Inter Press Service » Human Rights Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 30 Jul 2015 18:06:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Birth Registrations Plummet in Wake of Ebola Epidemic Thu, 30 Jul 2015 18:06:24 +0000 Kitty Stapp A nurse at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia explains the facility's options for family planning. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

A nurse at Redemption Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia explains the facility's options for family planning. Credit: Travis Lupick/IPS

By Kitty Stapp

Liberia’s Ebola epidemic may have subsided but its after-effects are still being felt, with tens of thousands of infants going unregistered at birth, the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF says.

Liberia had ranked second after Somalia among countries with the lowest levels of birth registration. But just before the Ebola outbreak, progress had been made in reversing this problem, which leaves children at risk of exploitation and raises hurdles to entering the school system.

In July 2010, a decentralised birth registration system was launched by the government, with support from UNICEF, PLAN Liberia, Crisis Management Initiative and other development partners.

In 2013, the births of 79,000 children were registered, representing about a quarter of all new births and a dramatic increase from the four percent in previous years.

But by 2014, when many health facilities had closed or had reduced services due to the Ebola response, the number of registrations fell to 48,000 – a 39 per cent decrease.

And just 700 children are reported to have had their births registered between January and May 2015.

“Children who have not been registered at birth officially don’t exist,” said Sheldon Yett, UNICEF’s Representative in Liberia. “Without citizenship, children in Liberia, who have already experienced terrible suffering because of Ebola, risk marginalization because they may be unable to access basic health and social services, obtain identity documents, and will be in danger of being trafficked or illegally adopted.”

The neighbouring countries of Guinea and Sierra Leone were also hit by the deadly virus, which weakened already fragile health systems. But in Sierra Leone, approximately 250,000 children were registered during a recent five-day birth registration and polio vaccination campaign.

UNICEF is now working to register nearly 70,000 Liberian children who weren’t registered during the outbreak.

The agency is supporting the revamp of the registration systems, and will assist with training, logistics, and outreach efforts prior to a planned nationwide campaign later this year, with the aim of reaching all children not registered in 2014 and 2015.

“No child should suffer the indignity, or not have protection from a state or other entities, and be unable to access basic services that are every child’s right just because of a lack of a registered identity,” says Yett. “We cannot, and should never let that happen.”

Altogether, more than 4,800 people died during Liberia’s Ebola outbreak, nearly half of all diagnosed cases. The country was still recovering from a devastating civil war that ended in 2003, and the virus proved especially deadly for health care workers.

According to the World Health Organization, they were 20-30 times more likely to contract the disease than the general public, given the number of patients they saw and treated.  More than 800 contracted Ebola, and more than 400 died, with the outcome of almost one quarter of the cases unknown – this in a country with just 50 doctors.

“Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone entered the Ebola epidemic with severely underfunded health systems,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “After a year of handling far too many severely ill patients, the surviving staff need support, better protection, compensation, and reinforcements. The existing facilities need a complete overhaul, and many new structures need to be built. If another outbreak strikes, the toll would be far worse.”

Edited by Thalif Deen

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Women, Peace and Security Agenda Still Hitting Glass Ceiling Thu, 30 Jul 2015 14:31:24 +0000 Nora Happel Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

Liberian National Police Officer Lois Dolo provides security at the third annual commemoration of the Global Open Day on Women, Peace and Security in Liberia. The event was themed “Women Demand Access to Justice”. Credit: UN Photo/Staton Winter

By Nora Happel

This October will mark the 15th anniversary of the adoption of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325. The landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) recognises not only the disproportionate impact armed conflict has on women, but also the lack of women’s involvement in conflict resolution and peace-making.

It calls for the full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction and urges member states to incorporate a gender perspective in all areas of peace-building and to take measures to protect women from sexual violence in armed conflict.The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen. We need a commitment to do it." -- Marcy Hersh

Since its passage, 1325 has been followed by six additional resolutions (1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2106 and 2122).

But despite all these commitments on paper, actual implementation of the WPS agenda in the real world continues to lag, according to humanitarian workers and activists.

Data by the U.N. and NATO show that women and girls continue to be disproportionately affected by armed conflict.

Before the Second World War, combatants made up 90 percent of casualties in wars. Today most casualties are civilians, especially women and children. Hence, as formulated in a 2013 NATO review, whereas men wage the war, it is mostly women and children who suffer from it.

Kang Kyung-wha Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator at the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), who spoke at a recent lecture series on WPS, cited as example the situation of women and girls on the border between Nigeria and Niger, where the average girl is married by 14 and has two children by age 18.

Secondary education for girls is almost non-existent in this area and risks of violence, sexual abuse, exploitation and trafficking are particularly high, she said.

“Thus marginalised and disempowered, [these women and girls] are unlikely to play any part in building stable communities and participate in the socio-economic development of their societies and countries,” Kang said.

“Despite 1325 and the successor resolutions…women and girls continue to be routinely excluded from decision-making processes in humanitarian responses as well as in peace-negotiations and peace-building initiatives.”

High expectations are placed on the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in May 2016 in Istanbul. Activists hope that the summit will help turn the numerous rhetorical commitments into concrete actions.

Marcy Hersh, Senior Advocacy Officer at Women’s Refugee Commission, who also spoke on the panel, told IPS: “Women and girls are gravely implicated in peace and security issues around the world, and therefore, they must be a part of the processes that will lead to their protection.”

“The key challenges in protecting women and children in emergencies, and ensuring women are able to participate in these processes, is not related to knowing what needs to happen…We need a commitment to do it. We need to see leadership and accountability in the international community for these issues.”

“If humanitarian leadership, through whatever mechanisms, can finally collectively step up to the plate and provoke the behavioral change necessary to ensure humanitarian action works with and for women and girls, we will have undertaken bold, transformative work.”

Another challenge in making the women, peace and security agenda a reality is linked to psychological resistance and rigid adherence to the traditional status quo. Gender-related issues tend to be handled with kid gloves due to “cultural sensitivity”, according to Kang Kyung-wha.

“But you can’t hide behind culture,” Kang said.

Also, women activists continue to face misogyny and skepticism in their communities and at the national level. Christine Ahn, co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute and former Senior Policy Analyst at the Global Fund for Women, told IPS that often enough the involvement of women in peace-keeping processes seems inconceivable to some of the men in power who hold key positions in international relations and foreign policy.

“They are calling us naive, dupes, fatuitous. Criticism is very veiled of course, we are in the 21st century. But even if it is a very subtle way in which our efforts are discounted, it is, in fact, patriarchy in its fullest form.”

Christine Ahn spoke at the second event of the lecture series at the United Nations. She is one of the 30 women who, in May 2015, participated in the Crossing of the De-Militarised Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea as part of a one-week long journey with North and South Korean women.

The project aimed at fostering civil society contacts between women in North and South Korea and promoting peace and reconciliation between the countries.

The symbolic act for peace at one of the world’s most militarised borders can be seen as a practical example of Security Council resolution 1325.

Ahn told IPS: “We will use resolution 1325 when we advocate that both of Korean women are able to meet because under each government’s national security laws they are not allowed to meet with the other – as it is considered meeting with the enemy.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Uneven MDG Progress Must Inspire Resolve to Do Much Better Wed, 29 Jul 2015 22:06:17 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram and Michael T. Clark 0 Workplace Diversity Still a Pipe Dream in Most U.S. Newsrooms Wed, 29 Jul 2015 20:32:50 +0000 Nora Happel Scenes from the Apollo 11 television restoration press conference held at the Newseum in Washington, DC on July 16, 2009. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/cc by 2.0

Scenes from the Apollo 11 television restoration press conference held at the Newseum in Washington, DC on July 16, 2009. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/cc by 2.0

By Nora Happel

Although the United States as a whole is becoming more ethnically diverse, newsrooms remain largely dominated by white, male reporters, according to a recent investigation by The Atlantic magazine.

It found that just 22.4 percent of television journalists, 13 percent of radio journalists, and 13.34 percent of journalists at daily newspapers came from minority groups in 2014.

While the percentage of minority groups in the U.S. has been steadily increasing, reaching a recent total of 37.4 percent of the U.S. population, the number of minority journalists, by contrast, has stayed at a constant level for years.

This is particularly true for the share of minority employment at newspapers, which has been staggeringly low – between 11 and 14 percent for more than two decades, as illustrated in a graphic by the Pew Research Center and the American Society of News Editors (ASNE).

Many say it is a major problem for a field that strives to represent and inform a diverse public, and worrisome for a medium that has the power to shape and influence the views and opinions of mass audiences.

“Journalism must deliver insight from different perspectives on various topics and media must reflect the public they serve. The risk is that by limiting media access to ethnic minorities, the public gets a wrong perception of reality and the place ethnic minorities have in society,” Pamela Morinière, Communications and Authors’ Rights Officer at the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), told IPS.

Under-representation of minority journalists has negative effects on the quality of reporting.

Speaking to IPS, Alfredo Carbajal, managing editor of Al Dia (The Dallas Morning News) and organiser for the ASNE Minority Leadership Institute, said, “The consequence [of ethnic minority groups’ under-representation] is that news coverage lacks the perspectives, expertise and knowledge of these groups as well as their specific skills and experiences because of who they are.”

ASNE President Chris Peck added: “If newsrooms cannot stay in touch with the issues, the concerns, hopes and dreams of an increasingly diverse audience, those news organisations will lose their relevance and be replaced.”

Commenting on the underlying reasons, both Carbajal and Peck underscored the lack of opportunities for minority students compared to their white counterparts.

“Legacy journalism organisations have relied too long on an established pipeline for talent. It’s a pipeline dominated by white, mostly middle class and upper middle class connections – schools, existing journalism leaders, media companies. It’s something of a self-perpetuating cycle that has been slow to evolve,” Peck said.

This argument is echoed in a recent analysis by Ph.D. student Alex T. Williams published in the Columbia Journalism Review. Confronted with the claim that newspapers cannot hire more minority journalists due to the lack of university graduates, Williams took a closer look at graduate and employment statistics provided by Grady College’s Annual Graduate Surveys.

He found that minorities accounted for 21.4 percent of graduates in journalism or communication between 2004 and 2013 – a number that is “not high” but “still not as low as the number of minority journalists working in newsrooms today.”.

The more alarming trend, he says, is that only 49 percent of graduates from minority groups were able to find full-time jobs after their studies. Numbers of white graduates finding employment, by contrast, amounted to 66 percent. This means the under-representation of ethnic minorities in journalism must be traced back to recruitment rather than to graduation numbers, he concluded.

A main reason why minority graduates have difficulty finding jobs, according to Williams, is that most newsrooms look for specific experiences such as unpaid internships that many minority students cannot afford. Also, minority students are more likely to attend less well-appointed colleges that might not have the resources to keep a campus newspaper or offer special networking opportunities.

Another reason is linked to newspapers’ financial constraints. Peck told IPS: “There is a challenge within news organisations to keep a diverse workforce at a time when the traditional media are economically challenged, even as new industries are actively looking to hire away talent that represents the changing American demographic.”

Further, union contracts favour unequal employment, according to Doris Truong, a Washington Post editor and acting president of Unity, who was quoted in 2013 article in The Atlantic.

“One piece of this puzzle is layoff policies and union contracts that often reward seniority and push the most recent hires to leave first. Many journalists of color have the least protected jobs because they’re the least senior employees.”

Different ideas and initiatives have been put forth to increase the representation of minority journalists.

Amongst the ideas expressed by Pamela Morinière are the inclusion of diversity reporting in student curricula, dialogues in newsrooms on the representation of minority groups, making job offers available widely and adopting equal opportunity and non-discrimination policies.

Chris Peck emphasises the importance of “home-grown talent”: “Identifying local students who have an interest in journalism and that have a connection to a specific locale will be a critical factor in the effort to diversify newsrooms. It’s a longer term effort to cultivate local talent. But it can pay off.”

“Second, I think it is important to tap social media to explain why journalism is still a dynamic field and invite digital natives to become part of it,” he said.

Civil society organisations such as UNITY Journalists for Diversity, a strategic alliance of several minority journalist associations, aim at increasing the representation of minority groups in journalism and promoting fair and complete coverage about diversity, ethnicity and gender issues.

The Asian American Journalists Association (AAJA) is part of the alliance. It seeks to advance specifically Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) journalists. Its president, Paul Cheung, told IPS: “AAJA believes developing a strong pipeline of talents as well as diverse sources are key to increase representation.”

“2015 will mark some significant milestones in AAJA’s history. AAJA will be celebrating 15 years of training multi-cultural high school students through JCamp, 20th anniversary of […] our Executive Leadership programmes and 25 years of inspiring college students to enter the field of journalism through VOICES.”

Ethnic minority journalists are not the only under-represented group at news outlets in the U.S. and around the world. The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media states that women represent only a third of the journalism workforce in the 522 companies in nearly 60 countries surveyed for the study. Seventy-three percent of the top management jobs are held by men, while only 27 percent are occupied by women.

“When it comes to women’s portrayal in the news, the situation is even worse,” Pamela Mornière told IPS.

“Women make up only 24 percent of people seen, heard or read about. They remain quite invisible, although they represent more than half of the world’s population. And when they make the news they make it too often in a stereotypical way. The impact of this can be devastating on the public’s perception of women’s place and role in society. Many women have made their way on the political and economic scene. Media must reflect that.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Obama Seeks August Deadline for End to South Sudan War Tue, 28 Jul 2015 10:09:23 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent President Barack Obama greets embassy staff and their families during a meet and greet at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, July 25, 2015, before going to Addis Ababa. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama greets embassy staff and their families during a meet and greet at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, July 25, 2015, before going to Addis Ababa. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By a Global Information Network correspondent
ADDIS ABABA, Jul 28 2015 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama, in a meeting with regional African leaders, threatened new sanctions for the warring factions in South Sudan if a peace deal is not be reached by Aug. 17.

“The possibilities of renewed conflict … is something that requires urgent attention from all of us,” Obama said. “We don’t have a lot of time to wait.”

Pres. Obama outlined the options at a meeting Monday in Addis Ababa with leaders of Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, the chair of the African Union and the foreign minister of Sudan. “Liberating” South Sudan, with support from the U.S., Britain and Norway, was supposed to be the high point of Obama’s Africa policy. Four years after independence, the nation is a humanitarian disaster.

In fighting showing no signs of letting up, thousands of people have been killed and more than 2.2 million displaced, since violence erupted in December 2013, according to the U.N. Human rights abuses and indiscriminate killings have been carried out by both sides – namely the South Sudanese government led by President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, and forces loyal to former Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.

At the session of leaders, Obama set an Aug. 17 deadline for a peace agreement signed by all combatants although no consensus was reached on Monday on what to do if the deadline comes and goes. Numerous sanctions were floated – an arms embargo and the freezing of assets and ability to travel – backed by the international community. Obama expressed his preference for sanctions over intervention, as proposed by one of the leaders.

Western diplomats have pushed countries in the region to withdraw support for the South Sudanese combatants in order to make peace. Uganda, for example, openly supports the South Sudan government. Sudan supports Machar’s rebels.

Those at the talks included Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, Sudanese Foreign Minister Ibrahim Ghandour and the chair of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

In a press briefing, a senior administration official told reporters that “venal leaders” had squandered a huge opportunity which the international community had helped them win. “So we can’t undo this for them,” he said, referring to the crisis. “They’ve got to fix this (themselves).”

Fighting has been fiercest in the Upper Nile and Unity States, where the nation’s two major oil fields are found. With the onset of the rainy season, an already dire situation has grown worse.

“Tens of thousands of people are cut off from aid and medical care as fighting intensifies in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State,” Doctors Without Borders, the international medical humanitarian organization, said in a statement last week.

Meanwhile, rebel spokesman James Gatdet welcomed Obama’s comments, saying “peace is possible”. But a spokesman for South Sudan rejected the plan and accused the international community of “jeopardizing the chances of the people of South Sudan.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Key Constituencies Call for Inclusion in Nepal’s Draft Constitution Mon, 27 Jul 2015 14:21:15 +0000 Post Bahadur Basnet Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

Women activists who say they played a key role in the country’s democratic turn in 2006 are up in arms over a new draft constitution that threatens to deepen gender inequality. Credit: Post Bahadur Basnet

By Post Bahadur Basnet
KATHMANDU, Jul 27 2015 (IPS)

Ending a years-long political deadlock, Nepal’s major political parties inked a 16-point agreement last June to pave the way for the Constituent Assembly (CA) to write a new constitution.

It marked the first time since the end of the Maoist insurgency and regime change in 2006 that the parties had reached such an important agreement on constitution drafting.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft." -- Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group
The CA prepared a preliminary draft based on the 16-point deal, and is currently seeking public feedback on the draft.

But numerous identity groups have challenged the draft, which was prepared by those parties that hold roughly 90 percent of seats in the 601-member CA.

The groups say the draft fails to address their demands of identity and inclusion.

A series of public hearings on the draft last week triggered violent protests in some parts of the country and many groups even burnt its copies.

With opposition groups taking to the streets, the major parties are likely to face a tough time in promulgating the constitution by mid-August.

There are four constituencies – ethnic groups, women, Dalits, and Hindu nationalists – that have put up stiff resistance to the CA move to promulgate a new constitution without bringing them onboard.

The draft states that the country would be federated by the parliament as per the recommendation of a soon-to-be-formed panel of experts.

But activists who have been vociferously demanding federalism say this is a major flaw in the draft.

“The draft defers the issue of federalism, violating the interim constitution. They are deferring the issue because they are reluctant to federate the country,” says Anil Kumar Jha, a leader of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party (NSP) that champions the rights of the Madheshi ethnic group from the country’s southern plains.

They say that political parties, dominated by Hindu high-caste males, are not interested in federalism and sharing powers with ethnic groups.

“We want powerful, autonomous provinces. If the federal government retains most of the powers, there is no meaning of federating the country. That’s why we cannot accept this draft,” Jha says.

Activists from the major ethnic groups want the CA to federate the country along ethnic lines. But such a move is not that easy as Nepal is home to more than 125 ethnic groups and most of the regions have mixed populations.

The major parties are deferring the issue in the hope that the passion for ethnic federalism will subside slowly and will enable them to work out a compromise formula for federalism.

Some of the ethnic groups have been marginalised since the formation of the Nepali state in the late 18th century and they see their liberation through the formation of autonomous provinces in their traditional homelands.

The Nepali state promoted the Nepali language, Hinduism and hill culture as an assimilation policy during the state formation process, which led to the domination of Hindu caste people.

For example, hill high-caste people, who make up 30.5 percent of the population, occupy 61.5 percent of jobs in the national bureaucracy, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index prepared by the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the state-run Tribhuvan University in Nepal.

Nepal adopted an inclusion policy after the regime change in 2006, but the ethnic groups want autonomy with the right to self-determination to promote their language, culture and economic rights.

Women activists, on the other hand, are opposed to the draft on the basis that the citizenship provisions contained therein are discriminatory and fail to honor them as ‘equal citizens’.

The draft states that ‘citizenship by birth’ will be granted only to those people whose fathers and mothers are Nepali citizens.

It means women have to establish the identity of the fathers of their children. Activists say single mothers will suffer form this provision. The children of single mothers will not be eligible for citizenship by descent unless the fathers accept them as their children.

Similarly, children born of Nepali mothers and foreign fathers will not get citizenship by birth unless the father is also a Nepali citizen by the time the children reach the legal age for citizenship (16 years).

So the activists want to change the provision into ‘father or mother’.

“It’s against the universal democratic norms. It [the draft] plans to make women dependent on males for citizenship of their children,” says Sapana Malla Pradhan, a women’s rights activist and lawyer.

In Nepal there are a significant number of people brought up by single mothers who have been struggling hard to get citizenship because the fathers have been out of contact or don’t acknowledge paternity.

“The provision is against the mandate of the people’s movement that led to regime change in 2006. Women participated in the movement enthusiastically because they wanted to become equal citizens,” Pradhan adds.

Women make up over half of the country’s population of 27.8 million people. The female literacy rate stands at 57.4 percent only, compared to 75 percent for men.

Less than 25 percent of women own land, according to the Multidimensional Social Inclusion Index. Far fewer women work for Nepal’s civil service than men – only one in seven bureaucrats is female.

Although parents would prefer to send all of their children to private schools, what often happens is that boys are sent to English-medium private schools while girls are sent to Nepali medium state schools.

Women’s political participation is very low. The interim constitution of Nepal ensures 33 percent representation for women in the national bureaucracy and legislatures, but the numbers are still grim. The good news is that the news draft has given continuity to this provision.

Similarly, Dalit activists say the new draft curtails their representation in the federal and provincial legislatures, among other things.

“The previous CA had agreed to give three percent [of proportional representation] and five percent extra seats to Dalits in federal and provincial legislatures respectively – in addition to their proportional representation in these bodies – as compensation for the centuries-old discriminatory state practices against Dalits. So we are against the draft,” says Min Bishwakarma, a CA member from the Dalit community.

A total of 43.63 percent of hill Dalits, who make up 8.7 percent of the total population, are below the poverty line, according to the National Living Standard Survey conducted in 2011.

Similarly 38.16 percent of Dalits in the southern plains, who make up 5.6 percent of the population, are below the poverty line. According to the survey, Dalit land holdings are small, and landlessness among Dalits is extreme – 36.7 Dalits in the hills and 41.4 percent Dalits in the plans are landless.

The most serious challenge to the draft however comes from the fourth largest party, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), which espouses the ideology of Hindu nationalism.

The first CA, which was elected in 2008, was dissolved four years later as none of the parties garnered the required two-thirds majority to draft a constitution.

The major political parties had reached a tentative agreement to promulgate a constitution by mid-August. But the task won’t be easy. They will have to face challenges not only from different identity groups, many of them historically marginalised, but also from the rising tide of Hindu nationalism.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N. Leads Youth Battling Intolerance, Racism and Extremism Mon, 27 Jul 2015 13:06:39 +0000 Thalif Deen Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, addresses the 2015 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Gabriela Rivadeneira, President of the National Assembly of Ecuador, addresses the 2015 Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Thalif Deen

When the 21-year-old Crown Prince of Jordan, Al Hussein bin Abdullah II, presided over a Security Council meeting last April, he was described as the youngest ever to chair one of the U.N.’s most powerful political bodies armed with powers to wage wars and declare peace.

The seat was temporarily his because Jordan held the rotating monthly presidency of the 15-member Security Council in April."Another Diversity Contest could be a possibility as indeed could many other initiatives that work the same way - summoning creative and constructive conscience to achieve very specific results.” -- Ramu Damodaran

“I told him (the Crown Prince) we are living in the twenty-first century and you are leading the world in the twenty-first century,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, following the meeting, which focused on the role of youth in countering violent extremism and promoting peace.

This is a very powerful era for youth, Ban said, and there is a very important role for educators to teach them what would be significant to become a global citizen, to become a leader in the future.

As the United Nations spearheads a major effort to end hate and extremism worldwide, it is turning to the world’s younger generation to lead the battle against intolerance, including homophobia, racism, gender-based discrimination and xenophobia.

The U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI), which was launched in 2010 and is playing a key role in countering extremism at the grassroots level, is described as an initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations in realising the universally accepted principles in human rights, literacy, sustainability and conflict resolution.

Currently, about 30 international networks of universities and other institutes of higher learn have endorsed UNAI – encouraging nearly a 1,000 individual institutions to join the grassroots campaign.

Ramu Damodaran, chief of the U.N. Academic Impact (UNAI) Secretariat in the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information (DPI), told IPS: “We have worked with educational institutions and other members of civil society for more than 11 years now in a seminar series titled ‘Unlearning Intolerance’.”

Last month, the UNAI collaborated with United Colours of Benetton’s “UnHate Foundation” (making sure it would not be misconstrued as a “UN Hate Foundation”) for a Diversity Contest to “showcase the engagement of young people around the world, and the innovation, energy and commitment they bring to personally-crafted solutions that address some of the world’s most pressing issues,” said Damodaran, who is also Deputy Director for Partnerships and Public Engagement.

When the U.N. Academic Impact was devised some six years ago, it was clear this should become one of its core principles, he added.

And “when the UnHate Foundation approached us with this initiative,” Damodaran told IPS, “we leapt at the opportunity since the project goes beyond talking or debating about the vital issues of diversity and respect, to actually funding specific projects – and as many as 10 of them – which further this goal.”

What is more, he said, every aspect is managed by students and young faculty – visualising a project, estimating its scope and costs and then, if it is selected, managing its successful execution.

The contest drew more than 100 entries from 31 countries worldwide with innovative ideas and solutions for tackling a wide range of issues, primarily intolerance, racism and extremism.

A panel of judges picked 10 winners who received 20,000 Euros each donated by United Colors of Benetton based in Italy.

Asked if it will be an annual event, he said: “We look forward to continued opportunities to work with the UnHate Foundation – another Diversity Contest could be a possibility as indeed could many other initiatives that work the same way, summoning creative and constructive conscience to achieve very specific results.”

The United Nations says the contest was noteworthy for several reasons.

First, rather than asking “amateurs” to simply write about world problems, this contest took a proactive approach and invited solutions and, even more ambitiously, gave them truly significant financial resources to carry out their solutions.

“This is real empowerment of civil society, and of youth, to change the world, as many of the winners rightly acknowledged in their reactions to winning the award,” said the United Nations in a statement released here.

The range of intolerance addressed was truly impressive, ranging from the empowerment and education of women, to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) rights, indigenous rights, and proposals to confront intolerance among major religions and conflicts between ethnic groups.

The 10 winners came from a wide range of nations: Burundi, Canada, China, Germany, India, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa and the United States.

The proposed projects are expected to facilitate secondary and tertiary educations for indigenous women in southern India; promote harmony and knowledge of each other’s faith among Christians, Hindus and Muslims in Pakistan; challenge prejudice and discrimination faced by LGBT peoples in India and Mexico; provide a safe space for women in China to discuss difficult issues; work to resolve conflicts over water in order to decrease ethnic conflict in Burundi; encourage greater acceptance of migrant populations in South Africa; promote acceptance of marginalised groups in Mexico; promote greater employment opportunities for Muslim women in Germany; document the voices of Mexican immigrants to the United States and portray the day to day lives and aspirations of Palestinians from diverse backgrounds.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general has identified several other UNAI initiatives that help the United Nations.

Ban said researchers from the University of Edinburgh were part of a team that addressed the origins of the Ebola virus that caused last year’s deadly outbreak.

The Dr. B.N. College of Architecture for Women in India is working with partners in Tanzania on sustainable housing.

Al-Farabi Kazakh National University is finding new models for renewable energy.

JF Oberlin University in Japan launched the UNAI’s youth branch called ASPIRE — Action by Students to Promote Innovation and Reform through Education.

And the Education Above All Foundation in Qatar, chaired by Sheikha Mozah, is defending the right of children to continue learning in danger zones.

In South Korea, Handong Global University continues its Global Entrepreneurship Training programmes to help young people create jobs, not just seek them.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Obama Walks Fine Line in Kenya on LGBTI Rights Sat, 25 Jul 2015 19:42:09 +0000 Aruna Dutt Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

Presidents Barack Obama and Uhuru Kenyatta wave to delegates at the Opening Plenary at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, in Nairobi, Kenya on July 25, 2015. Credit: U.S. Embassy Nairobi

By Aruna Dutt

U.S. President Barack Obama spoke in Nairobi at the end of a two-day visit Saturday, focusing on Kenya’s economy and the fight against terrorism, but also briefly touching on gay rights and discrimination.

“When you start treating people differently not because of any harm they are doing to anybody, but because they are different, that’s the path whereby freedoms begin to erode, and bad things happen,” Obama said at a joint press conference with Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta."You can't encourage change by staying silent." -- Charles Radcliffe

But LGBTI Kenyans are not in agreement about whether Obama’s presence will help or hurt their struggle, according to the Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Jessica Stern.

“The difference of views is a sign of the strength and diversity of the Kenyan LGBTI movement, but there’s no question that this is a potential minefield, and ultimately, those who stand to get hurt most are regular Kenyans,” she told IPS.

Some have argued that the U.S. president speaking out on LGBTQ human rights in Kenya was counterproductive in the past, and has made the people of Kenya, where same-sex relations are punishable by up to 14 years in prison, more homophobic and unsupportive of the LGBTQ community.

Anti-gay organisations like the Kenya Christian Professionals Forum claim that they gained more support due to President Obama’s comments in 2013, along with some American policies, likely because the protection of LGBTQ communities is widely viewed as an American value being imposed on African society.

After Obama’s comments Saturday, President Kenyatta stated that in Kenya, it is “very difficult to impose” gay rights because the culture is different from the United States, and the societies do not accept it – which makes it a “non-issue” to the government of Kenya.

“There’s been a deliberate attempt to portray homosexuality as a Western import, which it isn’t,” the U.N. adviser on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, Charles Radcliffe, told IPS. “The only Western imports in this context are the homophobic laws used to punish and silence gay people,” these laws mostly originating from 19th century British colonialism.

By speaking on LGBTQ human rights abuses, Obama is “imposing human values, not Western ones,” says Radcliffe. “It’s possible to respect tradition, while at the same time insisting that everyone — gay people included — deserve to be protected from prejudice, violence, and unfair punishment and discrimination.”

Radcliffe said he believes Obama and other leaders should speak out, as it will “open people’s eyes to the existence of gay Kenyans and the legitimacy of their claim to respect and recognition.”

Radcliffe advises prominent individuals to take their lead from members of the local LGBT community – who are best placed to advise on what interventions are likely to help, and which ones risk making things more difficult.

“LGBT activists are too often isolated in their own countries; they need the support of fellow human rights activists, women’s rights activists and others campaigning for social justice. Public opinion tends to change when individual members of the public get to know LGBT individuals and realise they are people too. The government should hasten that process, not obstruct it. ”

Radcliffe notes that “you can’t encourage change by staying silent.”

According to Stern, “LGBTI Kenyans have been fighting their own heroic struggle for years, but the extremists have seized upon this opportunity to undermine their credibility as Kenyans.  All Kenyans, gay and straight, lose when there’s this kind of media spin doctoring.”

Stern urged leaders like Obama and the media not to undermine an opportunity to address a spectrum of human rights abuses Kenyans are living with. Instead, she says there should be a focus on concerns which are being left by the wayside, such as the lack of police accountability, abuse by government security forces, abuse of Somali and Muslim communities, and a crackdown on NGOs, among many others.

“If the mechanisms for government accountability are weak, human rights of all stripes will suffer,” says Stern. “Kenyan activists of all stripes, including those working on LGBTI rights, are protesting corruption in government.  They’ve continued calling for accountability for violence in 2007/2008 after elections.

“They’re defending people who’ve been arbitrarily arrested and charged, such as two men in Kwale County being tried under the ‘unnatural offenses law’. They’ve documented hundreds of extrajudicial killings by police in recent years, and they’ve called for police guilty of violence and theft to be disciplined and prosecuted.”

According to Human Rights Watch, Kenya continues to be plagued by corruption at all levels of government with limited accountability.

For example, although both presidents Kenyatta and Ruto campaigned for elected office on pledges to continue their cooperation with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has charged both presidents with crimes against humanity in the past, their campaigns later painted the ICC as a tool of Western imperialism, and encouraged other African leaders to undermine the ICC.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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UAE Cracks Down on Religious Extremism Fri, 24 Jul 2015 14:26:08 +0000 Jane Grey By Jane Grey
NEW YORK, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

The United Arab Emirates is cracking down on hate crimes with tough legislation that prescribes up to 10 years in prison or the death penalty if convicted of “takfirism” or Sunni Muslim extremism, according to the text of the decree distributed by the official WAM news agency.

The new law includes provisions to “safeguard people regardless of their origin, beliefs or race, against acts that promote religious hate and intolerance” and also “makes it illegal to discriminate against individuals or groups on the basis of religion, caste, doctrine, race, colour or ethnic origin.”

Islam is the majority religion in the UAE, with a division of approximately 85 percent Sunni and 15 percent Shi’a.

The nation’s Constitution already provides for freedom of religion in accordance with established customs, although Islam is the official religion.

The new legislation has received broad support from UAE academic and experts. The chairman of the board of directors of Emirates Human Rights Association (EHRA), Mohammad Salem Al Kaabi, said that the law allows the people of 200 nationalities in the country to “live in peaceful co-existence”.

“I think the existence of such laws is an urgent need for all countries, especially amid many messages of concern that incite racial hatred on social networking sites,” he told The National.

The Islamic European Council (IEC) also hailed the move and called on the governments of Islamic countries, members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and member states of the United Nations to follow suit in order to activate U.N. Resolution No. 65/224 on Combating Defamation of Religions.

In a statement, D.r Mohammed Al Bashari, Secretary-General of the IEC, said that under the rapid regional and international changes that threaten global peace, it has become necessary to pass a law criminalising the defamation of religions in all the Islamic countries.

The Anti-Discriminatory Law also prohibits any act that would be considered as insulting God, his prophets or apostles or holy books or houses of worship or graveyards.

Writing in The National, Dr Hasan Al Subaihi and Taryam Al Subaihi, journalists and political/social commentators, note that “Religious discrimination was – and still is – a worldwide problem. The Arab world has had its fair share of internal conflicts because of religion, and many of these fights go far beyond the struggle between Shias and Sunnis.”

To name just a few, they said, the Middle East has communities of Alawites, Berbers, Copts, Druze, Kurds, Jews, Yazidis, Assyrians, Shias and Sunnis.

“The new anti-discrimination law issued by President Sheikh Khalifa has put into writing what the people and leadership of the UAE have practised since before the birth of the nation and what is, in fact, not only part of the UAE culture but also the religion of Islam: tolerance.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Faith Leaders Issue Global “Call to Conscience” on Climate Fri, 24 Jul 2015 08:36:34 +0000 A. D. McKenzie Patricia Gualinga (right), a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told the Summit of Conscience for the Climate in Paris: “We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Patricia Gualinga (right), a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told the Summit of Conscience for the Climate in Paris: “We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

“We received a garden as our home, and we must not turn it into a wilderness for our children.”

These words by Cardinal Peter Turkson summed up the appeal launched by dozens of religious leaders and “moral” thinkers at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate, a one-day gathering in Paris earlier this week aimed at mobilising action ahead of the next United Nations climate change conference (COP 21) scheduled to take place in the French capital in just over four months.

“The single biggest obstacle to changing course [over climate change] is our minds and hearts” – Cardinal Peter Turkson, an adviser for Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change
“Our prayerful wish is that governments will be as committed at COP 21 as we are here,” said Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and one of the advisers for Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change, released in June.

With the theme of “Why Do I Care”, the Summit of Conscience drew participants from around the globe, representing the world’s major religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – and other faiths and movements.

Government representatives also joined activists from environmental groups, indigenous communities and the arts sector to call for an end to the world’s “throw-away consumerist culture” and the “disastrous indifference to the environment”, as Turkson put it.

“The single biggest obstacle to changing course is our minds and hearts,” he said, after pointing out that “climate change is being borne by those who have contributed least to it”.

The summit was used to highlight an international “Call to Conscience for the climate” and to launch a new organisation called ‘Green Faith in Action’, aimed at raising awareness about environmental and sustainable development issues among adherents of different religions.

Participants drew up a letter that will be delivered to the 195 state parties at COP 21, signed by summit speakers including Prince Albert II of Monaco; Sheikh Khaled Bentounès, Sufi Master of the Alawiya in Algeria; Rajwant Singh, director of an international network called Eco Sikh; and Nigel Savage, president of the Jewish environmental organisation Hazon.

Voicing the concerns of religious groups and faith leaders, the letter is equally a reflection of the challenges faced by indigenous communities, who made their voices heard in Paris, describing attacks on their territories and way of life by the petroleum industry, for example.

“We’re not some kind of folkloric tradition, we’re living beings,” said Valdelice Veron, spokesperson of the Guarani-Kaoiwa people of Brazil, who delivered her speech in traditional dress.

She and other indigenous delegates spoke of their culture also being decimated by the practice of mono-cropping, where large soybean plantations are causing ecological damage.

“We’re here because we want the voices of indigenous people to be heard,” Patricia Gualinga, a representative of the Serayaku community in the Amazonic part of Ecuador, told IPS.

“We share all the concerns about the climate and we too are being affected in many different ways,” she said.

Ségolène Royal, the French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy who spoke near the end of the summit, said the participants’ appeal was “first and foremost, an appeal for action”.

“Climate change should be considered as an opportunity – for business, technology, [and other sectors],” Royal said. “We need to pave the way together.”

Three participants at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate stand  together for a photo. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Three participants at the Summit of Conscience for the Climate stand together for a photo. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

For Samantha Smith, leader of the “Global Climate and Energy Initiative” at green group WWF, the Summit of Conscience reflected a “really big and unprecedented social mobilisation” of civil society, which she hopes will continue beyond COP 21.

“When I read the latest climate science report, it keeps me awake at night. But when I see the mobilisation and the strength of the conviction, I’m optimistic,” Smith said in an interview on the sidelines of the summit.

“Now is not the time to focus on where we disagree. Now is the time to work together,” she added.

But not everyone is invited to the same table – the alliances do not necessarily extend to companies in the fossil fuel industry, said Smith.

“When I say that we need to be united, it doesn’t mean that we need to be united with the fossil fuel industry,” Smith told IPS. “That is an industry which has contributed vastly to the problem and so far is not showing a very substantial contribution to the solution.”

The business sector, including oil producers, held their own conference in May, titled the Business & Climate Summit. At that event, which also took place in Paris, around 2,000 representatives of some of the world’s largest companies declared that they wanted “a global climate deal that achieves net zero emissions” and that they wished to see this achieved at COP 21.

Then at the beginning of July, hundreds of local authority representatives, civil society members and other “non-state actors” took part in the World Summit on Climate & Territories in Lyon, France.

There, participants pledged to take on the “challenge” of keeping global temperatures below a 2 degree Celsius increase “by aligning their daily local and regional actions with the decarbonisation of the world economy scenario”.

The scientific community also held their meeting on climate this month at the Paris headquarters of the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

At most of these conferences, French president François Hollande has been a keynote speaker, reiterating his message that the stakes are high and that governments need to show commitment to reach a legally binding, global accord at COP 21, which will take place from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11.

“We need everyone’s commitment to reach this accord,” Hollande said at the Summit of Conscience. “We need the heads of state and government … local actors, businesses. But we also need the citizens of the world.”

Even as he delivered his speech, another conference on the climate was taking place – at the Vatican, with the mayors of about 60 cities meeting with Pope Francis to formulate a pledge on combating greenhouse gas emissions.

Mayors from around the world will meet again, in Paris during COP 21, through an initiative organised by the Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, and by Michael Bloomberg, U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change and former mayor of New York. Billed as the Climate Summit for Local Leaders, this meeting will be held Dec. 4 and should bring together 1,000 mayors.

A question that some observers have been asking, however, is how does one cut through all the grandiose and repetitive speeches at these incessant “summits” and get to real, sustainable action?

Nicolas Hulot, the “Special Envoy of the French President for the Protection of the Planet” and the main organiser of the Summit of Conscience, said he has faced similar queries.

“I’ve been asked ‘what is this going to be useful for’,” he said. “But a light has emerged today, and I hope it will light us up.”

Hulot sought to encourage indigenous groups and others who had travelled from South America, Africa and other regions to Paris for the event, promising them continued support.

“Don’t you doubt the fact that we’re all involved, and we’ll never give in to despair,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody hears your message because we heard it.”

Edited by Phil Harris

The writer can be followed on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

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New Plan Would Aggravate the Troubles of Chile’s Beleaguered Pensioners Fri, 24 Jul 2015 07:51:40 +0000 Marianela Jarroud A group of Chilean pensioners demanding respect for their rights during an activity in Santiago this month, organised to promote the rights of women in this country. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

A group of Chilean pensioners demanding respect for their rights during an activity in Santiago this month, organised to promote the rights of women in this country. Credit: Claudio Riquelme/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

The already precarious situation of pensioners in Chile will get even worse if a controversial initiative is approved. Under the new plan, the elderly would mortgage their homes to increase their meagre pensions, most of which come from prívate pension funds, and which average 230 dollars a month.

“This plan is a ruse, a dirty trick,” Nuvia Zambrano, a pensioner, told IPS. “If we can hardly survive on our pensions, how could we afford the mortgage payments? Our homes would be left to the banks,” said the former high school biology teacher who retired 10 years ago.

The reverse mortgage plan, presented by opposition legislators and backed by governing coalition lawmakers, would create a contract between the homeowner and a government institution. Based on the value of the property, and the calculation of the owner’s life expectancy, the period for payment and monthly payments until the end of their life would be set.

The pensioners would continue to live in their homes until they died. After that, their heirs could buy back the property for the amount already paid or hand it over to finish paying off the mortgage.

But experts say the new plan would create “a new psychological burden for older adults,” who already live their last years in debt and with pensions that in many cases do not cover the cost of living.

Chile’s pension system, based on mandatory individual retirement accounts, was introduced in 1981 by the military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

Under the system, workers deposit at least 10 percent of their wages into personal accounts managed by private pension funds (AFPs).

The capital is then invested in shares in large companies and banks in Chile or abroad, which generate returns.

According to the Fundación Sol, a labour think tank, the pension funds have earned more than 5.8 bilion dollars so far, from the lucrative business of mandatory individual accounts.“Our pensions don’t cover the cost of living; they might as well just give us poison instead, because you die of hunger anyway.” -- Nuvia Zambrano

Meanwhile, nine out of 10 pensioners in Chile receive less than 230 dollars a month, equivalent to 66 percent of the monthly mínimum wage of 373 dollars, according to the respected think tank.

Prior to the pension reform, Chile had a public pay-as-you-go system.

“Back then they said the new system was wonderful,” Marianela Zambrano, Nuvia’s sister, told IPS. “I was just coming back from exile in Denmark and didn’t have much idea of how it worked.

“Now I know it’s the theft of a century, a disgusting theft, an injustice,” she said angrily.

The 62-year-old English teacher who worked for over 30 years receives a pension today of just 334 dollars a month. Her rent payment alone eats up 186 dollars.

“Our pensions don’t cover the cost of living; they might as well just give us poison instead, because you die of hunger anyway,” she said, bitterly.

Today, only a handful of countries have pension systems similar to Chile’s: Dominican Republic, Israel, Nigeria, Maldives, Malawi, Kosovo and Australia – although Australia ensures a basic pension of 1,000 dollars a month for many of the country’s older adults.

Among Chile’s neighbours, Argentina switched back from a mixed system to a traditional pay-as-you-go scheme, in 2008.

Uruguay, meanwhile, has a mixed system consisting of a public pay-as-you-go regime combined with individual accounts. It was modified in 2005 though a labour reform, which increased wages and gave trade unions a stronger role.

In Chile, on the other hand, the system put in place by the dictatorship in 1981 has been operating for 35 years and the democratic governments that have ruled the country since 1990 have shown no intention of modifying it.

The centre-left governments, including the current administration headed by socialist President Michelle Bachelet, and the administration of her right-wing predecessor Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014), only introduced measures to ensure pensions for those excluded by the AFPs.

“This system has been tremendously successful with regard to one objective: financing the economy, injecting fresh capital to capitalise companies or economic groups,” Fundación Sol economist Gonzalo Durán told IPS.

In this South American country of 17.5 million people, women retire at the age of 60 and men at 65. But in practice, both men and women tend to work until at least the age of 70.

The prívate pension funds determine life expectancy, which varies depending on gender and other factors, using actuarial life tables.

Life expectancy in Chile stands at 83 years for women and 76 for men, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

But according to the AFPs, Chilean women have a life expectancy of 89 and men, 85.

Each pensioner’s projected lifespan, and the resulting number of monthly payments, are calculated according to the life table. Their heirs can later inherit a monthly pension, which the AFP determines based on what is left of the pensioner’s lifelong savings. That depends on factors such as the educational level of the sons and daughters.

According to the Superintendencia de Pensiones, the government agency that oversees the pension funds, in December 2014 nearly seven of every 10 Chileans between the ages of 55 and 60 had roughly 31,000 dollars in their individual accounts – an amount that does not ensure a pension of over 155 dollars a month.

“The pension system plays a major role in the concentration of income and the problem of inequality, which we have to hold a debate about,” said Durán.

He added that the system is a key component of Chile’s neoliberal model.

Durán said the private pension fund system is not meeting the goal of providing social security in Chile, where the estimated cost of a family’s basic needs is 264 dollars a month, and medications can cost three times what they cost in Argentina or Peru.

As a result, older adults are impoverished and have no choice but to continue working after retirement to compensate for their small pensions. They are also in debt.

The most important reform of Chile’s pension system was carried out in 2008, during President Bachelet’s first term (2006-2010). It benefited the poorest 60 percent of the elderly. Her administration introduced a 133-dollar a month public pension for people who never paid into a retirement scheme, such as street vendors, the self-employed, homemakers or small farmers. In addition, the lowest pensions were topped up.

This scenario “is suspicious,” said Durán, because while pensions are low, “the system brings big benefits to prívate companies” – unlike a pay-as-you-go scheme.

“There is a legitimate suspicion that they don’t want to change the system in order not to deprive the companies of the profits they are earning. If that turns out to be true, it’s very serious,” he said.

For now the government says it will not back the controversial bill. But the lawmakers who are behind it say they will continue to push for it to be passed. And it has support on both sides of the political spectrum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Opinion: European Federalism and Missed Opportunities Fri, 24 Jul 2015 07:32:41 +0000 Emma Bonino

In this column Emma Bonino, a leading member of the Radical Party, former European Commissioner and a former Italian foreign minister, argues that serious problems affecting Europe, like the Greek crisis and waves of migration, could have been addressed more quickly and efficiently if the European Union had embraced federalism.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Jul 24 2015 (IPS)

“A serious political and social crisis will sweep through the euro countries if they do not decide to strengthen the integration of their economies. The euro zone crisis did not begin with the Greek crisis, but was manifested much earlier, when a monetary union was created without economic and fiscal union in the context of a financial sector drugged on debt and speculation.”

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

These words, which are completely relevant today, were written by a group of federalists, including Romano Prodi, Giuliano Amato, Jacques Attali, Daniel Cohn-Bendit and this author, in May 2012.

Those with a federalist vision are not surprised that the crisis in Greece has dragged on for so many years, because they know that a really integrated Europe with a truly central bank would have been able to solve it in a relatively short time and at much lower cost.

In this region of 500 million people, another example of the inability to solve European problems was the recent great challenge of distributing 60,000 refugees among the 28 member countries of the European Union. Leaders spent all night exchanging insults without reaching a solution.

Unless the federalist programme – namely, the gradual conversion of the present European Union into the United States of Europe – is adopted, the region will not really be able to solve crises like those of Greece and migration.

It can be stated that European federalism – which would complete Europe’s unity and integration – is now more necessary than ever because it is the appropriate vehicle for overcoming regional crises and starting a new phase of growth, without which Europe will be left behind and subordinated not only to the United States but also to the major emerging powers.“Unless the federalist programme – namely, the gradual conversion of the present European Union into the United States of Europe – is adopted, the region will not really be able to solve crises like those of Greece and migration”

Furthermore, its serious and growing social problems – such as poverty, inequality and high unemployment especially among young people – will not be solved.

Within the federalist framework there is, at present, only the euro, while all the other institutions or sectoral policies (like defence, foreign policy, and so on) are lacking.

Excluding such large items of public spending as health care and social security, there are however other government functions which, according to the theory of fiscal federalism (the principle of subsidiarity and common sense), should be allocated to a higher level, that of the European central government.

Among them are, in particular: defence and security, diplomacy and foreign policy (including development and humanitarian aid), border control, large research and development projects, and social and regional redistribution.

Defence and foreign policy are perhaps considered the ultimate bastions of state sovereignty and so are still taboo. However, the progressive loss of influence in international affairs among even the most important European countries is increasingly evident.

To take, for instance, the defence sector: as Nick Witney, former chief executive of the European Defence Agency, has noted: “most European armies are still geared towards all-out warfare on the inner-German border rather than keeping the peace in Chad or supporting security and development in Afghanistan.

“This failure to modernise means that much of the 200 billion euros that Europe spends on defence each year is simply wasted,” and “the EU’s individual Member States, even France and Britain, have lost and will never regain the ability to finance all the necessary new capabilities by themselves.”

It should be noted that precisely because the mission of European military forces has changed so radically, it is nowadays much easier, in principle, to create new armed forces from scratch (personnel, armaments, doctrines and all) instead of persisting in the futile attempt to reconvert existing forces to new missions, while at the same time seeking to improve cooperation between them.

Why should it be possible to create a new currency and a new central bank from scratch, and not a new army?

Common defence spending by the 28 European Union countries amounts to 1.55 percent of European GDP. Hence, a hypothetical E.U. defence budget of one percent of GDP appears relatively modest.

However, it translates into nearly 130 billion euros, which would automatically make the E.U. armed forces an effective military organisation, surpassed only by that of the United States, and with resources three to five times greater than those available to powers like Russia, China or Japan.

It would also mean saving an estimated 60 to 70 billion euros, or more than half a percentage point of European GDP, compared with the present situation.

Transferring certain government functions from national to European level should not give rise to a net increase in public spending in the whole of the European Union, and could well lead to a net decrease because of economies of scale.

Taking the example of defence, for the same outlay a single organisation is certainly more efficient than 28 separate ones. Moreover, as demonstrated by experiences with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) during the Cold War, efforts to coordinate independent military forces always produced disappointing results and parasitic reliance on the wealthier providers of this common good. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee/Edited by Phil Harris    

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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Clean Water Another Victim of Syria’s War Fri, 24 Jul 2015 02:07:40 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has trebled the volume of emergency supplies trucked into Syria from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day. Credit: Bigstock

By Kanya D'Almeida

Caught in the grips of a summer heat-wave, in a season that is seeing record-high temperatures worldwide, residents of the war-torn city of Aleppo in northern Syria are facing off against yet another enemy: thirst.

The conflict that began in 2011 as a popular uprising against the reign of Bashar al-Assad is now well into its fifth year with no apparent sign of let-up in the fighting between multiple armed groups – including the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Caught in the middle, Syria’s civilians have paid the price, with millions forced to flee the country en masse. Those left inside are living something of a perpetual nightmare, made worse earlier this month by an interruption in water supplies.

While some services have since been restored, the situation is still very precarious and international health agencies are stepping up efforts in a bid to stave off epidemics of water-borne diseases.

“These water cuts came at the worst possible time, while Syrians are suffering in an intense summer heat wave,” Hanaa Singer, Syria representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said in a statement released Thursday.

“Some neighborhoods have been without running water for nearly three weeks leaving hundreds of thousands of children thirsty, dehydrated and vulnerable to disease.”

An estimated 3,000 children – 41 percent of those treated at UNICEF-supported clinics in Aleppo since the beginning of the month – reported mild cases of diarrhoea.

“We remain concerned that water supplies in Aleppo could be cut again any time adding to what is already a severe water crisis throughout the country,” Singer stated on Jul. 23.

The U.N. agency has blasted parties to the conflict for directly targeting piped water supplies, an act that is explicitly forbidden under international laws governing warfare.

As it is, heavy fighting in civilian areas and the resulting displacement of huge numbers of Syrians throughout the country has been extremely taxing on the country’s fragile water and sanitation network.

There have been 105,886 cases of acute diarrhoea in the first half of 2015, as well as a rapid rise in the number of reported cases of Hepatitis A.

In Deir-Ez-Zour, a large city in the eastern part of Syria, the disposal of raw sewage in the Euphrates River has caused a health crisis among the population dependent on it for cooking, washing and drinking, with UNICEF reporting over 1,000 typhoid cases in the area.

To date, UNICEF has delivered 18,000 diarrhoea kits to help sick children and is now working with its partners on the ground to provide enough water purification tablets for about a million people.

With fuel prices on the rise – touching 2.6 dollars per litre this month in the northwestern city of Idleb – families pushed into poverty by the conflict have been forced to cut back on their water consumption.

Water pumping stations have also drastically reduced the amount of water per person – limiting supplies to just 20 litres a day.

UNICEF’s efforts to deliver water treatment supplies took a major hit earlier this year when the border crossing with Jordan was closed in April, a route the agency had traditionally relied on to provide half a million litres of critical water treatment material monthly.

Despite this setback, the Children’s Fund has trebled the volume of emergency supplies from 800,000 to 2.5 million litres of water a day, amounting to 15 litres of water per person for some 200,000 people.

Organisations like OXFAM, the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are all assisting the United Nations in its efforts to sustain the Syrian people.

In addition to trucking in millions upon millions of litres of water each month, UNICEF has also helped drill 50 groundwater wells capable of proving some 16 million litres daily.

Still, about half a million Aleppo residents are at their wits’ end trying to collect adequate water for families’ daily needs.

Throughout Syria, some 15 million people are dependent on a limited and vulnerable water supply network.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mideast Arms Build-up Negative Fallout from Iran Nuclear Deal Thu, 23 Jul 2015 21:02:36 +0000 Thalif Deen In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

In an exercise, a Kuwaiti F18 Hornet fighter aircraft stages an attack on Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS St Albans. Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States. Credit: Simmo Simpson/OGL license

By Thalif Deen

The nuclear agreement concluded last week between Iran and six big powers, the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany, is threatening to trigger a new Middle East military build-up – not with nuclear weapons but with conventional arms, including fighter planes, combat helicopters, warships, missiles, battle tanks and heavy artillery.

The United States is proposing to beef up the military forces of some of its close allies, such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, with additional weapons systems to counter any attempts by Iran to revitalise its own armed forces when U.N. and U.S. sanctions are eventually lifted releasing resources for new purchases.“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal." -- Dr. Natalie J. Goldring

All six countries, members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), are predominantly Sunni Muslims as against Shia Iran.

According to one news report, the administration of President Barack Obama is also considering an increase in the hefty annual 3.0-billion-dollar military grant – free, gratis and non-repayable – traditionally provided to Israel over the years to purchase U.S weapons systems.

The proposed increase is being described as a “consolation prize” to Israel which has denounced the nuclear deal as a “historic mistake.”

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS although the nuclear agreement with Iran is likely to aid nuclear nonproliferation efforts, it may also result in a dangerous increase in the proliferation of conventional weapons to the region.

“Even though the agreement was just signed on July 14th, countries are apparently already jockeying to see what U.S. conventional weapons they can get out of the deal,” she said.

On the other hand, the longstanding sanctions against transfers of major conventional weapons, missiles, and missile systems to Iran will continue for several years under the nuclear agreement, she pointed out.

Even so, Gulf states and Israel are reportedly already lining up for more weapons from the United States.

As usual, their argument seems to be that the weapons are needed for their own defence, she added.

“But who are they defending against? Is the presumed adversary Iran, which remains under a conventional weapons embargo? And who has the military advantage?” asked Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

According to The New York Times, she said, Iran’s military budget is only about a tenth of the combined military budgets of the Sunni states and Israel.

The Times said the Arab Gulf nations spend a staggering 130 billion dollars annually on defence while Iran’s annual military budget is about 15 billion dollars.

Israel spends about 16 billion dollars annually on its defence, plus the 3.0 billion it receives as U.S. military grants.

Nicole Auger, Middle East & Africa Analyst and International Defense Budgets Analyst at Forecast International, a leading U.S. defence research company, told IPS the Times figures are pretty much on target.

Furthermore, she said, the Sunni dominated nations (read: Gulf states) and Israel have strengths that their Iranian rival does not.

“Despite Iran’s manpower advantage and large arsenal of rockets and missiles, the GCC combined and Israel have far greater air power capabilities, not to mention superior aircraft platforms,” said Auger, author of International Military Markets, Middle East & Africa.

The modern, Western hardware purchased through the past decade stands in direct contrast to the ageing inventory of Iranian forces, she added.

Currently, Israel and all six GCC countries are armed with state-of-the art fighter planes, mostly from the United States.

Israel’s air force is equipped with F-16s, Saudi Arabia, with F-15s and Eurofighter Typhoons, UAE, with F-16s. Kuwait, with Boeing F/A-18C Fighters and Qatar, with Dassault-Mirage 2000-5, eventually to be replaced with the Rafale fighter plane both from France.

Auger said Iran’s most modern fighter is the MiG-29, delivered in the early 1990s.

The rest of the fighter force includes aged U.S.-supplied F-14s, F-4s, and F-5s, as well as Russian-supplied Su-24 attack jets and Dassault Aviation Mirage F-1AD fighter-bombers.

But most of them have remained grounded for lack of spares due to economic and military sanctions by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.

Dr Goldring told IPS it has to be acknowledged that the United States and its negotiating partners have secured an important agreement with Iran, which should make it more difficult for Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

This agreement should also significantly reduce the likelihood of a U.S. war with Iran. The agreement is a good deal for the United States, its negotiating partners, its allies in the Middle East, and Iran, she added..

Still, the U.S. government is once again contemplating providing highly sophisticated weapons to Middle Eastern nations, even though some of the prospective recipients have horrendous human rights records and questionable internal stability.

Continuing to sell our most modern weapons and technologies also makes it more likely that U.S. military officials will soon be testifying before Congress that they need new weapons systems because the current technologies have already been dispersed around the world, she noted.

“We’ve seen this script before. This approach ignores the risks posed by weapons transfers, and increases the risk that our military personnel will end up fighting our own weapons,” said Dr Goldring.

She pointed out that the prospect of increasing conventional weapons sales as a result of the Iran agreement “looks like a sweet deal for the arms merchants, but not for the rest of us. “

It’s long past time to break out of the traditional pattern of the U.S. government using conventional weapons transfers as bargaining chips.

“Middle Eastern countries need to reduce their stockpiles of conventional weapons, not increase them,” she declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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Governments Playing Political Ping-Pong with China’s Uyghurs Thu, 23 Jul 2015 16:07:00 +0000 Zhai Yun Tan Uyghurs, a minority Muslim group in China, say they have faced years of oppression under Chinese rule. Credit: Gustavo Jeronimo/CC-BY-2.0

Uyghurs, a minority Muslim group in China, say they have faced years of oppression under Chinese rule. Credit: Gustavo Jeronimo/CC-BY-2.0

By Zhai Yun Tan
WASHINGTON, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

Two reports released in quick succession by the international rights group Human Rights Watch have highlighted the plight of China’s minority Uyghur population and shed light on their continuing struggle to find a safe haven elsewhere in the region.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees." -- Alim A. Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association
The international watchdog released a statement on Jul. 10 condemning the Thai government for returning 100 Uyghur immigrants to China, claiming that they will face persecution in country.

The Uyghurs have struggled against the control of the Chinese central government for decades, with many of its activists exiled or imprisoned.

Another HRW report released on Jul. 13 revealed the Chinese government’s restrictions on international travel for religious minorities, including the Uyghurs, for “religious study and pilgrimage.”

A fast-track passport application system made available 12 years ago excluded the Uyghurs and other minorities, the report said.

“Chinese authorities should move swiftly to dismantle this blatantly discriminatory passport system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at HRW in the Jul. 10 statement.

“The restrictions also violate freedom of belief by denying or limiting religious minorities’ ability to participate in pilgrimages outside China,” she added.

The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a press statement on Jul. 9 that condemned Thailand for returning the Uyghurs to China. The deportations have sparked protests in front of the Chinese embassy and Thailand’s honorary consulate in Turkey.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from the capital Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups that have Turkish descent and speak Turkic languages.

According to the Uyghur American Association, there are over 15 million Uyghurs in the region. Uyghurs are traditionally Muslims.

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups of Turkish descent that speak Turkic languages. Credit:

The Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) is located in western China, more than 3,000 km from Beijing. Also known as East Turkestan, the region is home to ethnic groups of Turkish descent that speak Turkic languages. Credit:

Alim A. Seytoff, president of the Uyghur American Association based in Washington, D.C., said in a statement that the forcible return of Uyghur refugees was a violation of their safety.

“The international community needs to take a firm stand to guarantee the rights of Uyghur refugees,” he said. “As more Uyghurs flee China’s heavy-handed repression in East Turkestan, and Beijing continues to pressure for their return, concerned governments and multilateral agencies must not permit China to disregard international human rights norms.”

In addition to the restrictions imposed on travel for pilgrimage activities, Uyghurs in China are also reported to face various restrictions that prohibit them from observing the religious fast during the holy month of Ramadan, one of the important months for Islamic countries and communities around the world.

According to the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress and several news sites, local Chinese governmental departments published statements on the websites warning students, state employees and party members from fasting, attending religious activities or entering mosques.

The Xinjiang legislature passed a regulation in January that banned the wearing of the burqa, a headscarf donned by Muslim women.

“This is not a new restriction,” Greg Fay, project manager at the Washington, D.C. based Uyghur Human Rights Association, told IPS. “The restrictions have been getting stricter in the past two years.”

Uyghurs have had an uneasy relationship with Beijing ever since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

A spate of violent attacks in the past year resulted in the government’s vow to “fight against separatism, religious extremism and terrorism” during a yearlong, anti-terror crackdown. Arrests doubled in 2014 since the government announced the crackdown, amounting to 27,164 cases.

In March 2014, a knife attack in Kunming, 2,677 km from Beijing, left 30 people dead. Two months later, a bomb was set off in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, which killed 31 people. In July, an attack on police stations, government offices and vehicles in Xinjiang left at least 50 people dead.

Officials blamed Xinjiang separatists for the attacks. Earlier in 2009, a riot in Urumqi killed nearly 140 people and the government shut off Internet access in the province for months.

“My interpretation of what is happening now is the government has put out a policy of opposing extremism,” Sean Roberts, associate professor at George Washington University, told IPS in an interview. “I think for a lot of local level officials they are just identifying Islam as extremism.”

Seytoff said in an opinion piece in Al Jazeera published in June 2014 that even though the Uyghurs occupy an autonomous region, most Han officials, the majority ethnic group in China, still hold political and economic power in the region.

“China ruthlessly suppressed any sign of Uyghur unrest and transferred millions of loyal Chinese settlers into East Turkestan, providing them with jobs, housing, bank loans and economic opportunities denied to Uyghurs,” he said.

“The Uyghur population in East Turkestan, which was nearly 90 percent [of the area’s total population] in 1949, is now only 45 percent, while the Chinese population grew disproportionately due to state-sponsored mass settlement from around six percent in 1953 to the current 40 percent.”

Protestors wave the Uyghur flag outside the White House, demanding rights for the minority population in China. Credit: Malcolm Brown/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Protestors wave the Uyghur flag outside the White House, demanding rights for the minority population in China. Credit: Malcolm Brown/CC-BY-SA-2.0

Many Uyghurs attempt to flee persecution to Turkey and neighboring Asian countries. Turkey has hosted over 1,000 Uyghur refugees since 1949, but neighboring countries such as Cambodia and Thailand have returned a number of Uyghurs to China.

A New York Times article in Dec. 2009 revealed that Cambodia returned 20 Uyghurs who applied for asylum in 2009—and signed an economic cooperation deal with China two days later.

The Chinese deny any form of oppression of the Uyghurs and insist that Cambodia’s act of repatriation was legal.

Other Chinese state news agencies have claimed that, far from prohibiting the celebration of Ramadan, the government has supported locals in their worship by proving food and ensuring peace.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Despite ISIS Ascendancy, U.S. Public Wary of War Thu, 23 Jul 2015 13:59:52 +0000 Kitty Stapp Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

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

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

As the Islamic State, known variously as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, consolidates its hold over parts of Iraq and Syria to the degree that it has in many ways become a functioning state, the U.S. public remains divided over any intervention involving ground troops, a new survey shows.

Sixty-three percent said they approve of the U.S. military campaign against ISIS, with just 26 percent disapproving of the campaign, an increase since President Barack Obama’s first ordered airstrikes against militants in Iraq in August 2014 (when 54 percent approved).

However, only 30 percent said the U.S. military campaign against Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria is going very well or fairly well, according to the poll conducted by the Pew Research Center.

Forty-nine percent said they would oppose the deployment of ground forces against Islamic militants, with 44 percent in favour.

Although the recent murder of five U.S. service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee was dubbed an “ISIS-inspired attack” by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, it remains unclear what, if any, connections the gunman may have had to terror groups or what his motivation was.

But U.S. officials say they are worried about the threat of ISIS on U.S. soil. Speaking at the Aspen Security Forum Wednesday, FBI Director James Comey claimed the Islamic State now eclipses al Qaeda, and has influenced a significant but unknown number of Americans through a year-long campaign on social media urging Muslims who can’t travel to the Middle East to “kill where you are.”

“It is a very different model,” Comey said. “By virtue of that model it is currently the threat we are worried about in the homeland most of all. ISIL is buzzing on your hip. That message is being pushed all day long, and if you wanna talk to a terrorist, they’re right there on Twitter, direct-messaging for you to communicate with.”

An estimated 3,400 Westerners have traveled overseas to join ISIS in its quest to establish an Islamist state in Iraq and Syria, according to counterterrorism officials. At least 200 Americans have gone or attempted to travel to Syria, although no one knows how many sympathisers they may have within the United States.

“There are thousands of messages being put out into the ethersphere and they’re just hoping that they land on an individual who’s susceptible to that type of terrorist propaganda,” John Carlin, the assistant attorney general heading the Justice Department’s national-security division, told CNN month.

But according to analyst Emile Nakhleh, writing for IPS last September, “ISIS is primarily a threat to Arab countries, not to the United States and other Western countries.”

“Some Bush-era neo-cons and Republican hawks in the Senate who are clamouring for U.S. military intervention in Syria seem to have forgotten the lessons they should have learned from their disastrous invasion of Iraq over a decade ago. Military action cannot save a society when it’s regressing on a warped trajectory of the Divine – ISIS’ proclaimed goal,” he wrote.

“As long as Arab governments are repressive, illegitimate, sectarian, and incompetent, they will be unable to halt the ISIS offensive. In fact, many of these regimes have themselves to blame for the appeal of ISIS. They have cynically exploited religious sectarianism to stay in power.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Addis Outcome Will Impact Heavily on Post-2015 Agenda – Part 2 Thu, 23 Jul 2015 13:00:31 +0000 Bhumika Muchhala Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

Bhumika Muchhala of Third World Network. Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Bhumika Muchhala
ADDIS ABABA, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is the only universal forum that connects systemic issues to the global partnership for development. The latter recognises North-South cooperation based on historical responsibility and varying levels of development and capacity among member states of the U.N.

And there is a vital acknowledgement of the global rules and drivers that determine national policy space for development.While prospects are uncertain for now, what is increasingly clear is the stark fact that the geopolitical offensive in the U.N. has not abated. If anything, it has become even more pronounced.

With regard to such systemic reforms, the Addis Ababa outcome on Financing for Development (FfD) explicitly ignores a landmark initiative in the U.N. itself to establish an international statutory legal framework for debt restructuring.

Instead, it reaffirms the dominance of creditor-led mechanisms, such as the Paris Club, whose inequitable governance was criticised in the Doha Declaration of 2008.

The Addis outcome also welcomes existing OECD and IMF initiatives which do not address the scale of debt problems afflicting many developing countries today, such as Jamaica, which according to its finance minister’s intervention in Addis Ababa, won’t be able to finance its SDGs until its external debt can achieve sustainability in 2025.

Clearly, servicing creditors has to precede development goals. Reversing this order by incorporating national development financing needs into debt sustainability analyses was neglected by most member states in the FFD negotiations.

In spite of the global recognition that capital controls are crucial to developing countries ability to protect themselves from financial crises, the outcome document demotes the use of “capital flow management measures” as a last resort “after necessary macroeconomic policy adjustment.”

This is a regression from the 2002 Monterrey Consensus, which recognised that “Measures that mitigate the impact of excessive volatility of short-term capital flows are important and must be considered.” Financial regulations, particularly on derivatives trading, goes unheeded.

Similarly, the Addis outcome makes no call for special drawing rights (SDR) allocations. Again, this is a step back from Monterrey, which addressed SDR allocations in two clauses. SDR allocations, if carried out on the basis of need, could serve as a development finance tool by boosting developing countries foreign exchange reserves without creating additional dependency on primary reserve currencies.

Unlike most global economic arenas, FfD has the mandate to address international monetary system reform in a development-oriented manner. The Addis outcome, again, missed this chance entirely.

Despite these critical retrogressions, there are two beacons of light in the Addis outcome: the establishment of a Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) in the UN that supports SDG achievement, and an institutionalized FFD follow-up mechanism that will involve up to five days of review every year to generate “agreed conclusions and recommendations.”

However, this follow-up forum is to be shared with the review of MOI for the post-2015 development agenda, going against developing countries call for the FFD follow-up to be distinct and independent from that for the post-2015 development agenda in order to maintain focus on the specificities of the FFD agenda.

While the TFM has positive potential, especially if it address intellectual property rights and endogenous technological development in developing countries and does not become a platform to facilitate the ‘green economy’ through the , it is at the same time not tantamount to the financing items that comprise the development agenda. As such, the TFM helps obscure the paucity of political ambition on the FFD agenda.

A crisis of multilateralism

Perhaps the most sordid mark of a process that occurred in bad faith is the fact that negotiations never transpired in Addis Ababa. There was no official plenary, no proposals articulated and no document projected onto a screen to amend.

Instead, what took place over four days in Addis Ababa was a behind-the-scenes pressure campaign exerted by the most powerful countries onto most developing countries. One developing country delegate revealed that the pressure included bullying and blackmailing to silence many developing countries who can’t afford to be politically defiant.

Another delegate disclosed that he had never before experienced such an absence of transparency within the U.N. Some observers commented that what transpired in Addis Ababa was akin to a ‘Green Room’ style of discussions, where private talks are held in small groups without any gesture of openness or transparency.

A central strategy of developed countries was the distortion of developing country narratives and the creation of new narratives to undermine the longstanding arguments of developing countries. Throughout the FFD negotiations in New York, the European Union (EU) created a narrative of ‘the world has changed.’

They argued that developing countries’ emphasis on international public finance as the primary source for financial resources and developing countries’ red line on the Rio principle of CBDR does not reflect a world that has changed since Monterrey in 2002.

Much of the FfD text is still premised on an outdated North-South construct, the EU said, which does not reflect the complexity of today’s world. Germany reinforced the EU’s position, adding that the G77’s positions do not consider the reality that emerging economies are now capable of taking on some of the financing burdens for development.

In response to this challenge laid on middle-income countries, India provided a succinct response. India pointed out that the 30 richest countries of the world account for only 17 percent of the global population, but over 60 percent of global GDP, more than 50% of global electricity consumption and nearly 40 percent of global CO2 emissions.

The UN report on “Inequality Matters – World Social Situation 2013,” said that in 2010, high-income countries generated 55 percent of global income, while low-income countries created just above 1 percent of global income even though they contained 72 percent of the global population. India clarified that despite the relatively faster rates of growth in developing countries, international inequality has not fallen.

The above UN report on inequality shows that that excluding one large developing country (e.g. China), the Gini coefficient of international inequality was higher in 2010 than as compared to 1980. India concluded that these figures attest to the fact of the North-South gap, saying that member states will be doing themselves a disservice if reality is misrepresented.

Implications for post-2015 and climate change

The ways in which key words such as “transformative,” “ambitious,” “rule of law” and “enabling environment” were used, or misused, by developed country negotiators in the FFD negotiations have made their developing country counterparts wary of the gap between actual meaning and rhetorical application.

The phrase ‘enabling environment’ is used by developing countries to refer to an enabling environment for development. This involves development-oriented reforms in the international financial and trade architecture, such as addressing unfair agricultural subsidies in developed countries or pro-cyclical macroeconomic conditions attached to financial loans.

However, developed countries also use the phrase ‘enabling environment’ with equivalent vigor. Except that they are referring to an enabling environment for private investment, such as business-friendly taxes and labour market deregulation.

The experience of the FfD negotiations suggests that when these terms are tossed about in the post-2015 and COP 21 negotiations, they will be associated with limiting the policy space of developing countries. For the most part, this limitation is linked to facilitating private sector activity through multi-stakeholder or public-private partnerships that involve shared financing between multiple entities while most decision-making remains in the seat of the private sector.

Meanwhile, an implicit ebbing, if not a reneging, takes place on the public and international financing obligations of developing countries. Consequently, financing and decision-making shifts to institutions where developing countries have to compete with representatives of the private sector and private foundations for voice and representation.

As the last two weeks of post-2015 development agenda negotiations conclude in New York, the repercussions of the FFD experience remain to be witnessed. Will developing countries unite with renewed strength and determination to bring multilateralism back? Or will the retrogression in commitments and actions induced by Addis Ababa drag the post-2015 outcome down to its lowly ambition?

While prospects are uncertain for now, what is increasingly clear is the stark fact that the geopolitical offensive in the U.N. has not abated. If anything, it has become even more pronounced.

In fact, the current geopolitical dynamics in the U.N. renders a troubling irony to the international community as it embarks on its most ambitious sustainable development paradigm for the next 15 years.

Part of this Op-Ed can be read here.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Latin America Tackles Informal Labour among the Young Thu, 23 Jul 2015 07:35:10 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet A young street vendor sells typical Argentine baked goods in a market near the Plaza de los dos Congresos, in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

A young street vendor sells typical Argentine baked goods in a market near the Plaza de los dos Congresos, in Buenos Aires. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jul 23 2015 (IPS)

The 56 million young people who form part of Latin America’s labour force suffer from high unemployment, and many of those who work do so in the informal sector. Governments in the region have begun to adopt more innovative policies to address a problem that undermines the future of the new generations.

According to an International Labour (ILO) report, unemployment among young people between the ages of 14 and 25 is three times higher than among adults.

That is just one aspect of the problem, however according to the coordinator of the study, Guillermo Dema from Peru. “These statistics are compelling, but the main problem faced by young people in Latin America is the precariousness and poor quality of the work they have access to,” he told IPS.

The region’s seven million unemployed young people represent 40 percent of total unemployment. But another 27 million have precarious work, which aggravates the phenomenon.The total population of young people in Latin America is around 108 million, of the region’s 600 million people.

“Six out of every 10 jobs available to young people today are in the informal sector,” said Dema. “In general they are poor quality, low-productivity and low-wage jobs with no stability or future, and without social protection or rights.”

Gala Díaz Langou with Argentina’s Centre for the Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth said “An informal sector worker has no job security, health coverage, trade union representation, or payments towards a future pension. That means unregistered workers do not have decent work.”

In summary, “their basic labour rights are violated, and they can’t demand respect for their rights by means of representation or social dialogue,” she told IPS.“Six out of every 10 jobs available to young people today are in the informal sector. In general they are poor quality, low-productivity and low-wage jobs with no stability or future, and without social protection or rights.” -- Guillermo Dema

The poor are overrepresented in the informal economy. Only 22 percent of young people in the poorest quintile have formal work contracts, and just 12 percent are registered in the social security system, according to the ILO.

But precarious employment also affects middle-class young people, including those who have higher education.

“The big problem in landing a serious job today is what I call the ‘vicious cycle’. To get a job you need work experience, but to get experience you need a job,” Hernán F, a 23-year-old from Argentina who juggles work and university studies and speaks several languages, told IPS.

“Obviously if you’ve studied at university you go farther,” said Hernán, who asked that his last name not be used.” But that’s where you see the big difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ universities. The good ones, which are recognised and have good names, open many more doors for internships – even if they’re poorly paid – in better places.”

Most precarious jobs are in small and micro enterprises that do not formally exist. But 32 percent of young people who work in formal companies also suffer from precarious employment, the ILO reports.

The rate of informal labour among young wage-earners is 45.4 percent, while among those who are self-employed, the proportion climbs to 86 percent.

“When you’re young you don’t think about the future, about your retirement. You think about the present, paying rent, vacation. You don’t care about working in the black economy. You care about having a job, probably earning a little more than if you were formally employed,” said Hernán F.

But for Hernán, who worked as an unregistered employee in a boutique hotel in Buenos Aires, “it’s not the young people’s fault.”

“Capitalism, which created this system, and the people who hire you without registering you are to blame. They want more, easier money. They make you hide in the bathrooms when the inspectors come to check the hotel. And it’s also the state’s fault, because it doesn’t oversee things as it should, and allows labour inspectors to be bribed,” he said.

Dema said informal labour fuels “discouragement and frustration among those who feel that they don’t have the opportunities they deserve.

“This has social, economic and political repercussions, because it can translate into situations where people question the system, or situations of instability or marginalisation, which can affect governance,” he warned.

It also perpetuates the cycle of poverty and hinders the fight against inequality.

“Low wages, job instability, precarious working conditions, a lack of social security coverage, and a lack of representation and social dialogue make informal workers a vulnerable group,” said Dema.

But in spite of the continued problems, the region is “slowly” improving, he added.

From 2009 to 2013, the proportion of young people in informal employment in the region fell from 60 to 47 percent. But there are some exceptions like Honduras, Paraguay and Peru, where no significant progress was made.

Innovative policies to the rescue

Dema attibutes the improvement to government measures, which are cited by the ILO report, launched in April by the organisation’s regional office in Lima with the promising title: “Promoting formal employment among youth: innovative experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

He said initiatives have emerged that focus on combining attempts to formalise employment while adapting “to the heterogeneity of the economy and informal employment,” together with strategies to help young people land their first formal sector job.

He mentioned Brazil’s Apprenticeship Act, which introduced a special work contract for young apprentices, that can be used for a maximum of two years.

The law requires all medium and large companies to hire apprentices between the ages of 14 and 24, who must make up five to 15 percent of the payroll.

He also cited Chile’s Youth Employment Subsidy, Mexico’s Ley de Fomento al Primer Empleo, which foments the hiring of young workers without prior experience, and Uruguay’s Youth Employment Law.

These laws, he said, “provide for monetary subsidies, subsidies for wages or social security contributions, or tax breaks. “

For her part, Díaz Langou, with the Centre of Implementation of Public Policies for Equity and Growth, mentioned Argentina’s “More and better work for young people” programme, which targets people between the ages of 18 and 24.

“It was a very interesting and successful initiative aimed at combining education with active employment policies, to achieve better insertion of this age group in the labour market,” she said.

Dema also cited Mexican programmes aimed at promoting the regularisation of informal sector employment, such as the Let’s Growth Together programme, which “incorporates the concepts of gradualism, advice and support in the transition from informal to formal employment.”

Another model, the expert said, is offered by Colombia with its “formalisation brigades,” which incorporate benefits and services for companies that regularise their activities and employees.

These initiatives are complemented by social protection policies.

“In Argentina, the Universal Child Allowance is compatible with the workers registered in the ‘monotributo social’ (simplified tax regime for small taxpayers) and those who are registered in the domestic service regime. And in Colombia, the law on the formalisation and generation of employment establishes the coordination of contracts with the ‘Families in Action’ programme and Subsidised Health Insurance,” he said.

Díaz Langou said that international experiences have shown that one of the policies that works best is the introduction of incentives to hire young workers, such as offering subsidies or tax breaks to companies that hire them.

“But this has provided much better results for men than for women,” she said. “Policies tailored towards improving the skills of young people by means of training and education have more modest effects on wages for young people, and also present gender disparities.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Obama Offers Help to Track Billions in Stolen Nigerian Assets Wed, 22 Jul 2015 22:38:07 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent By a Global Information Network correspondent
WASHINGTON, Jul 22 2015 (IPS)

With a dangerous insurgency spreading within his borders, the visit to Washington this week by Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari was certainly going to touch on increased military support against Boko Haram.

But it also encompassed a discussion of stolen assets – namely billions of dollars siphoned away by bankers, ministers, and in some cases newly-minted millionaires.

According to the new president, about 150 billion dollars has been stolen in the past decade and held in foreign bank accounts by former corrupt officials. It could have been used on education and healthcare, among other spheres of national life, he said.

Adetolunbo Mumuni, director of the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), praised the agenda: “We welcome the commitment by President Obama to assist the Buhari government in tracking down billions of dollars stolen from the country. However, greater efforts are required by the Obama government to follow through its commitment if it is to secure a measure of justice for Nigerian victims of corruption and money laundering.”

The Nigeria-based organisation asked President Obama to “establish a Presidential Advisory Committee and facilitate a Congressional Hearing on stolen assets from Nigeria. These initiatives would be tremendously important in bringing renewed attention to repatriation of stolen assets to Nigeria.”

“Corruption, money laundering and systematic violations of human rights go hand in hand and that is why President Obama should do everything within his power to get to the bottom of the stolen assets from Nigeria kept in the US,” the group said.

According to SERAP, “Recovering stolen assets from the US is a lingering issue that requires justice and fairness especially given the complicity of US banks and other institutions in corruption and money laundering in Nigeria, and the fact that stolen assets have contributed to the growth of US economy. “

Johnnie Carson, a former assistant secretary of state, concurred in the view that Washington should not let security issues overshadow the need for closer trade and investment ties.

“Nigeria is the most important country in Africa,” said Carson, currently an adviser to the U.S. Institute of Peace. Now more than ever, “the relationship with Nigeria should not rest essentially on a security and military-to-military relationship,” he said.

Still, to demonstrate his resolve at purging incompetence in the military, President Buhari last week dismissed his entire military top brass, even as militants launched deadly attacks in Nigeria’s remote northeast and in Cameroon.

This was discussed at a breakfast meeting Monday with Vice President Joe Biden where they compared notes on the terror war. “Victory cannot come from the military option alone,” Biden told the Nigerian leader.

After the high-level meetings with Obama and Biden, Buhari is scheduled to meet with World Bank executives, members of the U.S. Congress and West African diplomats. He is also scheduled to hold a town hall meeting with Nigerians in the DC area.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Remains Barred from Visiting U.S. Prisons Amid Abuse Charges Wed, 22 Jul 2015 20:23:22 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When U.S. President Barack Obama visited the El Reno Correctional Facility in Oklahoma last week to check on living conditions of prisoners incarcerated there, no one in authority could prevent him from visiting the prison.

There is an extensive body of research on long-term solitary confinement and its damaging effects. Credit: Bigstock

There is an extensive body of research on long-term solitary confinement and its damaging effects. Credit: Bigstock

Obama, the first sitting president to visit a federal penitentiary, said “in too many places, black boys and black men, and Latino boys and Latino men experience being treated different under the law.”

The visit itself was described as “unprecedented” and “historic.”

But the United Nations has not been as lucky as the U.S. president was. Several U.N. officials, armed with mandates from the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, have been barred from U.S. penitentiaries which are routinely accused of being steeped in a culture of violence.

Back in 1998, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, was barred from visiting three Michigan prisons to probe sexual misconduct against women prisoners.

Although she had made extensive preparations to interview inmates, Michigan Governor John Engler barred Coomaraswamy on the eve of her proposed visit.

The late Senator Jesse Helms, former chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, blocked a proposed prison visit by Bacre Waly Ndiaye, head of the U.N. Human Rights Office in New York, who was planning to observe living conditions in some of the U.S. prisons.

Obama’s visit has prompted the United Nations to give another shot at seeking permission to visit the U.S. prison system.

The U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, Juan E. Méndez, and the Chairperson of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Seong-Phil Hong, have jointly called on the U.S. government to facilitate their requests for an official visit to U.S. prisons to advance criminal justice reform.“AI believes this external scrutiny is particularly important in the case of 'super-maximum' security facilities where prisoners are isolated within an already closed environment." -- Tessa Murphy of Amnesty International

“I look forward to working with the U.S. Department of Justice on the special study commissioned by the President on the need to regulate solitary confinement, which affects 80,000 inmates in the United States, in most cases for periods of months and years,” Méndez said early this week.

“The practice of prolonged or indefinite solitary confinement inflicts pain and suffering of a psychological nature, which is strictly prohibited by the Convention Against Torture,” he said.

“Reform along such lines will have considerable impact not only in the United States but in many countries around the world,” he noted.

Hong, who leads the U.N. Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, said a visit to federal and state institutions “will be an excellent opportunity to discuss with authorities the ‘Basic Principles and Guidelines on the right to anyone deprived of their liberty to bring proceedings before a court’, and to promote its use by the civil society.”

The Working Group has already drafted a set of Principles and Guidelines that “will help establish effective mechanisms to ensure judicial oversight over all situations of deprivation of liberty.”

The document will be considered by the Human Rights Council in September.

According to published reports, there have been charges of unhealthy living conditions and physical beatings, specifically against minorities, including African-Americans and Latin Americans, in the U.S. jail system.

Last month, the administration of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District announced far reaching reforms, including the proposed appointment of a Federal Monitor to probe continued prisoner abuses in Riker’s Island, described as the second largest jail system in the United States.

Other measures include restrictions on the use of force by prison guards and the installation of surveillance cameras.

Asked whether U.N. Special Rapporteurs (UNSRs) have previously been permitted into U.S. prisons, Tessa Murphy at Amnesty International (AI), told IPS that Juan Mendez hasn’t visited any U.S. supermaximum facility prisons in his role as UNSR.

He has, however, visited Pelican Bay in California as an expert witness in ongoing litigation there.

She also said AI has called on the U.S. State Department to extend an invite repeatedly requested by the UNSR to visit the United States to examine the use of solitary confinement in federal and state facilities, including through on-site visits.

“AI believes this external scrutiny is particularly important in the case of ‘super-maximum’ security facilities where prisoners are isolated within an already closed environment. We continue to call for this access to be provided.”

She pointed out that AI has released several reports calling for access – based on an extensive body of work on long-term solitary confinement and its damaging effects.

Antonio M. Ginatta, Advocacy Director, U.S. Programme at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told IPS it is a momentous time in the United States as it re-examines and moves to reform its criminal justice system.

President Obama himself just spoke to the need for this reform, and specifically highlighted the harms caused by solitary confinement.

“Yet the State Department continues to fail to allow the Special Rapporteur on torture access to U.S. confinement facilities to review their use of solitary confinement. It’s as if they missed the President’s speech,” he said.

Ginatta said an invitation to the Special Rapporteur is years overdue.

“In light of the president’s speech and his visit to the El Reno prison, the U.S. Department of State should change course and immediately extend an unrestricted invitation to Special Rapporteur Mendez and the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention,” he declared.

After his prison visit, Obama said: “My goal is that we start seeing some improvements at the federal level and that we’re then able to see states across the country pick up the baton, and there are already some states that leading the way in both sentencing reform as well as prison reform and make sure that we’re seeing what works and build off that.”

Providing details of its meetings with U.S. State Department officials, Amnesty International told IPS that in February it met with Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor and Director William Mozdzierz in the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs to emphasise the importance of facilitating external scrutiny by the SRT as well as to hand over a petition to the State Department (with over 20,000 signatures, on the same issue.)

AI said SRT Mendez has provided them with a list of prisons he wishes to visit, including in Louisiana, California, Arizona, Pennsylvania, New York, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Secretary Mozdzierz, stressed to AI that the State Department has a strong national interest in ensuring that the United States lives up to international treaty obligations.

Deputy Assistant Secretary Scott Busby emphasised how committed the U.S. government is in providing access for the SRT.

However, Secretary Mozdzierz emphasised that access to state prisons is dependent on the individual governors and state Attorney Generals being amenable, and there are no mechanisms by which the State Department can ensure a positive response.

He also made it clear that he would stress to state authorities the importance of facilitating the SRT’s requests. Both Directors acknowledged that BOP ADX prison in Colorado was ‘unavailable’ to SRT Mendez.

SRT Mendez, who met with AI prior to the meetings above, asked AI to seek an explanation for the reason that he had been told in correspondence with State Department that federal prisons were “unavailable” to him.

Secretary Mozdzierz confirmed that the reason federal prisons were “unavailable” to the SRT was because of ongoing litigation in ADX; Cunningham V BOP, which has been in a structured settlement process since last year.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at

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