Inter Press Service » Human Rights http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:29:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Churches at the Frontline of Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:29:56 +0000 Melanie Mattauch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136245 Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

By Melanie Mattauch
LUSATIA, Germany, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Johannes Kapelle has been playing the organ in the Protestant church of Proschim since he was 14. The 78-year-old is actively involved in his community, produces his own solar power and has raised three children with his wife on their farm in Proschim, a small village of 360 inhabitants in Lusatia, Germany.

Now the church, his farm, the forest he loves dearly and his entire village is threatened with demolition to leave space for expansion of Swedish energy giant Vattenfall’s lignite (also known as brown coal) operations to feed its power plants. Nearly all of the fuel carbon (99 percent) in lignite is converted to CO2 – a major greenhouse gas – during the combustion process.“What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!” – Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt

For Kapelle, this is inconceivable: “In Proschim, we’ve managed effortlessly to supply our community with clean energy by setting up a wind park and a biogas plant. Nowadays, it is just irresponsible to expand lignite mining.”

The desolate landscape the giant diggers leave behind stretches as far as the eye can see from just a few hundred metres outside Proschim.

“It’s only going to take about a quarter of a year to burn the entire coal underneath Proschim. But the land is going to be destroyed forever. You won’t even be able to enter vast areas of land anymore because it will be prone to erosion. You won’t be able to grow anything on that soil anymore either. No potatoes, no tomatoes, nothing,” says Kappelle.

Some 70 km northeast of Proschim, Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt also sees his community under threat. His church in Atterwasch has been around for 700 years and even survived the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century. Now it is supposed to make way for Vattenfall’s Jänschwalde Nord open cast lignite mine.

The 64-year-old has been Atterwasch’s pastor since 1977 and refuses to accept that his community will be destroyed: “As Christians, we have a responsibility to cultivate and protect God’s creation. That’s what it says in the Bible. We’re pretty good at cultivating but protection is lacking. That’s why I’ve been trying to stop the destruction of nature since the days of the German Democratic Republic.”

“Vattenfall’s plans to expand its mines have given this fight a new dimension,” Berndt adds. “This is now also about preventing our forced displacement.”

Berndt is currently involved in organising a huge protest on August 23 – a human chain connecting a German and Polish village threatened by coal mining in the region. He has also been pushing his church to step up its efforts to curb climate change.

As a result, his regional synod has positioned itself against new coal mines, lignite power plants and the demolition of further villages. It is also offering churches advice on energy savings and deploying renewable energy. The parsonage in Atterwasch, for example, has been equipped with solar panels.

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Despite Germany’s ambitions for an energy transition, its so-called Energiewende, the country’s CO2 emissions have been rising again for the past two years, for the first time since the country’s reunification. This is primarily due to Germany’s coal-fired power plants, and brown coal power stations in particular.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently confirmed that it is still possible to limit global warming below 2° C. But there is only a limited CO2 budget left to meet this goal and avert runaway climate change.

The IPCC estimates that investments in fossil fuels would need to fall by 30 billion dollars a year, while investments in low-carbon electricity supply would have to increase by 147 billion dollars a year.

As a result, more and more faith leaders are calling for divestment from fossil fuels. One of the most powerful advocates has been Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former South African Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who recently called for an “anti-apartheid style boycott of the fossil fuel industry”.

Tutu’s call to action has been echoed by U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, who has urged religious leaders to pull their investments out of fossil fuel companies.

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Many churches have taken this step already. Last month, the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of over 300 churches representing some 590 million people in 150 countries, decided to phase out its holdings in fossil fuels and encouraged its members to do the same.

The Quakers in the United Kingdom, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the United Church of Christ in the United States, and many more regional and local churches have also joined the divestment movement.

The Church of Sweden was among the first to rid itself of oil and coal investments. It increased investments in energy-efficient and low-carbon projects instead, which also improved its portfolio’s financial performance.

Gunnela Hahn, head of ethical investments at the Church of Sweden’s central office explains: “We realised that many of our largest holdings were within the fossil industry. That catalysed the idea of more closely aligning investments with the ambitious work going on in the rest of the church on climate change. ”

Meanwhile, from the frontline, pastor Berndt calls for putting ethics first: “What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!”

Melanie Mattauch is 350.org Europe Communications Coordinator

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Karachi Residents Trapped Between Armed Assassins and Private Bodyguardshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/karachi-residents-trapped-between-armed-assassins-and-private-bodyguards/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 17:49:33 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136237 Some 300,000 private security guards are registered in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Some 300,000 private security guards are registered in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

With a rise in sectarian killings, extortion, drug peddling, kidnappings and land grabbing, Pakistan’s sprawling port city of Karachi, home to some 20 million people, has become a hotbed of crime.

Fearing that they may soon bear the brunt of this lawlessness, the city’s elite – often the target of kidnapping for ransom – has begun hiring personal bodyguards and moving through the streets in armoured or bombproof vehicles.

The result, experts say, is an increasingly dangerous city, where trigger-happy thugs operate with impunity, while an understaffed police force struggles to keep tabs on rampant crime.

A recent study carried out by the Sindh Province police indicates that the available strength of the police force in Karachi is just 26,847, of which 8,541 are deployed to protect individuals and sensitive installations like the port, airport and oil terminal, among others.

Some 3,102 policemen are assigned to investigation. Only 14,433 policemen, working on back-to-back shifts of 12 hours each, are responsible for maintaining law and order, and protecting the lives and properties of ordinary Karachi residents.

That works out to just one policeman per 1,524 people in a city that clocked 40,848 crimes (with 2,700 people killed) in 2013, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world.

“There is blatant misuse of police in Karachi because of the persistent VIP culture that keeps officers from working in their respective police stations,” said Jameel Yusuf, former chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLP), an organisation working closely with Karachi’s police force and the provincial government.

A dearth of state security coupled with a burgeoning demand for protection over the last two decades has created a huge market for private security companies.

Colonel Nisar Sarwar, former chairman of the All Pakistan Security Agencies Association (APSAA), told IPS there are currently approximately 300,000 registered private security guards in Pakistan, with anywhere from 70,000 to 75,000 in the Sindh province alone. Some 50,000 of these guards are based in Karachi, capital of the Sindh.

Of the 1,500 security agencies in the country, 300 are members of APSAA, but Sarwar said there were countless other private groups, complete with sophisticated weapons, that provide security to individual families.

Affluent consumers are willing to pay handsomely for their own safety. Various Pakistan media have reported that armouring and bulletproofing a 4X4 vehicle costs between 30,000 and 45,000 dollars.

A new bulletproof armoured vehicle costs some 150,000-170,000 dollars on the international market according to Pakistan Today, a princely sum in a country where 60.19 percent of the population lives on less than two dollars a day.

Despite a recent crackdown on crime – including the launch last September of a joint operation to cleanse the city of criminals, led by a paramilitary force called the Sindh Rangers – residents continue to be skeptical of official law enforcement.

CPLC Chief Ahmed Chinoy told IPS there has been a “50-percent reduction in various crimes” over the last year.

But Sarwar, who now heads Delta Security Management, one of the first security agencies set up back in 1988, said many wealthy families and individuals are continuously turning to private companies to protect them.

Former Inspector General of Police (IGP) for the Sindh province, Mushtaq Shah (2011-2012), echoed his claim, calling the demand “immense”.

“There are some 20,000 banks in the city, as well as consulates, businessmen, factories […],” he told IPS. “How can we protect these without private security?”

Politicisation of crime

Profiles of alleged criminals provided by the police portray a disturbing picture of the politicisation of crime in Karachi.

Former police chief Shahid Hayat Khan told IPS that criminality and politics go hand in hand here.

“They are complementing each other. Different political parties use criminals to [do their bidding]. There are a few who belong to different political parties, but most are from criminal gangs who have gotten into extortion, or the narco-business.

“Then there are a few who are from religious militant groups. And sometimes militant groups are inter-linked with the narco-business,” Khan added.

Private guards have been roped into this matrix, with security personnel themselves being implicated in several bank heists.

Others blame the escalation in crime on political interference in the police department.

“Give the police chief a three-year term [with] complete authority to steer his team, of course with due accountability, and see the difference,” Shah stated.

Frustrated with political involvement in the affairs of the police department, he himself remained in his post for just one year, from 2011 to 2012. He alleged that whichever government is in power appoints its preferred man as the “top cop” in order to sidestep certain legal regulations.

Given the dismal police-civilian ratio, CPLC’s former chief, Yusuf, believes that outsourcing certain tasks to private agencies will bring about a safer climate.

“The burden on the police will lessen if area-patrolling, protecting sensitive installations, and VIP duties can be carried out by private companies,” Yusuf said, adding that this would be cheaper than recruiting more personnel into the existing force.

It would also achieve the twin goal of providing employment and training for educated young people who have joined the ranks of Karachi’s jobless, he added.

Currently, he said, the average private security guard is “just a slightly more sophisticated ‘chowkidar’ (watchman) in uniform. He is undertrained, under-supervised and underpaid.”

According to APSAA’s Sarwar, guards are paid anywhere from 11,000 rupees (about 110 dollars, the minimum monthly wage as set by the government for a skilled worker) to 45,000 rupees (about 450 dollars) for armed guards. Two-thirds of their pay goes directly to the agency as a commission.

“They hardly receive any training,” Shah said, “and their weapons, if they are licensed to carry them, are outmoded. Some of them double up as peons, taking files from one desk to another and bringing meals to the office staff.”

APSAA runs two training institutes, one in Karachi and the other in the eastern city of Lahore in the Punjab province, which offer new recruits a three-day programme during which retired army personnel instruct them in basic self-defence and assembling of weapons.

Still, experts like Sarwar believe that trainings will be inadequate unless guards are equipped with the necessary weapons to deal with the militarism that grips Karachi’s streets.

“The agencies are not permitted to provide their guards with automatic weapons, and they are only allowed to fire in defence or if they are fired upon first,” he informed IPS.

“I am personally not in favour of weapons, but if a client requires an armed guard, the agencies should be permitted to equip some of their workforce with something more than single-shot pistols and shotguns,” he stressed. “Today, even robbers use Kalashnikovs and private security personnel cannot compete with their sophisticated weapons.”

According to GunPolicy.org, hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health, Pakistani civilians hold a combined total of 18 million guns, accounting for both licenced and illicit weapons.

For the last two years, APSAA has been demanding that the interior ministry be given license to carry weapons that will enable them to protect vulnerable institutions like banks.

While the debate rages on, ordinary Karachi residents must navigate a city that is armed to the teeth, and place their hopes on a struggling police force.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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OPINION: Violations of International Law Degenerate U.N.http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-violations-of-international-law-degenerate-u-n/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-violations-of-international-law-degenerate-u-n http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-violations-of-international-law-degenerate-u-n/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 14:54:49 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136241 The U.N. flag flies at half-mast in memory of staff killed during the most recent Israeli air strikes in Gaza. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

The U.N. flag flies at half-mast in memory of staff killed during the most recent Israeli air strikes in Gaza. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Somar Wijayadasa
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

The United Nations was founded “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war” and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights.

To meet that objective, the Preamble of the U.N. Charter provides “to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained”.Since the Second World War, these good and evil countries have waged hundreds of wars in which nearly 50 million people have been killed, tens of millions made homeless, and countless millions injured and bereaved.

The United Nations has played a major role in defining, codifying, and expanding the realm of international law – which defines the legal responsibilities of states in their conduct with each other, and their treatment of individuals within state boundaries.

Historically, violators of international law are not only the countries branded as evil and belligerent but also countries that preach democracy and human rights. That undermines the efforts of the United Nations to maintain law and order.

Since the Second World War, these good and evil countries have waged hundreds of wars in which nearly 50 million people have been killed, tens of millions made homeless, and countless millions injured and bereaved. No part of the world has escaped the scourge of war. The countless mechanisms enshrined in the U.N. Charter to resolve conflicts by peaceful means have been rendered useless.

Let’s forget Hiroshima, Vietnam, Korea and a few other major disasters. Let’s look at what happened after the Cold War ended in 1989, and the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 – leaving the United States as the only superpower.

The mass murders in Rwanda and Sudan proved that neither the United Nations nor superpowers wished to intervene. Wars in the Balkans, and fragmentation of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia are now forgotten history.

The U.S. and NATO authorised bombings in Kosovo and Serbia in the 1990s. The Arab Spring in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen is over. International law was violated in all these instances, and these countries now are in disarray.

The United States has been criticised for turning away from internationalism by abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, ignoring the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, repudiating the Biological Weapons Convention, repealing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, refusing to sign the Treaty establishing the International Criminal Court, and condoning the continued Israeli violence against Palestinians in occupied territories.

In 2011, following the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration embarked on a strategy of unilateralism, disregarding the U.N. and international law. Worst of all is its military strategy of “pre-emptive strikes” which defies the U.N. Charter by allowing the U.S. to use illegal force against other states.

Despite U.N. opposition, the Bush administration took a series of unilateral actions. The most damaging was the war in Iraq waged on bogus claims of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and the war in Afghanistan.

After a decade of devastation, the expectations of democracy, freedom and human rights have vanished – and there are no winners in these wars despite continuing mayhem and casualties.

U.S. President Barack Obama revealed that the two wars have cost U.S. taxpayers over one trillion dollars. A study by American researchers (including Noble Laureate Joseph Stieglitz and experts from Harvard and Brown), estimate that the costs could be in the range of three to four trillion.

A major challenge to international law today is the U.S. policy of using aerial drones to carry out targeted killings.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that as many as 4,000 people have been killed in U.S. drone strikes since 2002 in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Of those, a significant proportion were civilians.

UCLA believes that “The U.S. policy instigated in 2006 is violating universally recognized customary international law on numerous counts: failure to discriminate between military and civilian objects, indiscriminate attacks, extrajudicial executions, attacks against places of worship.

“Ironically, the drone strikes could actually be classified as ‘international terrorism’, since they appear to have been often intended to coerce the civilian population and to influence the Pakistani government.”

Another major obstacle to peace in the Middle East and world security is the Israeli Occupation and expansion of settlements in occupied territories – acts that undermine International Law.

According to Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention — to which both Israel and the United States are signatories — prohibits any occupying power from transferring “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”

Also, a landmark 2004 decision by the International Court of Justice confirmed the illegality of the Israeli settlements.

Since 1948, the U.N. has passed scores of resolutions declaring that all Israeli settlements outside of Israel’s internationally recognised borders are illegal but they have been blatantly ignored by Israel.

Condemning the recent Israeli attacks on homes, schools, hospitals, and U.N. shelters in Gaza that killed thousands of innocent civilians – a gross violation of the Geneva Conventions – U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that “Israel was deliberately defying international law in its military offensive in Gaza and that world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes.”

Pillay said she was appalled at Washington consistently voting against resolutions on Israel in the Human Rights Council, General Assembly and Security Council.

Another inconspicuous violation is the application of “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) approved by the U.N., in 2005, which is now subtly used for regime changes.

The U.S. and NATO invoked R2P for military intervention in Libya on the pretext of a “no-fly zone” but ended in regime change. Today Libya is fragmented and is in the hands of rebels, forcing United States to evacuate its embassy staff and other foreign personnel in Libya.

The U.S. attempted to invoke the R2P mechanism in Syria even though there was no proof that the Assad regime killed its own people with chemical weapons.

President Obama was about to wage a war against Syria when a last-minute solution was found by the Russians to avert the war by removing Assad’s chemical weapons.

But the U.S. and its allies showed no interest in invoking R2P in the case of Darfur or in Israeli aggression against Palestinians in Gaza, where over 2,000 civilians were killed.

And no one is screaming to invoke R2P in East Ukraine despite the fact that already over 2,000 Ukrainians have been killed by Ukrainian military forces.

The United Nations has not played a fair role when invoking the Responsibility to Protect.

In 2002, the International Criminal Court (ICC) was established with a mandate to consider genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. But it is unfortunate that ICC mainly focuses on criminal cases in Africa, without looking at so many breaches of the law elsewhere.

The United States is not a signatory to the ICC but it cannot escape from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) where cases can be initiated by one state against another.

Actions of many powerful countries prove that they are sticking to the Rule of Power instead of enhancing the Rule of Law.

For over 200 years, America has been a devout apostle of equality and freedom – defending peace, democracy, justice and human rights. It is in this sense that a few former U.S. presidents believed in peace and not war.

President Truman said, “The responsibility of the great states is to serve and not dominate the peoples of the world” and President Kennedy said, “Mankind must put an end to war or war will put an end to mankind.”

It is inconceivable that America, today, with its democratic history and unrivaled power, constantly violates international law instead of morally guiding the world towards peace, justice and prosperity.

Such actions not only erode the prestige of the United States and violate the U.N. Charter, but also undermine the effectiveness of the United Nations.

Somar Wijayadasa is a former Representative of UNAIDS at the United Nations.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Stab in the Back for Painful Afghanistan Election Process?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/stab-in-the-back-for-painful-afghanistan-election-process/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 09:31:20 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136229 Afghan election auditors at the Independent Electoral Commission in eastern Kabul. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Afghan election auditors at the Independent Electoral Commission in eastern Kabul. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
KABUL, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

A knife fight late Tuesday among several auditors at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) still inspecting the results of the presidential elections held in mid-June could be the stab in the back for what has been a painful election process.

The vote audit process was resumed following a three-hour delay on Wednesday, a commission official said.

Two months after Afghans voted in a second runoff for election of the country’s president, ballots are being recounted amid growing questions on who is really arbitrating the process."What we see is what we expected: an endless fight between the two sides as each ballot is disputed” – Thijs Berman, chief observer of the European Union

The four corrugated iron barracks east of Kabul that constitute the centre of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) of Afghanistan in which the 22,828 ballot boxes are piled up, have become the Afghan insurgency´s main target.

In the June 14 runoff, presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai won 56.44 percent of the votes, while his opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, received 43.56 percent, despite having been the most voted candidate in the first runoff on April 5.

The turnout was equally surprising: eight million out of 12 million voters, an unlikely figure given that most polling stations were reportedly empty on election day.

With Abdullah Abdullah’s allegations of massive fraud having put the electoral process on the brink of collapse, the two candidates were persuaded to agree to a full ballot recount.

In an audit that started mid-July, the ballot boxes are being examined by a team formed by auditors of both candidates and members of the IEC. Afghan as well as European Union observers are also on the spot in a process closely monitored by U.N. assistants.

“I have spent the last two weeks taking part in this massive farce,” Abdullah Abdullah´s auditor Munir Latifi told IPS. “The United Nations and the Independent Electoral Commission are working together so that Ghani takes the win but there´s nobody supporting us,” he said before returning to his seat.

Latifi has to discuss whether the handwritten “V”, “X” or a circle on each candidate´s tick box is repeated in several of the ballots, or if it is really “one person, one vote”. Boxes suspicious of fraud are put in quarantine and records are taken by hand in a notebook.

Resources may look scarce but Shazad Ayubee, a Pashtun from Paktiya in southeast Afghanistan and one of Ghani´s auditors, told IPS he was “a hundred percent” satisfied with the process, although “things would be smoother if Abdullah´s auditors didn´t struggle to delay the publication of the results by any means necessary.”

Similar handwriting among different ballots “doesn´t necessarily imply fraud,” he added. “In the most remote villages of Afghanistan almost everybody is illiterate. Families simply show up at the polling stations and the one who can write marks their ballots,” explained Ayubee during the lunch break.

The most suspicious ballot boxes are those that arrive unlocked, the ones that boast over the maximum of 600 ballots, or even random objects such as traditional felt hats or tobacco packets. Many auditors claim that full boxes arriving from Taliban-controlled areas should be systematically discarded because the Afghan armed opposition consistently prevents the population from taking part in elections.

But Ayubee says he knows the reason behind the unexpected turn out in Taliban strongholds: “Unlike Pakistani or Uzbek Taliban, the Afghan Taliban told people to vote for Ghani because he is a Pashtun – a majority of the Afghan insurgents belong to that ethnic group. Everyone knows that Ghani will defend their interests much better than a Tajik like Abdullah Abdullah.”

Mid-morning, Noor Mohammad Noor, spokesman for the IEC, appears in the press room opposite the barracks and starts his speech with a “sincere commitment to democracy” as opposed to “unfounded rumours and lies over the development of the audit.”

The IEC spokesman describes a “joint effort of 220 IEC workers, 305 auditors for Abdullah, 306 for Ghani and 1014 international observers.”

Asked by IPS whether the auditors are skilled in graphology, Mohammad showed no sign of hesitation: “This is a process under the close guidance of the United Nations, which displays 50 advisors on a daily basis. Besides, it´s the United Nations which has the last word over the ballots.”

Final decision

Speaking to IPS by phone from his office in Brussels, Thijs Berman, chief observer of the European Union, told IPS that it was “too early” to take stock of the process. “What we see is what we expected: an endless fight between the two sides as each ballot is disputed.”

Commenting on the fact that the United Nations was acting both as adviser for the electoral process and as arbitrator in the recount, Berman said that “in countries like Spain or Holland we would have relied on a fully external body but in the case of Afghanistan we are dealing with very young institutions that do not yet have a significant credibility.”

“I agree that the U.N. role can be criticised, but what is the alternative,” he asked before reiterating that the E.U. delegation is determined to conduct its work “even in the case that the United Nations does not fulfil its part.”

Despite repeated calls and emails from IPS, the U.N. spokesman only agreed to respond to a questionnaire sent via e-mail. Jeff Fischer, senior international expert on elections and head of the U.N. Independent Electoral Commission advisory team, labelled the scale and scope of the audit as “unprecedented in the history of the United Nations.”

He stressed that all the auditors had received training on IEC procedures and invalidation and recount criteria before they could start working as advisors.

Confusion over who has the last word in the audit grows while pressure from the outside strives to break the poll deadlock.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has recently warned that the alliance will be forced to take a decision regarding the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan unless the new Afghan president signs the security agreements.

According to Rasmussen, the NATO summit scheduled for September 4-5 in Wales would be “very close” to a deadline for taking that decision.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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India: Home to One in Three Child Brideshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/india-home-to-one-in-three-child-brides/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 06:52:50 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136218 In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 were married before they were 15 years old. Credit: Jaideep Hardikar/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Basanti Rani*, a 33-year-old farmers’ wife from the northern Indian state of Haryana, recently withdrew her 15-year-old daughter Paru from school in order to marry her off to a 40-year-old man.

“In an increasingly insecure social milieu, where rape and sexual abuse have become so common, marrying off my daughter was a wise move,” she told IPS.

“Who would’ve married her had she been abused or raped? Now, at least, her husband can look after her.”

Such a mindset, widespread across this country of 1.2 billion people, is just one of the reasons why India hosts one out of every three child brides in the world.

A recent United Nations report entitled ‘Ending Child Marriage – Progress and Prospects’ found that, despite the existence of a stringent anti-child marriage law, India ranks sixth among countries with the highest prevalence of child marriages across the globe.

The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) defines child marriage as unions occurring before a person is 18 years of age, and calls the practice a “violation of human rights.”

In India, 27 percent of women aged 20-49 claim to have tied the knot before turning 15, the survey states.

“The problem persists largely because of the patriarchal vision that perceives marriage and childbearing as the ultimate goals of a girl’s life,” explains Sonvi A. Khanna, advisory research associate for Dasra, a philanthropic organisation that works with UNICEF.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India, adds Khanna, are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB)’s July 2014 records, there were 309,546 crimes against women reported to the police last year against 244,270 in 2012.

Crimes included rape, kidnapping, sexual harassment, trafficking, molestation, and cruelty by husbands and relatives. They also included incidents in which women were driven to suicide as a result of demands for dowries from their husbands or in-laws.

The NCRB said the number of rapes in the country rose by 35.2 percent to 33,707 in 2013 – with Delhi reporting 1,441 rapes in 2013 alone, making it the city with the highest number of rapes and confirming its reputation as India’s “rape capital”.

Mumbai, known for being more women-friendly, recorded 391 rapes last year, while IT hub Bangalore registered 80 rapes.

Obstacles to ending child marriages

The law, experts say, can do little to change mindsets or provide alternatives to child marriage.

A report by Dasra entitled ‘Marry Me Later: Preventing Child Marriage and Early Pregnancy in India’ states that the practice “continues to be immersed in a vicious cycle of poverty, low educational attainment, high incidences of disease, poor sex ratios, the subordination of women, and most significantly the inter-generational cycles of all of these.”

According to the report, despite the fact that child marriage as a practice “directly hinders the achievement of six of eight Millennium Development Goals, as an issue, it remains grossly under-funded.”

If the present trends continue, of the girls born between 2005 and 2010, 28 million could become child brides over the next 15 years, it states.

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The increasing rates of violence against girls in both rural and urban India are instilling fear in the minds of families, leading them to marry their girls off as soon as they reach puberty. Credit: Credit: Sujoy Dhar/IPS

The 2006 Prohibition of Child Marriage Act (PCMA) seeks to prevent and prohibit the marriage of girls under 18, and boys under 21 years of age.

It states that if an adult male aged 18 and above is wed to a minor he shall be “punishable with rigorous imprisonment for two years or with [a] fine, which may extend to […] one lakh” (about 2,000 dollars).

Furthermore, if “a person performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage”, that person too shall face a similar punishment and fine.

Experts term PCMA a fairly progressive law compared to its predecessors, one with the rights of the child at its core.

It even allows for annulment of a child marriage if either party applies for it within two years of becoming adults. Even after annulment of the marriage, the law provides for residence and maintenance of the girl by her husband or in-laws until she re-marries.

“Any children born of the marriage are deemed legal and their custody is provided for, keeping the child’s best interests in mind, states this law,” a Delhi-based High Court advocate told IPS.

Yet, the legislation has not been adequately enforced due to its heavy reliance on community reporting, which rarely happens.

“Since reporting a child marriage could mean imprisonment and stigma for the family, immense financial loss and unknown repercussions for the girl, few come forward to report the event,” Khanna said.

“Adding to the problem is corruption among the implementers, or the police, who are insensitive to the need [to] stop child marriages.”

Small wonder, then, that convictions under PCMA have been few and far between.

According to the NCRB, only 222 cases were registered under the Act during the year 2013, compared to 169 in 2012 and 113 in 2011. Out of these, only 40 persons were convicted in 2012, while in 2011, action was taken against 76 people.

Young brides make unhealthy mothers

Apart from social ramifications, child marriages also lead to a host of medical complications for young mothers and their newborn babies.

According to gynecologist-obstetrician Suneeta Mehwal of Max Health Hospital in New Delhi, low birth weight, inadequate nutrition and anaemia commonly plague underage mothers.

“Postpartum hemorrhage (bleeding after delivery) is an added risk. Girls under 15 are also five times more likely to succumb to maternal mortality than those aged above 20.”

According to data released by the Registrar General of India in 2013, the maternal mortality rate (MMR) dropped from 212 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007-09 to 178 in 2010-12.

Still, India is far behind the target of 103 deaths per live births to be achieved by 2015 under the United Nations-mandated Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Infant mortality declined marginally to 42 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012 from 44 deaths in 2011. Among metropolitan cities, Delhi, the national capital, was the worst performer, with 30 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2012.

One in every 24 infants at the national level, one in every 22 infants in rural areas, and one in every 36 infants in urban areas still die within one year of life, according to the Registrar’s data.

This dire health situation is made worse by the prevalence of child marriage, experts say.

Activists point out that the main bottlenecks they encounter in their fieldwork are economic impoverishment, social customs, lack of awareness about consequences of child marriage and the belief that marriage offers social and financial security to the girl.

This is unsurprising since, according to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2013, India is one of the hungriest countries in the world, ranking 63rd in a list of 78 countries, behind Pakistan at 57, Nepal at 49 and Sri Lanka at 43.

Many parents also believe that co-habitation with a husband will protect a young girl from rape and sexual activity.

“Nothing could be further from [the] truth,” explains Meena Sahi, a volunteer with Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement), a non-profit organisation working in the field of child welfare.

“On the contrary, the young girl is coerced into early sexual activity by a mostly overage husband, leading to poor reproductive health. Adolescent pregnancies do the worst damage – emotional and physical – to the mother as well as the newborn,” Sahi told IPS.

Social activists admit that to accelerate change, girls should be provided with robust alternatives to marriage. Education and vocational training should be used as bridges to employment for girls, especially in rural areas.

The 2011 census reported a nationwide literacy rate of 74.04 percent in 2011. Male literacy rate stands at 82.14 percent and female literacy hovers at 65.46 percent.

Engaging closely with those who make decisions for families and communities, explaining to them the ill effects of child marriage on their daughters, as well as providing information, as well as birth and marriage registrations, are some ways to address child marriages and track child brides.

Change is happening but at a glacial pace. In an attempt to eliminate child marriages in the Vidarbha district of the southern state of Maharashtra, 88 panchayats (local administrative bodies) passed a resolution this year to ban the practice.

Following the move, 18 families cancelled the weddings of their minor daughters.

Although annulment of child marriage is also a complex issue, India’s first child marriage was annulled in 2013 by Laxmi Sargara who was married at the age of one without the knowledge of her parents. Laxmi remarried – this time of her own choice – in 2014.

*Name changed upon request.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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TNT and Scrap Metal Eviscerate Syria’s Industrial Capitalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tnt-and-scrap-metal-eviscerate-syrias-industrial-capital/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 17:53:37 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136210 Member of Aleppo civil defence team searches for survivors after barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Member of Aleppo civil defence team searches for survivors after barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Syria / GAZIANTEP, Turkey, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Numerous mechanics, tyre and car body shops used to line the busy streets near the Old City of Syria’s previous industrial and commercial hub.

Now car parts, scrap metal, TNT and other explosive materials are packed into oil drums, water tanks or other large cylinders from regime areas and dropped from helicopters onto civilian areas in the same city, in defiance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 2139.

In the days spent inside the city in August, IPS frequently heard bombs throughout the day and night and visited several sites of recent attacks on civilian areas. Locally organised civil defence units could be seen trying to extract survivors from the rubble, but often nothing could be done.

Roughly six months ago, on February 22, the U.N. resolution ordered all parties to the conflict to halt the indiscriminate use of barrel bombs on populated areas. The Syrian regime has instead intensified its use of them.An Aleppo local council official told IPS that of the some 1.5 million people living in the city previously, there were now fewer than 400,000, with most of those who have left in recent months now internally displaced.

Human Rights Watch released a report in late July saying that it had identified ‘’at least 380 distinct damage site in areas held by non-state armed groups in Aleppo’’ through satellite imaging in the period from October 31, 2013 to the February 22 resolution, and over 650 new impact strikes on rebel-held areas in the period since, marking a significant increase.

One of the deadliest days of recent months in the city was on June 16, when 68 civilians were killed by aerial attacks, according to the Violations Documentation Center in Syria. The centre also noted that in the five months between February 22 and July 22, a total of 1,655 civilians were killed in the Aleppo governorate by aerial attacks.

An Aleppo local council official told IPS that of the some 1.5 million people living in the city previously, there were now fewer than 400,000, with most of those who have left in recent months now internally displaced. He said that every month the number of people in the area is re-counted for food supply and other requests to donors given the huge displacement under way.

The only road heading towards the Turkish border in rebel hands is now in danger of falling to the fundamentalist Islamic State (IS) – previously known as Islamist State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) – even if the armed opposition groups manage to keep government troops at bay.

Regime forces are trying to inflict a siege on Aleppo’s rebel-held areas to force them into submission, as they have done to other cities in several parts of the country.

The removal of the jihadist IS group from large sections of territory not under regime control has been entirely due to the fighting by the rebel groups themselves, and it is likely that many will face brutal execution if the group enters the city again – a prospect the regime seems to be favouring.

Barrel bombs are not dropped on IS forces or on the territory held by them, and until recently there were few cases of any sort of attack at all by regime forces against IS-held areas.

A local activist from IS-controlled Jarabulus, now living across the border in Turkey – after coming under suspicion of “speaking negatively of IS” within the community – told IPS that since the jihadist group had taken control of the city, ‘’there has not been a single attack on any part of it’’ by the regime.

The TNT-filled cylinders dropped by Syrian government forces have in recent months instead been destroying the few productive activities that had remained in a city formerly known worldwide for its olive oil soap, textiles and other industries.

Aya Jamili, a local activist now living in Turkey, told IPS that the few Aleppo businessmen who had tried to keep their operations up and running through the years of the conflict had in recent months either moved their equipment across the border or just moved whatever capital they had available and started over again.

Much activity needed for day-to-day survival in the city has moved underground. Underground structures have been renovated by civil defence units into shelters, which also served to hold the festivities marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in late July. Any large gathering in the streets would have been likely to attract the attention of the regime.

People who can have moved to basement flats, as have media centres and bakeries, which work at night to avoid being targeted.

Produce is brought in from the countryside and stands sell melons and tomatoes in the streets nearer the regime ones. Because barrel bombs cannot be precisely aimed, there is too large a risk for the regime of dropping them close to its own side, so these locations are deemed ‘safer’.

Nevertheless, there is still the constant risk of snipers and large sheets of bullet-scarred canvas have been hung across some of the streets to minimise their line of vision.

The once bustling, traffic-clogged streets farther away resemble for the most part desolate wastelands.

On the way out of the city, two barrel bombs were dropped in quick succession near the neighbourhood through which IPS was travelling and, just as the driver said ‘’the helicopters only carry two each, so for the moment that’s all’’ and sped onwards, a third, deafening impact occurred nearby, shaking the ground.

Further down the road, signs indicating the way to ‘Sheikh Najjar, industrial city’ are shot through with bullet holes, an apocalyptic scene of crumbling buildings behind them.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Can Land Rights and Education Save an Ancient Indian Tribe?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:28:03 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136207 Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
MALKANGIRI, India, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

Scattered across 31 remote hilltop villages on a mountain range that towers 1,500 to 4,000 feet above sea level, in the Malkangiri district of India’s eastern Odisha state, the Upper Bonda people are considered one of this country’s most ancient tribes, having barely altered their lifestyle in over a thousand years.

Resistant to contact with the outside world and fiercely skeptical of modern development, this community of under 7,000 people is struggling to maintain its way of life and provide for a younger generation that is growing increasingly frustrated with poverty – 90 percent of Bonda people live on less than a dollar a day – and inter-communal violence.

“The abundant funds pouring in for the Bonda people's development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results." -- Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014
Recent government schemes to improve the Bonda people’s access to land titles is bringing change to the community, and opening doors to high-school education, which was hitherto difficult or impossible for many to access.

But with these changes come questions about the future of the tribe, whose overall population growth rate between 2001 and 2010 was just 7.65 percent according to two surveys conducted by the Odisha government’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes Research and Training Institute (SCSTRTI).

First land rights, then education

In a windowless mud hut in the Bonda Ghati, a steep-sloping mountainous region in southwest Odisha, Saniya Kirsani talks loudly and drunkenly about his plans for the acre of land that he recently acquired the title to.

The 50-year-old Bonda man has illusions of setting up a mango orchard in his native Tulagurum village, which will enable him to produce the fruity liquor that keeps him in a state of intoxication.

His wife, Hadi Kirsani, harbours far more realistic plans. For her, the land deeds mean first and foremost that their 14-year-old son, Buda Kirsani, can finally go back to school.

He dropped out after completing fifth grade in early 2013, bereft of hopes for further education because the nearest public high school in Mudulipada was unaffordable to his family.

Upper and Lower Bondas

Since the mid 20th century, many Bonda families left their original lands and settled in the foothills of Malkangiri, where they have easier access to ‘mainstream’ services such as education and employment.

Known as the Lower or Plains Bondas, they are now found in as many as 14 of Odisha’s 30 districts due to rapid out-migration.

Upper and Lower Bondas have a combined total population of 12,231, registering a growth rate of 30.42 percent between 2001 and 2011 according to census data, compared to a low 7.65-percent growth rate among the Upper Bondas who remain on their ancestral lands.

The sex ratio among Upper Bonda people is even more skewed than in other tribal groups, with the female population outweighing males by 16 percent.

A 2009 baseline survey in Tulagurum village among the age group 0-six years found 18 girls and only three boys.

SCSTRTI’s 2010 survey of 30 Upper Bonda villages found 3,092 men and 3,584 women.

The Upper Bonda are one of 75 tribes designated as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) in India, including 13 in Odisha state alone.
Moreover, he would have had to walk 12 km, crossing hill ranges and navigating steep terrain, to get to his classroom every day.

Admission to the local tribal resident school, also located in Mudulipada, required a land ownership document that would certify the family’s tribal status, which they did not possess.

The Kirsani family had been left out of a wave of reforms in 2010 under the Forest Rights Act, which granted 1,248 Upper Bonda families land titles but left 532 households landless.

Last October, with the help of Landesa, a global non-profit organisation working on land rights for the poor, Buda’s family finally extracted the deed to their land from the Odisha government.

Carefully placing Buda’s only two sets of worn clothes into a bag, Hadi struggles to hold back the tears welling up in her eyes as she tells IPS that her son is now one of 31 children from the 44-household village who, for the first time ever, has the ability to study beyond primarily school.

She is not alone in her desire to educate her child. Literacy among Upper Bonda men is a miserable 12 percent, while female literacy is only six percent, according to a 2010 SCSTRTI baseline survey, compared to India’s national male literacy rate of 74 percent and female literacy of 65 percent.

For centuries, the ability to read and write was not a skill the Bonda people sought. Their ancient Remo language has no accompanying script and is passed down orally.

As hunters and foragers, the community has subsisted for many generations entirely off the surrounding forests, bartering goods like millet, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, yams, fruits, berries and wild spinach in local markets.

Up until very recently, most Upper Bondas wove and bartered their own cloth made from a plant called ‘kereng’, in addition to producing their own brooms from wild grass. Thus they had little need to enter mainstream society.

But a wave of deforestation has degraded their land and the streams on which they depend for irrigation. Erratic rainfall over the last decade has affected crop yields, and the forest department’s refusal to allow them to practice their traditional ‘slash and burn’ cultivation has made it difficult for the community to feed itself as it has done for hundreds of years.

Mainstreaming: helping or hurting the community?

Since 1976, with the establishment of the Bonda Development Agency, efforts have been made to bring the Upper Bonda people into the mainstream, providing education, better sanitation and drinking water facilities, and land rights.

“Land ownership enables them to stand on their own feet for the purpose of livelihood, and empowers them, as their economy is predominantly limited to the land and forests,” states India’s National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), a key policy advisory body.

Efforts to mainstream the Bonda people suffered a setback in the late 1990s, when left-wing extremists deepened the community’s exclusion and poverty by turning the Bonda mountain range into an important operating base along India’s so-called ‘Red Corridor’, which stretches across nine states in the country’s central and eastern regions and is allegedly rife with Maoist rebels.

Still, Odisha’s tribal development minister Lal Bihari Himirika is confident that new schemes to uplift the community will bear fruit.

“Upon completion, the ‘5000-hostel scheme’ will provide half a million tribal boys and girls education and mainstreaming,” he told IPS on the sidelines of the launch of Plan International’s ‘Because I Am A Girl’ campaign in Odisha’s capital, Bhubaneswar, last year.

The state’s 9.6 million tribal people constitute almost a fourth of its total population. Of these tribal groups, the Upper Bonda people are a key concern for the government and have been named a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PTG) as a result of their low literacy rates, declining population and practice of pre-agricultural farming.

Social activists like 34-year-old Dambaru Sisa, the first ever Upper Bonda to be elected into the state legislature in 2014, believe mainstreaming the Bonda community is crucial for the entire group’s survival.

Orphaned as a child and educated at a Christian missionary school in Malkangiri, Sisa now holds a double Masters’ degree in mathematics and law, and is concerned about his people’s future.

“Our cultural identity, especially our unique Remo dialect, must be preserved,” he told IPS. “At the same time, with increased awareness, [the] customs and superstitions harming our people will slowly be eradicated.”

He cited the Upper Bonda people’s customary marriages – with women generally marrying boys who are roughly ten years younger – as one of the practices harming his community.

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In customary marriages, Bonda women marry boys who are seven to 10 years their junior. Typically, a 22-year-old woman will be wed to a 15-year-old boy. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women traditionally manage the household, while men and boys are responsible for hunting and gathering food. To do so, they are trained in archery but possession of weapons often leads to brawls within the community itself as a result of Bonda men’s quick tempers, their penchant for alcohol and fierce protection of their wives.

A decade ago, an average of four men were killed by their own sons or nephews, usually in fights over their wives, according to Manoranjan Mahakul, a government official with the Odisha Tribal Empowerment & Livelihood Programme (OTELP), who has worked here for over 20 years.

Even now, several Bonda men are in prison for murder, Mahakul told IPS, though lenient laws allow for their early release after three years.

“High infant mortality, alcoholism and unsanitary living conditions, in close proximity to pigs and poultry, combined with a lack of nutritional food, superstitions about diseases and lack of medical facilities are taking their toll,” Sukra Kirsani, Landesa’s community resource person in Tulagurum village, told IPS.

The tribe’s drinking water is sourced from streams originating in the hills. All families practice open defecation, usually close to the streams, which results in diarrhoea epidemics during the monsoon seasons.

Despite a glaring need for change, experts say it will not come easy.

“Getting Bonda children to high school is half the battle won,” Sisa stated. “However, there are question marks on the quality of education in residential schools. While the list of enrolled students is long, in actuality many are not in the hostels. Some run away to work in roadside eateries or are back home,” he added.

The problem, Sisa says, is that instead of being taught in their mother tongue, students are forced to study in the Odia language or a more mainstream local tribal dialect, which none of them understand.

The government has responded to this by showing a willingness to lower the required qualifications for teachers in order to attract Bondas teachers to the classrooms.

Still, more will have to be done to ensure the even development of this dwindling tribe.

“The abundant funds pouring in for Bondas’ development need to be transparently utilised so that the various inputs work in synergy and show results,” Sisa concluded.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Public Offers Support for Obama’s Iraq Interventionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/public-offers-support-for-obamas-iraq-intervention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=public-offers-support-for-obamas-iraq-intervention http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/public-offers-support-for-obamas-iraq-intervention/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 23:50:31 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136199 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Despite rising criticism of his foreign policy– even from his former secretary of state – U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision last week to carry out airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams (ISIS) militants in northern Iraq enjoys relatively strong public support, at least so far.

Over half (54 percent) of respondents in a poll released here Monday by the Pew Research Center and USA Today said they approved of the airstrikes, which appear to have helped reverse some of the gains made by ISIS fighters against Kurdistan’s pesh merga earlier this month.The survey comes as the administration broadened its air campaign against suspected ISIS targets in northern Iraq and rushed arms and other supplies to U.S.-trained Iraq special forces units and the pesh merga.

Thirty-one percent said they disapproved of the strikes, while 15 percent of the 1,000 randomly selected respondents who took part in the survey, which was carried out between Thursday and Sunday, declined to give an opinion.

The poll found major partisan differences, with self-described Republicans markedly more hawkish than Democrats or independents, although a majority of Democratic respondents said they also supported the airstrikes.

However, a majority (57 percent) of Republicans said they were concerned that Obama was not prepared to go “far enough to stop” ISIS, while a majorities of Democrats (62 percent) and independents (56 percent) said they worried that he may go too far in re-inserting the U.S. military into Iraq three years after the last U.S. combat troops were withdrawn. Overall, 51 percent of respondents expressed the latter fear.

That concern was felt particularly strongly by younger respondents, members of the so-called “millennial” generation, whose foreign-policy views have tended to be far more sceptical of the effectiveness of military force than those of other generational groups, according to a number of polls that have been released over the past two years.

Thus, while respondents over the age of 65 were roughly equally split between those who expressed concern about Obama doing too little or going too far, more than two-thirds of millennials said they were worried about the U.S. becoming too involved in Iraq, while only 21 percent voiced the opposing view.

The survey comes as the administration broadened its air campaign against suspected ISIS targets in northern Iraq and rushed arms and other supplies to U.S.-trained Iraq special forces units and the pesh merga, the Kurdish militia whose forces proved unable to defend against ISIS’s initial advances that took its forces to within 35 kms of Erbil, Kurdistan’s capital.

When Obama last week announced Washington’s renewed intervention in Iraq, he stressed its limited aims: to protect Iraqi minorities, notably thousands of Yazidis besieged by ISIS on the slopes of Sinjar, against “genocide”, and Erbil, where the U.S. has a consulate and hundreds of personnel, including dozens of U.S. military advisers, part of a much larger contingent dispatched to Iraq in June after ISIS conquered Mosul, the country’s second-largest city and routed several divisions of the Iraqi army.

Obama also said Washington intended to protect “critical infrastructure” in the region, which he did not define further at the time. In a letter to Congress released Sunday, however, he declared that ISIS’s control of the strategic Mosul dam, which is Iraq’s largest and supplies much of the country with water and electricity, constituted a threat to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

“The failure of the Mosul Dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians, endanger U.S. personnel and facilities, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, and prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services to the Iraqi populace,” the letter asserted.

Indeed, U.S. warplanes and unmanned aircraft, operating in co-ordination with the pesh merga and Iraqi special forces, repeatedly struck ISIS positions there in the last few days. By Monday evening, the pesh merga and Iraqi government forces said they had successfully retaken the dam.

The initial success of the U.S. air campaign – 68 airstrikes have been carried out to date, according to Washington’s Central Command (CentCom) – follows Thursday’s resignation of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a critical step, in the administration’s view, toward establishing a less-sectarian government capable of reaching out to disaffected Sunnis who have joined or co-operated with ISIS without necessarily sharing the group’s extreme and violent ideology.

Obama has long insisted that U.S. military assistance to Baghdad would be calibrated according to the degree to which its Shia-led government was willing to compromise with the Sunni and Kurdish minorities.

U.S. pressure helped persuade Maliki to step down in favour of Haider al-Abadi, a fellow-Shiite and Dawa party leader who Washington hopes will be more willing to share power with both Sunnis and Kurds. But experts here give as much or more credit to Iran – the latest example – along with critical role played by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is considered by the U.S. to be a terrorist group, in rescuing the Yazidis and bolstering the pesh merga — of how the growing threat posed by ISIS to the region’s various regimes has upset its geo-political chessboard.

The initial success of both Obama’s military intervention and his role in removing Al-Maliki will likely help counter the steadily accumulating chorus of attacks – mostly by neo-conservatives and Republicans – on his foreign-policy prowess.

Even some in his own party, including, most recently, his former secretary of state and presumptive 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, have complained that he should have provided more support to “moderate” factions in Syria’s insurgency earlier in that country’s civil war and that he was too passive for too long in responding to ISIS’s advances in Al-Anbar province earlier this year.

But the latest survey, as most others released over the past year, suggest that Obama’s caution reflects the public mood, and especially the sentiments of younger voters, as well as the Democratic Party’s core constituencies.

In addition to asking whether they feared Obama would either do too much or too little in countering ISIS in Iraq, the pollsters asked respondents whether they thought the “U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the violence in Iraq.”

Overall, 44 percent answered affirmatively, while 41 percent said no, and 15 percent said they didn’t know.

Those results marked a major change from when the same question was posed in July. At that time 39 percent said yes, but a 55-percent majority answered in the negative, and six percent said they didn’t know.

While the change may be attributed to the sense of increased threat posed by ISIS to the U.S. itself, much of the news media coverage since the beginning of August focused on the plight of minority communities, especially Christians and Yazidis, threatened by ISIS’s latest campaign.

The percentage of respondants who believe the U.S. has a responsibility to take action in Iraq is significantly higher than the percentages that took the same position when the U.S. intervened in Libya and when Obama said he was prepared to conduct military action against Syria after the chemical attacks.

Detailed surveys about foreign-policy attitudes conducted over the past decade have suggested that U.S. respondents are most likely to favour unilateral military action in cases where it could prevent genocide or mass killings.

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

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

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Despite Current Debate, Police Militarisation Goes Beyond U.S. Bordershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/despite-current-debate-police-militarisation-goes-beyond-u-s-borders/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-current-debate-police-militarisation-goes-beyond-u-s-borders http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/despite-current-debate-police-militarisation-goes-beyond-u-s-borders/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 23:27:13 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136197 "Hands Up, Don't Shoot": A rally in support of Michael Brown. Credit: Shawn Semmler/cc by 2.0

"Hands Up, Don't Shoot": A rally in support of Michael Brown. Credit: Shawn Semmler/cc by 2.0

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

The shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer in the southern United States earlier this month has led to widespread public outrage around issues of race, class and police brutality.

In particular, a flurry of policy discussions is focusing on the startling level of force and military-style weaponry used by local police in responding to public demonstrations following the death Aug. 9 of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.“We have a lot of military equipment and hardware looking for a place to end up, and that tends to be local law enforcement.” -- WOLA's Maureen Meyer

The situation has galvanised support from both liberal and conservative members of Congress for potential changes to a law that, since the 1990s, has provided local U.S. police forces with surplus military equipment. The initiative, overseen by the Department of Defence and known as the “1033 programme”, originally came about in order to support law-enforcement personnel in the fight against drug gangs.

“We need to de-militarise this situation,” Claire McCaskill, one of Missouri’s two senators, said last week. “[T]his kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution.”

In a widely read article titled “We Must Demilitarize the Police”, conservative Senator Rand Paul likewise noted that “there should be a difference between a police response and a military response” in law enforcement.

During attempts to contain public protests in the aftermath of the shooting, police in Ferguson used high-powered weapons, teargas, body armour and even armoured vehicles of types commonly used by the U.S. military during wartime situations. Now, it appears the 1033 programme will likely come under heavy scrutiny in coming months.

“Congress established this programme out of real concern that local law enforcement agencies were literally outgunned by drug criminals. We intended this equipment to keep police officers and their communities safe from heavily armed drug gangs and terrorist incidents,” Carl Levin, chair of the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee, said Friday.

“[W]e will review this programme to determine if equipment provided by the Defense Department is being used as intended.”

Drugs and terrorism

Despite this unusual bipartisan agreement over the dangers of a militarised police force, there appears to be no extension of this concern to rising U.S. support for militarised law enforcement in other countries.

While a 2011 law requires annual reporting on U.S. assistance to foreign police, that data is not yet available. However, during 2009, the most recent data available, Washington provided more than 3.5 billion dollars in foreign assistance for police activities, particularly in Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Mexico, Pakistan and the Palestinian Territories.

According to an official report from 2011, “the United States has increased its emphasis on training and equipping foreign police as a means of supporting a wide range of U.S. foreign-policy goals,” particularly in the context of the wars on drugs and terrorism.

In the anti-terror fight, African countries are perhaps the most significant recipients of new U.S. security aid. Yet a new report from Human Rights Watch (HRW) highlights the dangers of this approach, focusing on the U.S.-supported Anti-Terrorism Police Unit (ATPU) in Kenya.

The report, released Monday, builds on previous allegations against the ATPU of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. Yet neither the Kenyan authorities nor the ATPU’s main donors – the United States and United Kingdom – have seriously investigated these longstanding allegations, HRW says.

Washington’s support for the ATPU has been significant, amounting to 19 million dollars in 2012 alone. Yet while U.S. law mandates a halting of aid pending investigation of credible reports of rights abuse, HRW says Washington “has not scaled down its assistance to the unit”.

“The goals of supporting the police in general are laudable and in line with concerns over rule of law,” Jehanne Henry, a senior researcher with HRW’s Africa division, told IPS.

“The problem here is it’s clear that, notwithstanding the goals of the assistance, it’s serving to undermine rule of law because the ATPU is taking matters into its own hands. So, our call is for donors to be smarter about providing this kind of assistance.”

Unseen since the 1980s

Meanwhile, Mexico and Latin American countries have been seeing an uptick in U.S. assistance for security forces as part of efforts to crack down on the drug trade.

“Currently the Central American governments are relying more and on their militaries to address the recent surge in violence,” Adriana Beltran, a senior associate for citizen security at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a watchdog group here.

“While the U.S. is saying it’s not providing any assistance to these forces, there is significant assistance being provided through the Department of Defence for counter-narcotics, which is channelled through the militaries of these countries.”

According to a new paper from Alexander Main, a senior associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a think tank here, U.S. security assistance to the region began strengthening again during the latter years of President George W. Bush’s time in office.

“Funding allocated to the region’s police and military forces climbed steadily upward to levels unseen since the U.S.-backed ‘dirty wars’ of the 1980s,” Main writes, noting that a “key model” for bilateral assistance has been Colombia. Since 1999, an eight-billion-dollar programme in that country has seen “the mass deployment of military troops and militarized police forces to both interdict illegal drugs and counter left-wing guerrilla groups”.

Yet last year, nearly 150 NGOs warned that U.S. policies of this type, which “promote militarization to address organized crime”, had been ineffective. Further, the groups said, such an approach had resulted in “a dramatic surge in violent crime, often reportedly perpetrated by security forces themselves.”

Mexico has been a particularly prominent recipient of U.S. security aid around the war on drugs.

“From the 1990s onward, the trend has been to encourage the Mexican government to involve the military in drug operations – and, over the past two years, also in public security,” Maureen Meyer, a senior associate on Mexico for WOLA, told IPS.

In the process, she says, civilian forces, too, have increasingly received military training, leading to concerns over human rights violations and excessive use of force, as well as a lack of knowledge over how to deal with local protests – concerns startlingly similar to those now coming out of Ferguson, Missouri.

“You can see how disturbing this trend is in the United States, and we are concerned about a similar trend towards militarised police forces in Latin American countries,” Meyer notes. “We have a lot of military equipment and hardware looking for a place to end up, and that tends to be local law enforcement.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Mexico’s Orphanages – Black Holes for Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/mexicos-orphanages-black-holes-for-children/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 21:35:42 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136195 Children taken in by the Villa Infantil Irapuato, which has high standards of care – unlike many other orphanages in Mexico. Credit: Courtesy Laura Martínez

Children taken in by the Villa Infantil Irapuato, which has high standards of care – unlike many other orphanages in Mexico. Credit: Courtesy Laura Martínez

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Homes for orphans or children in vulnerable situations in Mexico lack the necessary state regulation and supervision, which leads to scandalous human rights violations.

“The situation is very serious,” said Laura Martínez, director of the non-governmental Patronato Pro Hogar del Niño, in the city of Irapuato in the central state of Guanajuato, some 300 km north of Mexico City. “The higher interests of the children aren’t taken into account. Their rights are violated.

“There is no national census on where they are, who takes care of them, under which methodology. We should be well-regulated, well-supervised. The regulations are not followed and there is no legislation on this,” she told IPS.

Her shelter, known as the Villa Infantil Irapuato, has been taking in children since 1969 and has a capacity to house 40 orphans or children in an at-risk situation, between the ages of six and 20. Since 2003 it has applied its own care protocol.

The children are referred by the state office of the National System for Integral Development of the Family (DIF), and the shelter receives public and private financing.

Orphanages in Mexico operate in a vacuum of legislation, official records and supervision, with widespread problems of noncompliance and a lack of professionalism and funding – a situation that experts say is in violation of international treaties signed by Mexico.

In this country of 118 million people, with some 45 million children under the age of 18, there are around 700 public and private homes providing shelter to 30,000 children. But the Red Latinoamericana de Acogimiento Familiar (Latin American Foster Care Network) estimates that there are roughly 400,000 children in Mexico without parental care, including 100,000 who live on the streets.

The latest scandal over how these institutions are run broke out on Jul. 15, when the attorney general’s office announced that 596 people, including 458 children, were rescued from the “La Gran Familia” shelter in Zamora, a city in the western state of Michoacán. They were living in squalid conditions, in rooms infested with cockroaches and rats, according to the authorities.

Residents said they were raped, beaten, held against their will, and forced to beg. “We believe it is necessary to avoid institutionalisation and to have a general law on alternative care, and we urgently need clear, detailed information on children in institutions.” Martin Pérez

The home, which was founded in 1947, was run by Rosa del Carmen Verduzco, known as “Mamá Rosa”. She was deemed unfit to face prosecution because of her age and health problems, but six of her collaborators have been charged with kidnapping, child abuse and sexual abuse. The centre was shut down permanently on Jul. 30.

“The state is 30 years behind in terms of guaranteeing the rights of children in public policies,” said Martín Pérez, executive director of the Mexican Network for the Rights of Children. “The state has never supervised these establishments; every once in a while something comes to light and it remembers them and turns its attention to them.”

Since the state does not provide funds, it does not exercise oversight either. “And that leaves children in a vulnerable position. The shelters become a black hole; no one knows what educational method they’re using…what damage is caused,” Pérez told IPS.

Although the “Mamá Rosa” case was the highest profile scandal, whenever one of the orphanages or children’s homes makes it into the news, they all have one thing in common: irregularities in the way they are run.

On Jun. 17, the authorities rescued 33 children ages five to 17 and 10 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 from the Casa Hogar Domingo Savio in the central city of Puebla, in response to signs of abuse by the director of the home.

In 2011, 19 children were freed from the Instituto Casa Hogar Nuestro Señor de la Misericordia y Nuestra Señora de la Salette in Mexico City. The victims of abuse had received death threats to keep them from reporting the conditions they were held in.

Two years earlier, the authorities removed 126 mistreated youngsters from the “Casitas del Sur” shelters run by the non-governmental organisation Reintegración Social. They also found that 15 had gone missing, three of whom are still lost.

The Social Assistance Law requires the health ministry to monitor the homes for children. But the supervision is practically nonexistent.

International concern

For over a decade, Mexico has been in the sights of international bodies for these practices.

In its recommendations to the Mexican state in 2006, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over the large number of children placed in private institutions without any supervision, and suggested the creation of a directory and database of children in private homes.

“The Committee is concerned about lack of information (number, conditions of living, etc.) on children separated from their parents who are living in institutions. The Committee notes the large number of children in institutions managed by the private sector, and regrets the lack of information and oversight by the state on these institutions,” the document says.

The Committee, which monitors compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, recommended that the state establish regulations based on children’s rights and introduce effective legislation, reinforcing existing structures such as the extended family, improving training of staff and allocating increased resources to the relevant bodies.

In the February 2014 report “The Right of Boys and Girls to a Family. Alternative Care. Ending Institutionalization in the Americas”, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) urged Organisation of American States (OAS) member countries to “properly regulate the operation of residential care facilities and carry out proper oversight, investigating them and, where appropriate, punishing any violations of children’s rights that take place in these facilities.”

“Institutionalising children continues to be a common response to these situations in the countries of the region, although evidence shows that the way many residential institutions currently operate does not guarantee that the rights of the children who are put in them are protected, and exposes them to situations of violence, abuse, and neglect,” the IACHR concluded.

Civil society groups in Mexico plan to launch an offensive to pressure the state to fulfill its obligations.

During the 69th session of the pre-sessional Working Group of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to be held Sept. 22-26, a delegation of children, along with UNICEF – the U.N. chidren’s fund – and non-governmental organisations, will present a report in Geneva on the situation of children, including minors without parental care.

In May-June 2015, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, made up of 18 independent experts, will evaluate Mexico.

And the IACHR Rapporteur on the Rights of Children, Rosa María Ortiz, will visit Mexico in October to draw up a report on the situation here.

“We believe it is necessary to avoid institutionalisaton and to have a general law on alternative care, and we urgently need clear, detailed information on children in institutions,” said Pérez of the Mexican Network for the Rights of Children.

Martínez, the head of the Patronato Pro Hogar del Niño de Irapuato children’s home, said it is important to take a close look at what kind of care each organisation provides. “The current model is too welfare-oriented. And who can guarantee monitoring of the cases? There is another approach that should be followed – working for a child’s development.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.N. Prepares for Overhaul of Arms Trade Reportinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-prepares-for-overhaul-of-arms-trade-reporting/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-prepares-for-overhaul-of-arms-trade-reporting http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-n-prepares-for-overhaul-of-arms-trade-reporting/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 17:23:51 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136187 The Arms Trade Treaty was approved by the U.N. General Assembly on April 2, 2013. It is seven ratifications away from entering into force. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

The Arms Trade Treaty was approved by the U.N. General Assembly on April 2, 2013. It is seven ratifications away from entering into force. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

The Arms Trade Treaty is about to provide the biggest shake-up to conventional arms trade transparency since the end of the Cold War.

U.N. officials and civil society experts expect the quality and quantity of reports on the international arms trade to increase as the current platform, the U.N. Register of Conventional Arms, is augmented by the forthcoming Arms Trade Treaty.“There is a culture of secrecy in a number of states. In general, they don’t want to produce any information for the public domain.” -- Paul Holtom

Established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1991, the U.N. Register requests that countries produce official reports of their arms imports and exports each year. The information is then published for all to see on a U.N. website.

However, reporting to the U.N. Register is purely voluntary.

Daniël Prins, chief of the Conventional Arms Branch at the U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs, told IPS that “most countries in the world have at one time or another reported to the U.N. Register, but on a year on year basis we don’t receive the complete picture.”

Glancing through the U.N. Register’s yearly summaries, it is easy to see that something is missing. According to the data in the Register, 760 battle tanks were exported in 2012, but only 446 were imported.

Exporters of weapons are generally more willing to provide information than importers, according to Paul Holtom, head of the Peace, Reconciliation and Security Team at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations.

“There is a culture of secrecy in a number of states,” Holtom told IPS, specifically mentioning arms importers in the Middle East and Africa. “In general, they don’t want to produce any information for the public domain.”

Countries have also blamed their incomplete reports on unavailability of information, lack of resources, poor inter-agency cooperation, and lack of time.

Participation in the U.N. Register peaked in 2001, when 126 countries submitted national reports. By 2012 it had dropped to 72 countries.

Enter the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was approved by the U.N. General Assembly on Apr. 2, 2013 and is expected to enter into force in late 2014 or early 2015. The ATT is much more than just a transparency convention, since it regulates arms transfers at a broader level, but it does specifically address reporting.

Unlike the voluntary U.N. Register, the ATT’s reporting requirements are legally mandated.

Countries that ratify the ATT “have an obligation as a state party to produce an annual report on imports and exports,” Holtom said.

The ATT’s reporting requirements include all seven categories of weapons from the U.N. Register: battle tanks, combat vehicles, large calibre-artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, and missiles and missile launchers.

But the ATT goes one step further by requiring reports on small arms and light weapons as well. With the U.N. Register, small arms were only a secondary consideration.

Civil society members see the inclusion of small arms in the ATT as a much-needed development, since the majority of conflict deaths are caused by small arms.

“The Arms Trade Treaty has the potential to increase the level of reporting on small arms and light weapons, and to improve comprehensiveness and level of detail,” Sarah Parker, a senior researcher at the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, told IPS.

However, Parker also cautioned that the scope of the ATT’s categories will need to expand to accommodate new weapons and technologies.

Daniël Prins says the ATT has the capacity to keep up with the times.

“Of course it doesn’t include every item that militaries use – trucks for instance – but all major weapons systems are covered,” he said.

“The treaty has provisions for changing it, for adaption, at least six years after entry into force. Of course, you need a willingness of its members to go there, but it’s perfectly possible to keep the treaty’s scope up to date with technology.”

The U.N. Register and the ATT’s reporting instruments will run in parallel.

According to Holtom, who served as the consultant for a 2013 group of governmental experts on the U.N. Register, getting rid of the Register would mean losing valuable information from countries that are not ready to start reporting for the ATT.

“Russia and China… report regularly to the U.N. Register,” he told IPS, but “they’ve made no signal of having any intention in the near future to sign the ATT, let alone ratify.”

One hundred and eighteen countries have signed the ATT, and 43 states have ratified. The treaty officially enters into force three months after the fiftieth ratification.

“I’m surprised that it’s actually been so quick,” Holtom said.

A 2015 entry into force was originally seen as a best case scenario, but it is soon likely to become a reality.

Prins expressed the expectation that the number of ratifications will grow well over the minimum of 50. The immediate goal should be to have more than half of the U.N.’s members be a State Party — a fuller embrace of the treaty will take years of concerted action, but is very much possible, he said.

Of course, the ATT will have less of an impact if the leading importers and exporters are not on board. The European Union is committed to the treaty, but the United States and Russia seem disinclined to join.

President Obama signed the treaty last year, but a bipartisan majority of Congress has come out in opposition to ratification. Still, even outside the ATT, the U.S. does not have total freedom to export arms as it chooses.

“The U.S. argues that it already has one of the most rigorous export control systems in the world,” Parker told IPS. “I think this is legitimate, frankly.”

India and China, the two largest importers of conventional arms, both abstained from the General Assembly’s vote on the ATT in 2013. India pledged to assess the treaty’s impact on its defence, security, and foreign policy interests. China’s abstention was procedural, as it did not object to any specifics of the treaty.

Preparation for the ATT’s entry into force has already begun.

The U.N. Office for Disarmament Affairs has established a trust fund to assist countries with implementation of the treaty, Prins told IPS.

States parties will establish specific procedures for reporting as the ATT system develops over the years.

“Mexico has offered to host the first conference of states parties, which will likely take place next year, sometime between April and September,” Parker said.

Stepping back from the technical details, on the broader scale, does arms trade transparency actually deter war?

According to Paul Holtom, “transparency on its own is insufficient for addressing conflict. What you really want to have is transparency connected with responsibility and accountability.”

The public dissemination of export and import numbers should spur active national debates on the merits of particular weapons transfers, Holtom believes.

Public debates could be also be initiated by an independent observer body.

“There are plans for something called an ATT monitor,” Parker told IPS.

NGOs, civil society and academic institutions in the ATT monitor would scrutinise where states were transferring weapons and evaluate the advisability of the export based on the circumstances of the importing country, she said.

Whatever happens, it is clear that the ATT will be an improvement over the U.N. Register.

Take the recent decisions by the United States and France to arm the Kurdish militia in Iraq, for example. Neither country has indicated the number of weapons being transferred.

Because the Kurds are a sub-national group, these transfers do not fall under the scope of the U.N. Register, which only applies to state-to-state exchanges. However, according to Holtom, the ATT requires transparency on transfers to non-state actors as well. Under the ATT, the United States and France would need to report those transfers.

The U.N. Register was developed in the context of the immediate post-Cold War. As the nature of warfare shifts from international disputes to conflicts involving sub-state armed groups, the ATT will bring arms trade transparency into the present.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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Militarism Should be Suppressed Like Hanging and Flogginghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/militarism-should-be-suppressed-like-hanging-and-flogging/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarism-should-be-suppressed-like-hanging-and-flogging http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/militarism-should-be-suppressed-like-hanging-and-flogging/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:42:34 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136173

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, argues that, in the face of growing militarism, civil society should take a stand for human rights and real democracy, and against violence and war.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

I once asked Dan Berrigan, the great American anti-war activist, for some advice to me in my life as a peace activist. He replied “Pray and Resist”.But I would like to ask how serious we are about resistance? What is our vision? And how does resistance fit into this? What do we need to resist? How can we resist effectively? And what methods are allowed? In resisting, what are our aims and objectives?

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

I would like to propose that the world’s peace movement adopt a vision of the total abolition of militarism. Such a vision would empower us to know where we are going. It would inspire and energise each of us to pursue our different projects, be it the fight against the arms trade, nuclear abolition, non-killing/non-violence, the culture of peace, the abolition of arms and drone warfare, human rights and environmental rights.

We will know, as we work towards this vision of a demilitarised, disarmed world, that we are part of an ever-growing new ‘consciousness’ of men and women, choosing to uphold human life, the right to individual conscience, loving our enemies, human rights and international law, and solving our problems without killing each other.

Why resist militarism? We are witnessing the growing militarism of Europe, and its role as a driving force for armaments, and its dangerous path, under the leadership of the United States/NATO towards a new ‘cold war’ and military aggression.

The European Union and many of its countries, which used to take initiatives in the United Nations for peaceful settlements of conflicts, particularly allegedly peaceful countries like Norway and Sweden, are now among the most important U.S./NATO war assets.“The greatest danger to our freedoms being eroded by governments and endangered by ‘armed’ groups is a fearful, apathetic, civil community, refusing to take a stand for human rights and real democracy, and against violence and war”

The European Union is a threat to the survival of neutrality, as countries are being asked to join NATO, and forced to end their neutrality and choose (unnecessarily) between West and East.

Many nations have been drawn into complicity in breaking international law through U.S./U.K./NATO wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and so on, Germany, the third largest exporter of military hardware in the world, continues to increase its military budget and is complicit with NATO, facilitating U.S. bases, from which drones leave to carry out illegal extrajudicial killings on the order of the U.S. president, in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Germany has also provided Israel with its nuclear submarine and continues to be complicit under the Geneva Convention in Israeli war crimes against Gaza and in the illegal occupation of Palestine.

We need to abolish NATO and increase our task of dismantling the military-industrial complex, through non-violent and civil resistance.

The means of resistance are very important. As a pacifist deeply committed to non-killing/non-violence as a way to bring about social/cultural/political change, I believe that we need to use means consistent with the end, and it is wrong to use violence.

Our message that militarism and war do not solve our problem of violence challenges us to use new ways and that is why we need to teach the science of peace at every level of society.

We are all aware there are forces at work which are determined to continue their agenda of the militarisation of our societies and there are governments/corporate/media attempts to make violence and war acceptable.

The greatest danger to our freedoms being eroded by governments and endangered by ‘armed’ groups is a fearful, apathetic, civil community, refusing to take a stand for human rights and real democracy, and against violence and war.

We can take hope from the fact that most people want peace not war. However, we are facing a civilisation problem. We are facing a political/ideological challenge with the growth of what president Ike Eisenhower warned the U.S. people against ­– the military/industrial complex. He warned that it would destroy the United States.

We know now that a small group made up of the world’s military/industrial/media/corporate/academic elite – whose agenda is profit, arms, war and
valuable resources – now holds power and has a stronghold on our elected governments. We see this in the gun and Israeli lobbies, among others, which hold great power over U.S. politics.

We have witnessed this in ongoing wars, invasions, occupations and proxy war, all allegedly in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention and democracy’. However, in reality, they are causing great suffering, especially to the poor, through their policies of arms, war, domination and control of other countries and their resources.

Unmasking this agenda of war and demanding the implementation of human rights and international law is the work of the peace movement. We can turn away from this path of destruction by spelling out a clear vision of what kind of a world we want to live in, demanding an end to the military-industrial complex, and insisting that our governments adopt policies of peace.

We, the Peace Movement, are the alternative to militarism and war, and because we want a different world, we must be part of building it. We must not be satisfied with improvements to and reform of militarism but rather offer an alternative.

Militarism is an aberration and a system of dysfunction. Militarism should be outdated and disappear – like hanging and flogging! (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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TB Epidemic Threat Hangs Over Ukraine Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tb-epidemic-threat-hangs-over-ukraine-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tb-epidemic-threat-hangs-over-ukraine-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/tb-epidemic-threat-hangs-over-ukraine-conflict/#comments Sun, 17 Aug 2014 10:40:33 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136171 By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Aug 17 2014 (IPS)

Doctors are warning of a worsening tuberculosis epidemic in Eastern Ukraine as the continuing conflict there begins to take a heavy toll on public health.

With thousands of people fleeing the region every day, medical supplies severely disrupted and those left behind under growing physical stress and increasingly unable to access medical services, conditions are ripe for a rise in new TB cases.

Dr Masoud Dara, Tuberculosis Programme Manager at the World Health Organisation (WHO) Europe, told IPS: “The situation with TB was not good before the conflict, but we can say that the conflict has certainly made it worse.”Since the outbreak of hostilities and the Ukrainian military’s push to reclaim control of areas in Eastern Ukraine from pro-Russian separatists, health care providers in the region have come under increasing pressure

Since the outbreak of hostilities and the Ukrainian military’s push to reclaim control of areas in Eastern Ukraine from pro-Russian separatists, health care providers in the region have come under increasing pressure.

Not only have hospitals been forced to deal with treating of casualties of the fighting, they have also had to cope with patients being moved in and out of hospitals and abandoning or interrupting treatment as the security status of individual towns and cities changes.

It has also become increasingly difficult to obtain supplies of vital medicines, and terrified staff – up to 70 percent of medical staff are estimated to have fled Donetsk and Luhansk, according to U.N. officials – have left hospitals and clinics.

The problems have been particularly acute with regard to TB. Ukraine has one of the worst TB problems in Europe, second only to Russia in terms of infection numbers.

According to official data, there are 48,000 people registered with the disease and it claimed the lives of just over 6,000 people in 2013. However, one in four people with TB are not officially registered, according to WHO.

The country also has a particular problem with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) which is much harder to successfully treat than normal TB.

WHO reports that Ukraine is one of “27 high multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) burden countries in the world,” adding that “despite the adoption of the Stop TB Strategy by the National TB Programme (NTP), its components have not been sufficiently implemented.”

Organisations working in the region say they fear the disease will claim lives as the fighting is making it impossible to identify cases, monitor or guarantee timely treatment for those who need it.

Dr Dara told IPS: “There are indications that incidence of TB may increase. TB sufferers need to have medicines provided to them in a timely fashion and if that cannot be done and TB sufferers’ treatment is interrupted and they cannot access treatment elsewhere, there is a risk that the disease could then be spread and that people may die.

“We do not have detailed information at the moment on how exactly the conflict has affected the TB situation in Eastern Ukraine, but we do know that it has, at least, affected TB control efforts. It is hard to thoroughly implement checks on all people with TB in the conflict zone.”

Doctors in Donetsk, a city of one million and regional stronghold for pro-Russian separatists, have told humanitarian organisations working in the region of their fears over the fate of patients needing treatment.

Ole Solvang of Human Rights Watch, who carried out detailed research in Eastern Ukraine on the effects of the current conflict on the region’s health care, told IPS: “One hospital administrator in the main hospital in Donetsk told us that his hospital had a capacity for 1,200 patients but that because of the war they had only 450 at the moment.”

Solvang said that “the explanations put forward for this are that because people were afraid of travelling they were not coming to the hospital, that they were saving money and did not want to pay to get to hospital or that so many people have left the region because of the conflict.”

But his fear was that people with medical problems not connected to the conflict, such as serious diseases, are now not getting the treatment that they need.

Other doctors have warned that problems with medicine supplies because of the conflict could turn out to be an even bigger problem than the interruption of TB treatment.

One who spoke to IPS said that if a TB patient was given only a few drugs instead of the full range of medicines needed as part of treatment, it could lead to developing the much more dangerous drug-resistant TB.

The true scale of the problem with TB in the region is impossible to ascertain clearly because of the rapidly changing conditions in the conflict zone, while many under-pressure medical staff working directly in the conflict zone have been reluctant to speak in detail to anyone other than colleagues.

Regional officials also declined to comment when approached by IPS.

One doctor from Donetsk who spoke to IPS said that TB patients in regional hospitals, as well as hundreds being treated on an out-patient basis, were receiving the treatment they needed.

According to Dr Yuriy Semionovich, “there are 550 tuberculosis patients in Donetsk and Slavyansk hospitals at the moment. They are getting all the medicines and treatment they need. There are 200 patients treated on an out-patient basis and they too are receiving what medicines they need. We have the situation under control.”

However, some others are far more pessimistic in their assessment of the TB threat to the region.

Natalia Chursina, deputy head of the Donetsk Regional Tuberculosis Hospital, told local media earlier this month that “we will definitely have an outbreak in prevalence of all forms of TB after all this ends”.

Despite claims from some Ukrainian officials that the separatists will soon be dealt with and that fighting could be over in a matter of weeks, many experts say a quick end to the conflict is unlikely. And even if that were to happen, it is unclear how quickly medical service provision would return to normal, nor how many TB patients may have abandoned or interrupted treatment.

What is clear though is that without a change in current conditions, the situation with TB in the region is unlikely to improve any time soon.

“If conditions improve with regard to the supply of treatment, medicines and provision of health care services then we can foresee some improvement with the TB situation,” Dr Dara told IPS. “But without a change in those, then there is little hope that TB treatment can improve.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Trauma Kits and Body Bags Now Fill Aleppo Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/trauma-kits-and-body-bags-now-fill-aleppo-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trauma-kits-and-body-bags-now-fill-aleppo-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/trauma-kits-and-body-bags-now-fill-aleppo-school/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 17:44:11 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136168 A central Aleppo street after a barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

A central Aleppo street after a barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Syria, Aug 16 2014 (IPS)

Volunteer civil defence units operating here in Syria’s largest city careen through crater-pocked routes of precariously hanging, pancaked concrete where barrel bombs have struck.

Greyish dust blankets the dead, the alive and the twisted steel jutting out.  The panicked confusion immortalised in innumerable photos – with bloodied survivors raking desperately through the rubble for loved ones – is granted a modicum of order by the arrival of the rescue teams, in their distinctive white hard hats and black knee pads and boots.

When IPS arrived on the scene a few moments after the explosion of one such barrel bomb in early August, the men were already there, looking for survivors amid the rubble. One stood ready ear glued to his walkie-talkie, eyes darting between onlookers he was trying to keep at a safe distance and the sky – the first barrel bomb is almost always followed by another within 10-30 minutes, targeting would-be rescuers.One [rescue worker] stood ready, ear glued to his walkie-talkie, eyes darting between onlookers he was trying to keep at a safe distance and the sky – the first barrel bomb is almost always followed by another within 10-30 minutes, targeting would-be rescuers

The Hanano civil defence centre in eastern Aleppo is a repurposed school, its corridors dusty and empty except for a few firemen’s boots airing out, a broom, and a few morale-boosting posters of the civil defence men in uniform.

Body bags and trauma kits sit alongside fuel for Bobcat excavating and rubble-clearing equipment, pickaxes with USAID logos on them, drills and boxes of firemen’s suits, propped up against chalkboards still bearing the marks of lessons once taught in them.

Many of the men are in their twenties, clean-shaven, former university students. Khaled Hijjo, a former law student in his mid-twenties and head of the centre, told IPS that the rescue and fire teams work in two shifts: 12 hours on, 12 hours off.

At the moment there is only one medical specialist at the centre, he said, so this specialist is on call 24 hours a day. The man, who did not give his name, said he had worked for the Syrian Red Crescent even prior to the 2011 uprising and subsequent violence, but that he had no time to train the other men in basic first aid.

Correct carry and extraction procedures prevent aggravating injuries, including paralysing spinal injuries, and the heavy equipment received has proven vital to remove rubble and save those trapped underneath.

For the past four months, the rescue workers have been receiving a salary from the government-in-exile and courses from a number of foreign bodies and governments.

Entry-level first responders are given a salary of 175 dollars, while the heads of the various centres instead receive 200, civil defence chief and former English teacher Ammar Salmo told IPS, adding that 21 members of the team had been killed by barrel bombs while on duty.

When the bombs bring down entire buildings, ‘’many are trapped and nothing can be done. There are five still alive in one area that we know of, but there is no way to get them out’’, one local media activist told IPS, saying he felt helpless, and that taking pictures of the dead and wounded had ceased to make him feel useful

Though many of the local media activists have been given expensive cameras and satellite equipment and attended training programmes funded by Western nations in southern Turkey, virtually none of them seem to have had any basic first aid training.

Given the extremely severe shortage of trained medical staff left in Aleppo after the repeated attacking of medical facilities by the regime, the civil defence teams play an even more vital role in saving lives.

Ambulances donated from abroad and brought in through the sole supply road still under rebel control into the city go with the first responder team in central Aleppo, while those injured in the surrounding countryside are taken in cars to the nearest first aid centre. Communication is possible only via walkie-talkie, because there is no mobile phone reception.

A training centre was recently established inside Syrian territory but outside of the city, where team members were attending 20-day training sessions a few at a time, said Salmo.

He added that more civil defence centres were currently being set up in the Idlib region further to the west, and that it was proving easier to manage them than those in Aleppo, because many of the men ‘’were regime defectors and are more familiar with how institutions work.’’

He said the deputy chief of civil defence was a former regime general, and that four other former generals are currently working with them.

Of the instructors at the training centre, Salmo told IPS,  ‘’five are defectors from Assad’s forces, including a general teaching how to deal with barrel bombs and fire, and two doctors serve as medical experts to train the men in first aid.’’

The group has experienced some minor problems with some of the armed groups. One team member also told IPS that some of the heavy equipment had been ‘’borrowed’’ for a day by a Free Syrian Army group a few weeks earlier, but that they had promised that they would return it soon.

‘’We’re trying to solve the matter through dialogue,’’ he said.

When asked whether the group had had problems with the more extremist groups such as the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra, he scoffed, saying ‘’Jabhat Al-Nusra doesn’t need our things. They already have enough money.’’

No fire engines or other emergency vehicles could be seen in the immediate vicinity of a civil defence centre near a front line where IPS spoke to Salmo, who said that the teams had to be careful.

‘’Once you are seen as more organised,’’ he noted, ‘’you’re also seen as more of a danger to the regime.’’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Burning the Future of Gaza’s Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/burning-the-future-of-gazas-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=burning-the-future-of-gazas-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/burning-the-future-of-gazas-children/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 16:34:22 +0000 Khaled Alashqar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136164 Soundus, a young girl being treated in hospital for injuries from Israeli shelling of Gaza (August 2014). Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Soundus, a young girl being treated in hospital for injuries from Israeli shelling of Gaza (August 2014). Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

By Khaled Alashqar
GAZA CITY, Aug 16 2014 (IPS)

“My child became blind and lost the ability to speak, his dad died and his three brothers are seriously wounded. He still has not been told about the loss of his dad,” says the mother of 7-year-old Mohamad Badran. 

Mohamad is in hospital for treatment after being seriously injured in Israel shelling of Gaza. “My only way to communicate with him is by hugging him,” his mother adds.

Israeli air attacks and shelling in Gaza have left more than 1,870 dead and thousands injured. They have caused damage to infrastructure and hundreds of homes, forcing a large number of families to seek shelter in schools run by the U.N. agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).Some of the children have suffered serious injuries which cannot be treated in Gaza due to the limited medical infrastructure and capacities caused by the Israeli blockade.

In a news note, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) said that Israeli airstrikes and shelling have taken a “devastating toll … on Gaza’s youngest and most vulnerable.” It said that at least 429 children had been killed and 2,744 severely injured.

Some of the children injured have suffered serious injuries which cannot be treated in Gaza due to the limited medical capacities caused by the Israeli blockade.

According to UNICEF, about 400,000 children – half of Gaza’s 1.8 million people are children under the age of 18 – are showing symptoms of psychological problems, including stress and depression, clinging to parents and nightmares.

Monika Awad, spokesperson for UNICEF in Jerusalem, told IPS that 30 percent of dead as a result of the Israeli military attacks are children, and “UNICEF and its local partners have been implementing psychosocial support programmes in Gaza schools where refugee families are sheltering.”

”We have a moral responsibility to protect the right of children to live in safety and dignity in accordance with U.N. charter for children’s rights,” she added.

However, the acute psychological effects of the Israeli attacks Gaza that have emerged among children, such as loss of speech, are among the biggest challenges that face psychotherapists.

Dr Sami Eweda, a consultant and psychiatrist with the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme (a local civil society organisation working on trauma and healing issues), told IPS: “When the Israeli war against Gaza ends, psychotherapists will grapple with many expected dilemmas such as the cases of the murder of entire families and the murder of the parents who represent the central protection and tenderness for the children. Such terrible cases put children in a state of loss and shock.”

According to Eweda, “we first need to stop the main cause of these traumas and psychological problems, which is the Israeli war against Gaza, and then begin an emergency intervention to support children’s health and treat traumas and severe psychological effects, including the loss of speech, which is considered as one of the self-defence mechanisms for overcoming traumas.”

Throughout the Gaza Strip, where entire neighbourhoods such as Shujaiyeh and Khuza’a have been destroyed by the Israeli invasion and heavy bombardment, access to basic services is practically impossible.

Displaced children in a UN-run school in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood of Gaza (August 2014). Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

Displaced children in a UN-run school in the Shujaiyeh neighbourhood of Gaza (August 2014). Credit: Khaled Alashqar/IPS

People in these areas have been suffering difficulties in accessing drinking water and have been living in an almost complete blackout since the Israeli shelling of the power station which was the sole source of electricity in besieged Gaza.

Social Watch– a network of civil society organisations from around the world monitoring their governments’ commitments to end poverty and achieve gender justice – Thursday called on the international community to declare the Gaza Strip an “international humanitarian disaster zone”, as requested by Palestinian NGOs.

“The unrestricted violation of international law and humanitarian principles adds to the instability in the region and further fuels the arms race and the marginalisation of the issues of poverty eradication and social justice that should be the main common priority,” said Social Watch.

“The recurrence of these episodes in Gaza is the result of not having acted before on similar war crimes and of not having pursued with good faith negotiations towards a lasting peace,” it added.

In a press release, Save the Children, the world’s leading independent organisation for promoting children’s rights, said: “Children never start wars, yet they are the ones that are killed, maimed, traumatised and left homeless, terrified and permanently scarred.”

“Save the Children will not stop until innocent children are no longer under fire and the root causes of this conflict are addressed. If the international community does not take action now, the violence against children in Gaza will haunt our generation forever.”

In an interview with IPS, Save the Children’s spokesperson in Gaza, Asama Damo, said: ”We call for a permanent ceasefire and for lifting the siege on Gaza to ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid and basic services to children.”

“We also need the international community to intervene to end the catastrophic humanitarian situation and fight the skin diseases that are widely spreading among the refugees at UNRWA schools due to overcrowding and congestion.”

According to UNRWA, 87 of their schools are being used as shelters by the refugees, half of whom are children under the age of 18. Ziad Thabet, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education in Gaza, told IPS:

“Israel deliberately targeted educational institutions and the education sector in general; large proportion of those killed and wounded are children and school students. Many schools and kindergartens were attacked.”

In the current disastrous situation in Gaza, it seems not only that the burnt bodies of Gaza’s children are the heritage of war, but also that their educational and health future is being burned.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Socialists Could Turn to Environmentalist after Candidate’s Deathhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/socialists-could-turn-to-enviromentalist-after-candidates-death/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=socialists-could-turn-to-enviromentalist-after-candidates-death http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/socialists-could-turn-to-enviromentalist-after-candidates-death/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 01:37:12 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136156 Eduardo Campos and Marina Silva, the Brazilian Socialist Party’s ticket for the October presidential elections, before Campos died in a plane crash. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

Eduardo Campos and Marina Silva, the Brazilian Socialist Party’s ticket for the October presidential elections, before Campos died in a plane crash. Credit: Agência Brasil/EBC

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 16 2014 (IPS)

The death of socialist presidential candidate Eduardo Campos opens up an unexpected opportunity for environmental leader Marina Silva to return with renewed strength to the struggle to govern Brazil, offering a “third way” in a highly polarised campaign.

Silva, who was environment minister from 2003 to 2008, won 19.6 million votes in the 2010 presidential elections – 19.3 percent of the total – and is seen by many as someone who can breathe new life into the Brazilian political scene.

The winding road, littered with tragedy, that led to her nomination as vice presidential candidate on Campos’ ticket could thrust her back to the forefront, with a stronger chance of winning.

She has preserved a large part of the popular support she gained in 2010. In addition, opinion polls show that she was the political leader who benefited the most from the mass protests that shook Brazil’s big cities in June and July 2013, which rejected the political class as a whole.

The national commotion caused by the death of Campos in a plane crash on Aug. 13 could also give a fresh impulse to a candidacy aimed at breaking with the two-party system.

The frontrunners in the polls for the Oct. 5 elections are President Dilma Rousseff of the Workers’ Party (PT) and Aecio Neves of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party (PSDB). The PT has governed Brazil since 2003, and the PSDB did so from 1995 to 2002.

Marina Silva’s political career began in the small northwestern Amazon jungle state of Acre, where she was born in 1958. She didn’t learn to read and write until the age of 16, after she left the rainforest to seek healthcare, as she was suffering from hepatitis, malaria and leishmaniosis.

Her close work with rubber-tapper and activist Chico Mendes, who organised his fellow workers in Acre to fight for their rights and became a martyr for the Amazon when he was killed in 1988, was the driver of her first electoral triumphs.

A senator since 1994, Silva was one of the main leaders of the PT, which first came to power with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2011).

She was environment minister until she resigned in 2008 over policy disagreements with Lula, who she criticised for pursuing “material growth at any cost,” at the expense of the poor and the environment.

A year later she left the PT and joined the small Green Party (PV) to run in the 2010 presidential elections, which were won by Rousseff, Lula’s former energy minister and chief of staff. Silva came in third, but with an unexpectedly strong showing.

She then left the PV as well, over disagreements with its reform proposals, and tried to create a new political grouping, the Sustainability Network. But the electoral court ruled that it had insufficient signatures to qualify.

To avoid being left out of the race, Silva joined the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), led by Campos, and became his vice-presidential running-mate.

After Campos’ death, she would seem to be his natural replacement. The PSB has until Aug. 23 to name its new candidate.

If the PSB does not choose Silva, it would be contributing to the two-party system that has reigned for 20 years, and would lose standing in the other levels of power, such as state legislatures and governments. A socialist legislator acknowledged that Campos is “irreplaceable.”

The dilemma for the PSB is that accepting Silva as its candidate would be another kind of suicide, because of the loss of identity it would entail for the party. The environmentalist has numerous discrepancies with the party’s policies.

The PSB, which named the ministers of science and technology during Lula’s two terms, is in favour of nuclear energy and transgenic crops, which are rejected by Silva and other environmentalists.

Campos was one of those ministers in 2004-2005, and his popularity grew when he served as governor of the state of Pernambuco from 2006 to early 2014, thanks to the swift economic growth and industrial development he led in his state, which is in the Northeast, Brazil’s poorest region.

Megaprojects like the Suape Port industrial complex, the diversion of the São Francisco River to bring water to the semiarid Northeast, and the Transnordestina railway were decisive for Pernambuco to have the highest economic growth of any Brazilian state in the last few years.

But environmentalists are opposed to many aspects of these megaprojects, which form part of a development-oriented policy focus that runs counter in many ways to the sustainability touted by Silva’s Network.

The projects were launched or given a new impulse in the last decade by Lula, for whom Campos was an important and loyal ally. His PSB only broke with Rousseff’s PT government last year.

Campos, with popularity ratings of more than 70 percent in Pernambuco, presented himself as an alternative to the PSDB social democrats and the PT labourists. But his criticism was not aimed at the Lula administration; it was strictly reserved for the government of Rousseff.

That distinction could have been based on electoral calculations, because Lula remains extremely popular. But it could have also been due to affinity with the former president. Campos was the political heir to Miguel Arraes, his grandfather, a legendary leader of the Brazilian left who governed Pernambuco for three terms. But he was also a disciple of Lula.

Like Lula, he was a master of dialogue, of building alliances even among disparate groups, forging relations with both business leaders and poor communities, and responding to the forces of the market while introducing strong social policies.

Rousseff, on the other hand, lost support among the business community due to her economic policies.

Campos had to redouble his efforts to win over landowners and ranchers, because of the rejection by those sectors of his running-mate, whose environmentalism is seen as an obstacle to the expansion of agribusiness.

Despite their contradictions, the union of Campos and Silva strengthened the so-called “third way” in Brazil’s elections.

Campos’ death could actually give Silva a boost in the elections, since she is already starting out with a broader electoral base, and will benefit from the fact that many Brazilians are fed up with the way politics is done in this country.

In July, according to the latest poll by the Data Folha Institute, 36 percent of respondents said they would vote for Rousseff, 20 percent for the PSDB’s Neves, and eight percent for Campos.

But analysts are now pointing to two weak points for Silva. One is that she alienates productive sectors with her ecological discourse, and as a consequence loses campaign donations. Another is her membership of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God, which draws her support from the growing evangelical flock but distances the Catholic majority.

In any case, analysts don’t rule out the possibility of a second round between two women who were both former ministers of Lula. But the question is to what extent the PSB’s leaders are prepared to renounce their ideals.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.S. Urged to Put Development Aid over Border Securityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-urged-to-put-development-aid-over-border-security/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-to-put-development-aid-over-border-security http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/u-s-urged-to-put-development-aid-over-border-security/#comments Fri, 15 Aug 2014 15:24:28 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136144 By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Aug 15 2014 (IPS)

When U.S lawmakers departed Washington for a month-long recess, they left behind a simmering debate over what to do about the tens of thousands of Central American children and adults that continue to cross the U.S. southern border.

Many potential solutions have been tabled as to how the federal government should handle the unprecedented influx. Yet these strategies, which include two proposals pending in Congress, are built on starkly differing views over why these migrants are leaving their homes in the first place.

“The question is simple,” Manuel Orozco, a senior fellow at the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank here, told IPS. “Are people migrating because of security and opportunity, or are people migrating from danger and violence?”

Many in the Latino community are disappointed by U.S. President Barack Obama's failure to push through comprehensive immigration reform. Credit: Valeria Fernandez/IPS

Many in the Latino community are disappointed by U.S. President Barack Obama’s failure to push through comprehensive immigration reform. Credit: Valeria Fernandez/IPS

Orzoco’s field research, released this week, seems to point to the latter.

“[I]ntentional homicides emerge as a more powerful driver of international migration than human development,” his report notes, cautioning that “migrants are primarily coming from some of the most populous violent municipalities in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.”

“They’re actually, for the most part, escaping for fear for their life,” he says, clarifying that these threats apply to both minors and adults in Central America.

Yet despite the fact that Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – collectively known as the Northern Triangle – produce higher homicide rates than war zones such as Afghanistan or Iraq, some U.S. lawmakers doubt that this phenomenon is responsible for recent months’ mass Central American migration.

Instead, sceptics attribute the inflow of tens of thousands of migrants to President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.

For these lawmakers, then, the answer is more security at the southern border.

Indeed, this is precisely what the Republican-led House of Representatives has prioritised in its current bill worth some 700 million dollars, more than half of which would be allocated to tighten security along the southern U.S. border. The remainder would be used to accelerate deportations.

President Obama has said he would veto the bill, calling it “extreme” and “unworkable”.

Orzoco, too, considers the security-focused approach to be “myopic”. Instead, he and others say that lawmakers must focus on increasing assistance to Central America – dealing directly with the poverty and violence that appear to be spurring much of the recent influx.

“It’s good not to look just under security lines, and that we invest in real economic development while also addressing the security situation,” Adriana Beltran, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a watchdog group here, told IPS.

1.3 percent

U.S. aid to Central America has historically been weak. In 2013, the region received just 1.3 percent of U.S. foreign assistance, according to a new fact sheet from the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition (USGLC), a Washington-based network of businesses and NGOs.

But the White House has put forward a proposal that would bolster Central American assistance by some 300 million dollars. Larry Knowles, a consultant with the USGLC, informed IPS of the bill’s relative breakdown.

While one third of this aid would go towards improving governance standards, including fiscal and judicial reform, another third would go towards economic development, and the remainder would be earmarked for crime-prevention efforts, youth-at-risk programmes and reintegration initiatives.

The fate of that bill remains unclear, however, as it is unlikely to pass the House of Representatives. Unlike the Senate, the House has not declared Central America’s internal strife worthy of “emergency aid appropriations”.

Still, the general thrust has received significant applause in certain quarters. The Inter-American Dialogue’s Orzoco is enthusiastic, suggesting the assistance could be used to improve Central America’s education, strengthen its labour force’s skills, and aid small businesses.

“There needs to be a much more inclusive strategy to address all of these problems,” Orzoco said.

Such analysis is also supported by Oscar Calvo-Gonzalez, chief economist for Central America at the World Bank, though he cautions that violence is “one of the many causes that drive people to move.”

Calvo-Gonzalez says that municipal-level programmes that can help the situation.

“Crime is a highly localised phenomenon, so you want to have highly localised intervention,” Calvo-Gonzales told IPS.

Economic growth in Central America must be shared, Calvo-Gonzalez emphasises, citing high inequality and “limited opportunities for advancement” as his primary concerns.

“Central America stands out as poverty has not declined consistently,” he says, “though [poverty in] the rest of Latin America has declined, Central America’s poverty is stagnant.”

He says the World Bank has been working in Central America to mobilise additional tax revenues and build the capacity of domestic governments in the region.

WOLA’s Beltran echoed the effectiveness of such a localised approach, calling in particular for greater investment in violence prevention.

“There is evidence of programmes working at the community level to address youth violence and security,” she says, citing a 40 percent  reduction in Honduras’ Santa Tecla as one such example. “Social services, the police, the church and other local bodies can come together to find a solution.”

Shared responsibility

For the Inter-American Dialogue’s Orzoco, fixing such problems is beyond the domain of the Northern Triangle and its governments. “These issues require responsibility of both Central American governments and the United States’ government,” he says.

Orzoco justifies strengthened U.S. development assistance for the region by first pointing to the shortcomings of Central American efforts, listing an ongoing lack of legislation and inadequate initiatives to “prevent the continuing outflow of kids” as examples.

“Central American governments, so far, have not been very accountable,” he says.

Orzoco also says the U.S. government has generally refused to share responsibility for Central America’s problems, despite Washington’s history of economic and political hegemony and interventions in the region. He points, for instance, to a “complete neglect” of organised crime.

“What organised crime has done is create an ecosystem of irregular economic activity that presents itself as a profitable one, given the context of property,” Orzoco says.

Other analysts have gone further, suggesting that the United States has contributed to the region’s growth in organised crime through its “war on drugs” and fostering of influential gangs in U.S. prisons.

But Orzoco cautions that despite the United States’ qualified intention to assist Central America, some lawmakers may be doing so for political purposes – a factor that will only continuing to strengthen as the November elections here draw closer.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at hotzj@union.edu

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Brazil’s “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest” Faces Death Threatshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazils-dalai-lama-of-the-rainforest-faces-death-threats/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brazils-dalai-lama-of-the-rainforest-faces-death-threats http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/brazils-dalai-lama-of-the-rainforest-faces-death-threats/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 22:45:14 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136140 Davi Kopenawa at an assembly of the the Hutukara Associação Yanomami . Credit: Courtesy Luciano Padrã/Cafod

Davi Kopenawa at an assembly of the the Hutukara Associação Yanomami . Credit: Courtesy Luciano Padrã/Cafod

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Davi Kopenawa, the leader of the Yanomami people in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, who is internationally renowned for his struggle against encroachment on indigenous land by landowners and illegal miners, is now fighting a new battle – this time against death threats received by him and his family.

“In May, they [miners] told me that he wouldn’t make it to the end of the year alive,” Armindo Góes, 39, one of Kopenawa’s fellow indigenous activists in the fight for the rights of the Yanomami people, told IPS.

Kopenawa, 60, is Brazil’s most highly respected indigenous leader. The Yanomami shaman and spokesman is known around the world as the “Dalai Lama of the Rainforest” and has frequently participated in United Nations meetings and other international events.“The landowners and the garimpeiros have plenty of money to kill an Indian. The Amazon jungle belongs to us. She protects us from the heat; the rainforest is essential to all of us and for our children to live in peace.” -- Davi Kopenawa

He has won awards like the Global 500 Prize from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). His voice has drawn global figures like King Harald of Norway – who visited him in 2013 – or former British footballer David Beckham – who did so in March – to the 96,000-sq-km territory which is home to some 20,000 Yanomami.

Kopenawa is president of the Hutukara Yanomami Association (HAY), which he founded in 2004 in Boa Vista, the capital of the northern state of Roraima. Before that he fought for the creation of the Yanomami Indigenous Territory (TI), which is larger than Portugal, in the states of Amazonas and Roraima, on the border with Venezuela.

On Jul. 28, HAY issued a statement reporting that its leader had received death threats in June, when Góes, one of the organisation’s directors, was accosted on a street in the Amazonas town of São Gabriel da Cachoeira by “garimpeiros” or illegal gold miners, who gave him a clear death message for Kopenawa.

Since then “the climate of insecurity has dominated everything,” Góes told IPS.

Garimpeiros are penetrating deeper and deeper into Yanomami territory in their search for gold, in Brazil as well as Venezuela, encroaching on one of the world’s oldest surviving cultures.

Illegal gold miners damage the territory and attack the families of the Yanomami. Credit: Courtesy Colin Jones/Survival International

Illegal gold miners damage the territory and attack the families of the Yanomami. Credit: Courtesy Colin Jones/Survival International

The Yanomami TI was demarcated just before the 1992 Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro. And it was the Rio+20 Summit, held in this city in 2012, that made Kopenawa more prominent at home, where he was less well-known than abroad.

“Davi is someone very precious to Brazil, but some people see him as an enemy. He is a thinker and a warrior who forms part of Brazil’s identity and has fought for the rights of the Yanomami and other indigenous people for over 40 years,” activist Marcos Wesley, assistant coordinator of the Rio Negro sustainable development programme of the Socioenvironmental Institute (ISA), told IPS.

The Rio Negro, the biggest tributary of the Amazon River, runs across Yanomami territory.

In the 1990s, Kopenawa managed to get 45,000 garimpeiros evicted from the Yanomami TI, Wesley noted. “He and Hutukara are the spokespersons for the Yanomami, for their demands. I can imagine there are people who have suffered economic losses and are upset over the advances made by the Yanomami,” he added.

“There are threatening signs that put us on the alert,” Góes said. “We are working behind locked doors. Two armed men were already searching for Davi in Boa Vista. They even offered money if someone would identify him. We are getting more and more concerned.”

The director of HAY explained that “our lives are at risk, and our elders advised Davi to take shelter in his community.”

Shaman Davi Kopenawa with former British football star David Beckham, who visited Yanomami territory in March. Credit: Courtesy Nenzinho Soares/Survival International

Shaman Davi Kopenawa with former British football star David Beckham, who visited Yanomami territory in March. Credit: Courtesy Nenzinho Soares/Survival International

Although the Yanomami TI was fully demarcated, illegal activities have not ceased there.

“There are many people invading indigenous land for mining,” Góes said.

Kopenawa comes from the remote community of Demini, one of the 240 villages in the Yanomami TI. The only way to reach the village is by small plane or a 10-day boat ride upriver.

On Aug. 8, IPS managed to contact the Yanomami leader, just a few minutes before he set out for his community. But he preferred not to provide details about his situation, because of the threats.

“At this moment I prefer not to say anything more. I can only say that I am very worried, together with my Yanomami people; the rest I have already said,” he commented.

Five days earlier, Kopenawa had been one of the guests of honour at the 12th International Literature Festival in Paraty in the southern state of Rio de Janeiro. He talked about the violence facing his people, when he presented his book “The Falling Sky: Words of a Yanomami Shaman”.

Violence against environmentalists and indigenous activists

The organisation Global Witness reported that nearly half of the murders of environmentalists committed in the world in the last few years were in Brazil. In the 2012-2013 period the total was 908 murders, 443 of which happened in this country.

The 2013 report by the Catholic Indigenous Missionary Council (CIMI) on violence against indigenous people in Brazil documented 53 victims of murder, 29 attempted murders, and 10 cases of death threats.

The executive secretary of CIMI, Cleber Buzatto, told IPS that threats against indigenous leaders had increased in the last year.

“Economic interests act together and mount violent attacks on the rights of indigenous people, especially in terms of their rights to their territory,” he added. “It’s a very touchy situation. The threats continue to occur because of the existing impunity and because the authorities have not taken effective action.”

“The landowners and garimpeiros have plenty of money to kill an Indian. The Amazon jungle belongs to us. She protects us from the heat; the rainforest is essential to all of us and for our children to live in peace,” he said.

He had previously denounced that “They want to kill me. I don’t do what white people do – track someone down to kill him. I don’t interfere with their work. But they are interfering in our work and in our struggle. I will continue fighting and working for my people. Because defending the Yanomami people and their land is my work.”

In its communiqué, HAY demanded that the police investigate the threats and provide Kopenawa with official protection.

“The suspicion is that the threats are in reprisal for the work carried out by the Yanomami, together with government agencies, to investigate and break up the networks of miners in the Yanomami TI in the last few years,” HAY stated.

Kopenawa and HAY provide the federal police with maps of mining sites, geographic locations, and information on planes and people circulating in the Yanomami TI. Their reports have made it possible to carry out operations against garimpeiros and encroaching landowners; the last large-scale one was conducted in February.

According to the federal police, in Roraima alone, illegal mining generates profits of 13 million dollars a month, and many of the earnings come from Yanomami territory.

Góes stressed to IPS that mining has more than just an economic impact on indigenous people.

“It causes an imbalance in the culture and lives of the Yanomami, and generates dependence on manufactured, artificial objects and food. It changes the entire Yanomami world vision. Mining also generates a lot of pollution in the rivers,” he complained.

“We know that in Brazil we unfortunately have a high rate of violence against indigenous leaders and social movements,” Wesley said. “Impunity reigns. Davi is a fighter, and will surely not be intimidated by these threats. He believes in his struggle, in the defence of his people and of the planet.”

In Brazil there is no specific programme to protect indigenous people facing threats.

Representatives of Brazil’s indigenous affairs agency, FUNAI, told IPS that a request from protection was received from Kopanawa and other HAY leaders, and that it was referred to the programme of human rights defenders in the Brazilian presidency’s special secretariat on human rights.

But they said that in order to receive protection, the Yanomami leader had to confirm that he wanted it, and the government is waiting for his response to that end.

In this country of 200 million people, indigenous people number 896,917, according to the 2010 census.

 

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Abuse of Older Women Overlooked and Underreportedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/abuse-of-older-women-overlooked-and-underreported/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=abuse-of-older-women-overlooked-and-underreported http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/abuse-of-older-women-overlooked-and-underreported/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 17:11:17 +0000 Chau Ngo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136134 Abusers are often family members, making victims reluctant to report the violence. Credit: Boris Bartels/cc by 2.0

Abusers are often family members, making victims reluctant to report the violence. Credit: Boris Bartels/cc by 2.0

By Chau Ngo
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

A veteran women’s rights activist, Patricia Brownell was still taken aback by the prevalence of abuse against older women she discovered during dozens of conversations she and her colleagues had with victims.

They found that for every one official report of abuse made by agencies in New York State, there are 23 self-reports, with the abusers ranging from husbands, sons, daughters and other relatives to complete strangers.“In many cases, the victims did not want to talk about it. They felt guilty. They felt it was their fault.” -- Patricia Brownell

“It’s underreported,” Brownell, vice president of the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, told IPS. “In many cases, the victims did not want to talk about it. They felt guilty. They felt it was their fault.”

Most research on the abuse of older women has focused on North America and Europe. A study conducted in five European countries in 2011 found that around 28 percent of older women had experienced abuse.

The situation in developing countries, where the socio-economic conditions are worse and the welfare system weaker, mostly remains unknown.

“It could be worse,” said Brownell, citing harmful traditional practices against widows or those accused of witchcraft in some developing countries. “It really introduces another dimension of abuse against older women. It’s community abuse.”

Violence directed against younger women has long overshadowed that against the elderly, who in some cases are more vulnerable. There has been so little research into the issue that activists said they do not know its full scope yet, hampering efforts to prevent and fight the violence.

Abuse of older women can take various forms, from physical, psychological and emotional (verbal aggression or threats), to sexual, financial (swindling, theft), and intentional or unintentional neglect, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Addressing the Fifth Working Group on Aging at the United Nations in New York, Silvia Perel-Levin, chair of the NGO Committee on Ageing in Geneva, showed how fragmented the picture is: the prevalence of abuse ranges from six percent to 44 percent of those surveyed, depending on the geographic location and socio-economic conditions. 

While there has been an increase in reports of abuse and violence against older women in the past few years, it does not necessarily mean the problem is worsening, Perel-Levin told IPS.

“I believe [violence and abuse] have always been there, but they were never investigated, never reported,” she said. “That was always a taboo. We don’t have enough data about violence against older women.”

A long-neglected issue

The issue has been neglected partly because of the misconception that older women are less likely to suffer from domestic violence, activists said. Studies on domestic violence and reproductive health tend to examine the situation of women under 49 years old. The age range has only been broadened recently.

“People may think that older women are not subject to rape, and that their husbands stop beating them because they are 50,” said Perel-Levin. “This is not true.”

For many women, the abuse begins later in life. The abusers are sometimes beloved family members, which complicates the situation, as the victims are reluctant to report the violence.

Living with an extended family does not guarantee protection, because in many cases, the sons and other family members are the abusers. In several Asian countries, the daughters-in-law, who are expected to take care of their husbands’ aged parents, sometimes turn out to be abusers, activists said.

In developing countries, the situation is difficult for the victims even when they report the abuses, said Kazi Reazul Hoque of the Bangladesh National Human Rights Commission.

The older women in that South Asian country most likely to face abuse and violence are from ethnic minorities and religious communities, Hoque, a former judge, told IPS. These are already weaker and poorer communities, which encouraged the offenders to commit violence.

“Even when they bring the case to the court, it’s still difficult for them to pursue ‘the war’,” he said. “How long can these poor people fight?”

Activists have been calling for more research into violence against older women, such as by U.N. Women, the United Nations agency for gender equality and women’s empowerment.

James Collins, representative to the United Nations of the International Council on Social Welfare, told IPS, “We will continue to raise this issue during the events of the Sustainable Development Goals. We’re here push for the rights of older people.”

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at ngocchau4009@gmail.com

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South Sudan Heads towards Famine Amid ‘Descent into Lawlessness’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudan-heads-towards-famine-and-descends-into-lawlessness/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-heads-towards-famine-and-descends-into-lawlessness http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/south-sudan-heads-towards-famine-and-descends-into-lawlessness/#comments Thu, 14 Aug 2014 10:17:08 +0000 Andrew Green http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136125 A woman living in a displacement site in Mingkaman, South Sudan, grinds grain that she received from humanitarian agencies during their monthly food distribution. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in South Sudan and many are now dependent on aid agencies for food, shelter and protection. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

A woman living in a displacement site in Mingkaman, South Sudan, grinds grain that she received from humanitarian agencies during their monthly food distribution. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced by the fighting in South Sudan and many are now dependent on aid agencies for food, shelter and protection. Credit: Andrew Green/IPS

By Andrew Green
JUBA, South Sudan , Aug 14 2014 (IPS)

Another deadline has passed. But instead of bringing about peace, the leaders of South Sudan’s warring parties have allowed the country to continue its slide toward famine.

Sunday was the deadline for the delegations of President Salva Kiir and his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar to present a final proposal for a unified transitional government that would end eight months of conflict.

Instead, the weekend brought more fighting.

Each new clash exacerbates the country’s already-desperate food security situation. The international community has warned that famine could arrive as early as December. At least 1.1 million people are facing emergency food shortages. And – until fighting actually stops – aid agencies do not have access to tens of thousands of people who need their help.“Attacks on civilians and destruction and pillage of civilian property lie at the heart of how this war has been fought.” -- Skye Wheeler, a researcher with Human Rights Watch

There are no indications from the field that the clashes will stop any time soon. On Tuesday, during a visit of the United Nations Security Council to South Sudan, U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power shared reports they had received “of more arms being brought into this country in order to set the stage for another battle.”

Meanwhile, in early August, a local militia group operating outside the command of either of the two forces tracked down and executed six aid workers in Upper Nile state, near the country’s border with Sudan. They chose their targets based on ethnic affiliation, perpetuating the tribal divisions that are driving this conflict.

By the time the two sides finally get to work in Addis Ababa, they may be drafting a solution to a situation over which they no longer have any control.

The now eight-month conflict began as a political squabble between Kiir and Machar over who would control the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement party. But it quickly stoked ethnic tensions as it moved across the eastern half of the country. Human rights violations became one of the grim hallmarks of the violence.

“Attacks on civilians and destruction and pillage of civilian property lie at the heart of how this war has been fought,” Skye Wheeler, a researcher with Human Rights Watch, said in an interview with IPS. Patients have been shot in their hospital beds and people sheltering in a mosque and at U.N. bases have been massacred. At least 10,000 people have been killed and 1.5 million more displaced.

Even as violence has become the norm across large swathes of the country, the targeted killings of aid workers and other Nuers living in Upper Nile state’s Maban County may have marked the transition to a more volatile stage in South Sudan’s conflict.

Maban, which hosts tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees, had been relatively untouched by the fighting. But that did not stop a local militia, calling itself the Mabanese Defence Force and with no obvious alliance to either side, from executing the Nuer civilians.

The U.N. Mission in South Sudan warned in a press release that Maban was now at risk of an “ongoing descent into lawlessness” – a lawlessness that, in the absence of a legitimate peace deal, could easily spread to other areas of the country as communities decide to exact their own forms of justice.

“We’ve seen how abuse has driven further violence and more abuses during reprisal attacks directed against civilians,” Wheeler said. The weekend brought reports that another armed group was on the march in Maban, this one to exact revenge for the killings earlier in August.

The consequences of the Maban murders could be further reaching.

The people living in the conflict regions – as well as tens of thousands of displaced – are almost completely dependent on the U.N. and non-governmental organisations for food, shelter and protection.

Humanitarians were already dealing with access issues amid the ongoing fighting, as well as funding shortages. The U.N. estimates aid agencies will need 1.8 billion dollars to reach 3.8 million people before the end of the year. So far they have raised just over half.

And while the situation does not yet meet the technical criteria to be declared a famine, “there is extreme suffering,” Sue Lautze, the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organisation country director, told IPS.

If aid workers become targets, the suffering will get much worse.

In Maban, a team from Medair, a humanitarian group currently providing emergency services in South Sudan, is responsible for operating clean water stations and running other health and hygiene services for the 60,000 people, including Sudanese refugees who live in the Yusuf Batil Camp, as well as members of the surrounding communities. Country Director Anne Reitsema said in an interview with IPS the attacks showed a “total disrespect for humanitarian actors.”

Following the attack, Medair temporarily pulled some staff members out of Maban, though leaving enough people to continue their operations. It’s too early to say when they will return, but Reitsema cautioned that the attack “makes it very hard for us to do our work.” The problem is, there is no one else to do it.

All of this – the increasing violence, the possible famine and another missed deadline – can be used as points “to shame” the two parties into an agreement that finally sticks, according to Jok Madut Jok, an analyst with the Sudd Institute, a local think tank.

It’s already happening. During her visit to Juba, Power said, “We do not see the urgency that needs to be brought to these negotiations.” And the international community has raised the threat of economic sanctions once again.

It’s a strategy that has not yet worked – the United States and European Union have already sanctioned a military leader on each side of the conflict. But neither has anything else the local and international community has tried. Which is why Jok expects more deadlines may come and go without anything being accomplished.

“The peace talks are about what each one of them hopes to walk away with from the peace talks, rather than peace, itself,” he told IPS.

Edited by: Nalisha Adams

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