont-vote-in-gambia/feed/ 0 Journalism in Honduras Trapped in Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 20:38:47 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147989 Reporters in Tegucigalpa staged a demonstration in April this year with coffins outside the office of the public prosecutor, to protest the murders of media workers in Honduras in the last decade. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

Reporters in Tegucigalpa staged a demonstration in April this year with coffins outside the office of the public prosecutor, to protest the murders of media workers in Honduras in the last decade. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

It was in the wee hours of the morning on October 19 when journalist Ricardo Matute, from Corporación Televicentro’s morning newscast, was out on the beat in San Pedro Sula, one of the most violent cities in Honduras.

He heard about a vehicle that had rolled and was the first on the scene of the accident. When he saw four men in the car, he called the emergency number, for help. Little did he know that they were members of a powerful “mara” or gang.

Furious that he was making the phone call, they shot and wounded him, and forced him to get back into the TV station’s van, along with the cameraman and driver, and drove off with them.

But other journalists who also patrol the city streets each night saw the kidnapping and chased the van until the gang members crashed it and fled. If they hadn’t been “rescued” this way, the three men would very likely have been killed, because the criminals had already identified Matute and they generally do not leave loose ends, the journalists involved in the incident told IPS.“Now it turns out that reporters not only have to avoid commenting or giving news that affect the country’s groups of power, but also common criminals, and meanwhile the authorities don’t give us any real assurance of protection” -- Juan Carlos Sierra

Matute, who is part of TV5´s so-called Night Patrol, was wounded in the neck with an Ak-47. The reporters lamented that in spite of the fact that the accident occurred near military installations and that they asked for help, the military failed to respond.

“The state does not protect us, but rather attacks us,” one journalist told IPS on condition of anonymity.

Now Matute, a young reporter who was working for Televicentro, the biggest broadcasting corporation in Honduras, is safeguarded by a government protection programme, under a new law for the protection of human rights activists, journalists, social communicators and justice system employees.

Some 10 journalists, according to official figures, have benefited from the so-called Protection Law, in force for less than a year.

Matute sought protection under the programme after the authorities released, a day after the accident, a video showing the gang members who attacked him, captured by a local security camera. They were members of Mara 18 and carried AK-47 and AR-15 rifles.

Mara 18 and MS-13 are the largest gangs in Honduras. Mara 18 is the most violent of the two. Through turf wars they have basically divvied up large towns and cities for their contract killing operations, drug dealing, kidnappings, money laundering and extortions, among other criminal activity.

The authorities recommended that Matute take refuge under the protection programme and leave his job, since after the video was broadcast, the gang members felt exposed and could act against him in retaliation.

The young reporter Mai Ling Coto, who patrolled with Matute in search of night-time news scoops, told IPS that reporting in Honduras is no longer a “normal” job but is now a dangerous occupation.

This is especially true in a belt that includes at least eight of the country’s 18 departments or provinces, according to the Violence Observatory of the Public National Autonomous University of Honduras.

“Now the only thing that is left is to entrust ourselves to God. We used to report normally without a problem, but now things have changed, especially for those of us who work at night. We have to learn new codes to move around danger zones in the city and the outskirts,” she said.

“If we go to gang territory, we have to roll down our windows and flash our headlights; we move around in groups so they see that we are not alone,“ said Coto from San Pedro Sula, describing some of the security protocols they follow.

Reporters protested in seven cities in Honduras in May 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter with Emisoras Unidas, the country’s main radio station. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

Reporters protested in seven cities in Honduras in May 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter with Emisoras Unidas, the country’s main radio station. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

San Pedro Sula, 250 kilometres from the capital, is the city with the most developed economy in Honduras. It has a population of 742,000, and in 2015 had a homicide rate of 110 per 100,000 people.

This Central American nation of 8.8 million people is considered one of the most violent countries in the world.

The Commission for Free Expression (C-Libre), a coalition of journalists and humanitarian organisations, reported that between 2001 and 2015 63 journalists, rural communicators and social communicators were murdered.

In 2015 alone, C-libre identified 11 murders of people working in the media: the owner of a media outlet, a director of a news programme, four camerapersons, a control operator, three entertainment broadcasters, and one announcer of a religious programme. Most of them occurred outside of Tegucigalpa.

Ana Ortega, director of C-Libre, believes that journalism is not only a victim of violence, but also of laws and impunity.

She stated this in the group’s annual report on freedom of expression, observing that a secrecy law obstructs the right of information, while new reforms to the criminal code are planned with references to the press.

“Now it turns out that reporters not only have to avoid commenting or giving news that affects the country’s power groups, but also common criminals, and meanwhile the authorities don’t give us any real assurance of protection,” Juan Carlos Sierra, director of the news broadcast where Matute worked, told IPS in Tegucigalpa.

Another journalist from San Pedro Sula who asked to remain anonymous added: “We are helpless because we cannot trust the authorities, the police or the public prosecutors, since when they see us, they attack us and sometimes send us as cannon fodder to certain scenes, and they arrive afterwards.”

“We feel like neither the state nor the authorities respect us,” he said.

The state, Sierra added, “has not had any interest, now or before, in resolving murders of journalists, let alone violations of freedom of expression.”

For human rights defender and former judge Nery Velázquez, the vulnerability faced by reporters, “far from dissipating, is growing, and we have come to accept tacitly that the impunity surrounding these murders becomes the norm, while freedom of the press is restricted.”

Of the 63 documented murders, legal proceedings began in just four cases, and of these, only two made it to the last stage – an oral public trial – and ended with the conviction of the direct perpetrators, but not of the masterminds who ordered the murders.

“Investigation in Honduras is a failure, everything is left in prima facie evidence, and not only the press is trapped here by violence, but also human rights activists and lawyers,” Velázquez told IPS.

According to reports by human rights groups, corruption and organised crime are the main threats to freedom of speech in Honduras, where being a journalist has become a high-risk occupation over the last decade.

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Selling Their Bodies for Fish and a Handful of Shillingshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/selling-their-bodies-for-fish-and-a-handful-of-shillings/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=selling-their-bodies-for-fish-and-a-handful-of-shillings http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/selling-their-bodies-for-fish-and-a-handful-of-shillings/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 19:44:53 +0000 Diana Wanyonyi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147985 People at Gasi Beach in Kwale County, on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast, wait for fishermen to buy the daily catch. Credit: Diana Wanyonyi/IPS

People at Gasi Beach in Kwale County, on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast, wait for fishermen to buy the daily catch. Credit: Diana Wanyonyi/IPS

By Diana Wanyonyi
KWALE, Kenya, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

It’s Saturday morning and Hafsa Juma* is seated on a traditional mat known locally as a mkeka under the scorching sun outside her homestead, located near Gasi Beach on the Kenyan coast.

Clad in a traditional Swahili dress known as a dera, complemented by a mtandio wrapped around her head, Hafsa, 15, says she has been suffering from flu and headaches for more than a week. She hoped the hot sun might ease her chills and shivering, since her parents are unemployed and too poor to pay for a doctor visit."As much as I don’t like what I do, I'm forced to do it because we need to survive.” -- Asumpta, age 14

Hafsa is one of many girls who barter their bodies for fish and a little money at Gasi Beach on the Indian Ocean, in Kwale County. The oldest of three siblings, she is the breadwinner for her family.

Living near the beach, she is easy prey for male fishermen. She said started sex work two years ago.

“I completed standard eight [the final year of primary school] in 2014,” she said. “My parents are not well and that is why there is no food to eat at home. I’m forced to go and look for something small to bring home. I leave at around 8 p.m. and I come back to the house at around 12 a.m. Every night, I have one client. After he agrees to my demands, he gives me 200 shillings (about two dollars) and half a kilogramme of fish,” she said, avoiding eye contact.

Hafsa described being forced by her parents, especially her mother, to provide food for her family by offering sexual favours to male fishermen.

“I usually go to Gasi beach every day,” the teenager said. “In a month, if I work well, I get 5,000 Kenyan shillings (equivalent to 50 dollars) and I don’t have a problem with that.”

Walking with Hafsa along the shore of the Indian Ocean, our conversation is interrupted by a green wooden fishing boat with fishermen from the deep sea approaching the shore, where women, men and children with baskets eagerly wait to buy fresh fish from the fishermen coming in from the night catch.

Most of Hafsa’s clients are fishermen from the neighbouring country of Tanzania, who travel to Gasi once a year during the northeast monsoon winds and stay there for three months, from December to March, to fish and sell their catch.

After the monsoon season is over, and the foreign fishermen go back home, her clients are mostly motorcyclists who carry passengers, locally known as bodaboda.

“When I want to go to any given place away from home, I just board a motorcycle. When I’m almost at my destination, the bodaboda rider agrees to have sex for money. He gives me 100 shillings, and I also do the same with different bodaboda men to return home.”

Iddi Abdulrahman Juma is vice chairman of the Gasi Beach Management Unit, and a beneficiary of training from a non-governmental organisation known as Strengthening Community Partnership and Empowerment (SCOPE) that works to end commercial sexual exploitation of children in Kwale County. Juma blamed parents and guardians for making children vulnerable by sending them to buy fish at the beach.

“We’ve been seeing like 10 children coming here to the beach to buy fish, which is also dangerous. Some of them are already pregnant and others infected with deadly diseases. The age group of children who indulge in commercial sexual exploitation is between 12 and 17 years old,” he said.

Twenty kilometers from Gasi, in the Karanja area of Kwale County, 14-year-old Asumpta Pendo* sweeps out a thatched mud shanty. She says it is a mangwe — a place where palm wine known as mnazi (a traditional liquor) is sold.

Just like Hafsa, Asumpta also indulges in sex for money with clients, often drunk, just to put food on her family’s table. She is also forced by her mother to sell mnazi.

“I dropped out in class seven because my mother was unable to educate me and we live in poverty. Life is hard,” she said. “Most of my clients are palm wine drinkers. In a day, I usually get one or two clients. Some of them prefer to use condoms, while others refuse. They usually give me money — between a dollar and 12 dollars a night.

“If I refuse to sell palm wine to male customers here at home, my mother beats me and goes to the extent of denying me food. As much as I don’t like what I do, I’m forced to do it because we need to survive,” Assumpta said.

A 2009 baseline survey conducted by the End Child Prostitution in Kenya network, an umbrella of various civil society organisations, found 10,000 to 15,000 girls living in the coastal areas to be involved in child sex tourism.

To address this problem, SCOPE has partnered with the organization Terre des Hommes (TDH) from the Netherlands to implement a programme aimed at ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in Kwale County and three sub-counties, Matunga, Msambweni and Lunga Lunga.

The strategy includes creating awareness among the general community and calling on local citizen constituencies to raise their voices against these abuses.

The coordinator of SCOPE’s End Commercial Sex programme, Emanuel Kahaso, said that the problem is serious in Kwale County, popular with tourists for its clean, sandy beaches.

“In 2006, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that there were more than 50,000 children in Kenya who have engaged in sexual exploitation and 30,000 who are selling their bodies along the beaches in coastal Kenya,” he said.

“As an organisation, we also found out that more than 15,000 children here in the Kenyan south coast are used for commercial sex work in tourism,” he said. “Because of traditions and taboos, parents do not talk openly with their children about reproductive health and some of the perpetrators who are found guilty of the vice are not arrested because of these taboos.”

Emerging hotspots such as drug dens, nightclubs and discotheques, as well as an increase in bodaboda transport, have lured many children into commercial sex. According to local sources, in many instances, early marriage and commercial sex work have been initiated by parents, as well as child sex tourism and prostitution along the beach areas.

The problem is further exacerbated by the cultures and traditions of the local tribes, which are gender-biased and support various forms of sexual exploitation of children. Illiteracy is high, the economy is poor and laws to protect children are rarely enforced.

At Msambweni Referral County Hospital, Saumu Ramwendo, a community health worker for SCOPE, empowers and counsels young girls on health matters and fighting commercial sexual exploitation. The group has so far been able to reach 360 children who are the victims of sexual exploitation and 500 others considered at risk.

*Names have been changed to protect their identities.

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UN Security Council Seats Taken by Arms Exportershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/un-security-council-seats-taken-by-arms-exporters/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-security-council-seats-taken-by-arms-exporters http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/un-security-council-seats-taken-by-arms-exporters/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 05:36:42 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147975 The UN Security Council. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The UN Security Council. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

Nine of the world’s top ten arms exporters will sit on the UN Security Council between mid-2016 and mid-2018.

The nine include four rotating members — Spain, Ukraine, Italy and the Netherlands — from Europe, as well as the council’s five permanent members — China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

According to 2015 data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), these nine countries make up the world’s top ten exporters of arms. Germany ranked at number 5, is the only top 10 exporter which is not a recent, current or prospective member of the 15-member council.

However, Pieter Wezeman, Senior Researcher in the Arms and Military Expenditure Programme at SIPRI told IPS that he was not “surprised at all” to see so many arms exporters on the council.

“In reality it is business as usual: the five permanent members of the Security Council are of course in many ways the strongest military powers,” said Wezeman.

Just two permanent members, the United States with 33 percent and Russia with 25 percent, accounted for 58 percent of total global arms exports in 2015, according to SIPRI data. China and France take up third and fourth place with much smaller shares of 5.9 percent and 5.6 percent respectively.

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The status of several rotating Security Council members as arms exporters while “interesting”, may be mostly “coincidence,” added Wezeman.

Current conflicts in Yemen and Syria pose contrasting examples of the relative influence that Security Council members have as arms exporters.

“Some of the major crises that the Security Council is now grappling with, particularly Yemen for example, have in large part been brought about the actions of its own members in selling arms to conflict parties,” Anna Macdonald, Director of Control Arms told IPS.

“We’ve been calling persistently for a year now for arms transfers to Saudi Arabia to be suspended in the context of the Yemen crisis, because of the severe level of the humanitarian suffering that exists there and because of the specific role that arms transfers are playing in that.”

Macdonald says that the transfer of arms to Saudi Arabia for use in Yemen violates both humanitarian law and the Arms Trade Treaty.

“Some of the major crises that the Security Council is now grappling with, particularly Yemen for example, have in large part been brought about the actions of its own members in selling arms to conflict parties,” Anna Macdonald.

Domestic pressure from civil society organisations, however, have caused some European countries, including Sweden which will join the Security Council in January 2017, to restrict arms sales to Saudi Arabia, said Wezeman. Sweden, which will hold a seat on the council from January 2017 to December 2018, comes in as the world’s number 12 arms exporter.

However arms exports from Security Council members are not necessarily a significant source of weapons in conflicts under consideration by the council.

For example, council members have been hinting at the prospect of an arms embargo against South Sudan for much of 2016, however the weapons used in South Sudan are not closely related to exports from Security Council members.

“South Sudan is a country which acquires primarily cheap, simple weapons. It doesn’t need the latest model tank, it can do with a tank which is 30 or 40 years old,” said Wezeman.

According to Wezeman, it is more likely that political rather than economic considerations impact Security Council members’ decisions regarding arms embargoes, since profits from arms sales are “limited compared to their total economy.”

“Most of the states that are under a UN arms embargo are generally poor countries where the markets for anything, including arms, are not particularly big,” he added.

Overall, however Macdonald says that Security Council members have special responsibilities in the maintenance of international peace and security, and this extends also to their particular responsibilities as arms exporters.

“We would obviously cite the UN Article 5: promote maintenance of peace with the least diversion for armament,” she said.

“We would argue that the 1.3 trillion that’s currently allocated to military expenditure is not in keeping with the spirit or letter of the UN charter,” she added, noting that this is significantly more than it would cost to eradicate extreme poverty.

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The Cuban Revolution Has Lost Its Founder and Leaderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader/#comments Sat, 26 Nov 2016 18:39:14 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147968 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader/feed/ 0 Let’s Unite to End Violence Against Women in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/lets-unite-to-end-violence-against-women-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lets-unite-to-end-violence-against-women-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/lets-unite-to-end-violence-against-women-in-kenya/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2016 01:48:16 +0000 Sicily Kariuki2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147952 Mrs Sicily Kariuki, is the Cabinet Secretary for Gender, Youth and Public Service in the Government of Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya and Stefano A. Dejak is the European Union Ambassador to Kenya.]]> Rally against violence to women in 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya

Rally against violence to women in 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya

By Sicily Kariuki, Siddharth Chatterjee and Stefano A. Dejak
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 25 2016 (IPS)

Consider this. According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of Kenya, 4 out of every 10 Kenyan women undergo some form of violence, whether physical or sexual. This figure is staggering and should compel us to pause and reflect.

Today, on the International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, let us join together to say: enough is enough!

Gender Based Violence, including domestic and sexual violence, human trafficking and harmful practices, such as forced child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still endemic in Kenya, despite the existence of legislation, administrative directives, judicial sanctions, and awareness-raising efforts by a variety of agencies and the government.

It is time for every man to start doing something to end the scourge of violence against women and girls in their homes and communities. A call to action was made by the President of Kenya, HE Mr Uhuru Kenyatta when he urged every citizen to join the government’s efforts to end violence against women and girls during the #HeForShe (a solidarity movement for gender equality) launch in November 2014.

The #HeForShe campaign aims to bring home the message that although laws exist to deal with gender violence and guarantee gender equality, every man must take personal responsibility to root out the vice of gender discrimination in his home. Only then can a society begin to take a stand together to bring to an end injustice committed against women and girls, denying them basic human rights such as a life in dignity, choice and freedom.

Did you know that gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average US$ 95 billion a year, peaking at US$105 billion in 2014– or six percent of the region’s GDP – jeopardising the continent’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth, according to UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report 2016.

Violence and discriminative structures contribute to keeping women out of the workforce, thus dragging down women, their families, and entire communities for generations, in Kenya and elsewhere. For Kenya to reach the goals enshrined in Vision 2030 the potential of all Kenyans, women and men, have to be realized.

Kenya is at a demographic transformation. Fertility levels are declining gradually and Kenyans are living longer. There is reason for optimism that Kenya can benefit from a demographic dividend within 15 to 20 years. It is estimated that Kenya’s working age population will grow to 73 percent by year 2050, bolstering the country’s GDP per capita 12 times higher than the present, with nearly 90 percent of the working age in employment. (NCPD Policy Brief: Demographic dividend opportunities for Kenya, July 2014.)

For this to happen women have to join the work force. So improvements in health and nutrition status, especially of girls, women and children, is critical. Appropriate education and skills will enable them to participate in the economy and provide needed labor for its growth. In addition, studies have shown that girls’ education particularly secondary level, and empowerment will delay early marriage and slow adolescent fertility.

Cultural, social and economic barriers that hinder empowerment of girls and women must be addressed and we have to raise our voices to end the scourge of violence against women and girls.

Women are half of Kenya’s demographic dividend; if they are given the right tools and community support, they can not only become financially independent, but be the engines that fuel Kenya’s future growth.

So we need to continue to raise awareness – in Kenya, in the EU, and around the world – to provide information and raise awareness about violence against women, targeting the general public as well as professionals who can help change this situation: police officers, teachers, doctors, judges amongst others. And beyond raising awareness, Kenya has for the first time formulated a comprehensive framework encompassing practical interventions that we hope will drastically reduce cases of Gender-Based Violence.

We must, once and for all, say no to this clear violation of our fundamental rights. All women and girls should be able to lead a life free from fear and violence: in Kenya, in the European Union, and everywhere in the world.

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