Inter Press Service » Human Rights News and Views from the Global South Mon, 24 Oct 2016 23:15:28 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to Save Thousands of Children’s Lives Mon, 24 Oct 2016 13:41:43 +0000 IKEA Foundation Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

By IKEA Foundation
LEIDEN, The Netherlands, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

When disasters strike, children are among the most vulnerable, and humanitarian aid agencies need to be able to respond immediately to save their lives.

In order to help save thousands of children’s lives during catastrophic disasters, the IKEA Foundation has signed agreements with two of the world’s foremost humanitarian aid organisations.

For this purpose, the Foundation on 17 October signed framework agreements with Save the Children and Médicins Sans Frontières (MSF) that will enable the organisations to access the funding they need right after a disaster strikes.

Protecting children in the deadliest disasters

As climate change wreaks bigger and more frequent disasters, Save the Children’s teams are working around the world to help children access their rights to protection, healthcare, education, and child-friendly spaces in which to play.

The IKEA Foundation’s new agreement will give Save the Children access to up to 2 million euro within 72 hours of a category-one disaster—an extraordinary emergency affecting more than one million children and causing widespread destruction.

Save the Children will use the funding to quickly and efficiently help children and their families survive the unthinkable and begin to recover in the months that follow.

“Save the Children is tremendously excited to deepen our relationship with the IKEA Foundation, and even more so, to further our mutual commitment to do whatever it takes to save children’s lives in emergencies around the world. Quite simply, rapid response save children’s lives,” said Daniele Timarco, Humanitarian Director Save the Children.

“This partnership, allowing for substantial and immediate funding of emergency response, allows us the flexibility to immediately begin our work on the ground, Timarco added.

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

Courtesy of IKEA Foundation

“I hear repeatedly from seasoned response workers around the world that this is the kind of partnership we need to take humanitarian response to the next level. On behalf of Save the Children, I want to thank the IKEA Foundation for partnering with us and driving innovation in the sector.”

Providing medical care during “unseen” disasters

Around the world, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) gives medical care to thousands of families suffering from disasters that receive little or no international media attention and for which it is difficult to raise support.

Thanks to this new agreement with the IKEA Foundation, MSF will be able to access emergency grants of up to 3 million euro to help children and their families survive these disasters.

“Emergency humanitarian action often happens in places the world seems to have forgotten, in places that are hard to reach for journalists,” explains Bruno Jochum, General Director of Médecins Sans Frontières.

“The IKEA Foundation grants will help our teams provide lifesaving medical care and, in so doing, show the families caught in these crises that we’re trying to support them in their time of greatest need.”

Save the Children is one of the IKEA Foundation’s longest-running partnerships, and the two organisations have teamed up to help children enjoy their rights in dozens of countries, including during disasters such as typhoons and flooding in the Philippines and the Nepal earthquake in 2015.

The IKEA Foundation and MSF have partnered since 2013 to bring lifesaving medical care to people suffering in conflicts and disasters, including those wounded in Syria. The IKEA Foundation gave its largest single emergency donation ever—5 million euro—to Médecins Sans Frontières to fight the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa in 2014.

Per Heggenes, CEO of the IKEA Foundation, said: “We’re working toward a world where children living in poverty have more opportunities to create a better future for themselves and their families.

Providing funding in crisis areas and tackling climate change are critical to achieving this goal. That’s why it’s crucial that we give organisations such as Save the Children the resources they need to save children’s lives and help families rebuild in the wake of catastrophes.

“Our agreement with MSF is a unique way of ensuring families trying to survive unseen emergencies can get the medical care they desperately need. We know there are huge gaps in humanitarian funding, and those gaps are more than simply academic; they cost people their lives,” he added.

“With our funding, we hope not only to help MSF save lives but also to create visibility for disasters that receive little or no international media attention and to mobilise other donors to support children who need it the most.”

Read more about the IKEA Foundation’s support for children in emergencies.

*This article has been provided by IKEA Foundation as part of an agreement with IPS.

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Farming Brings Stability to Remote Villages in Papua Mon, 24 Oct 2016 10:25:51 +0000 Kafil Yamin Villages in Papua New Guinea are being transformed with permanent houses and front-yard food gardens. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

Villages in Papua New Guinea are being transformed with permanent houses and front-yard food gardens. Credit: Kafil Yamin/IPS

By Kafil Yamin
SENGGI, Indonesia, Oct 24 2016 (IPS)

Only two decades ago, Usku, Molof and Namla, three villages in Senggi District, Papua, were the battlefield of feuding tribes fighting for their ulayat (communal land). Afra, the triumphant tribe, then settled in the villages and led a life of hunting and gathering.

Their semi-nomadic lifestyle carried on despite the so-called transmigration in the adjacent village of Waris, where villagers from Java started a new life under central government sanction.

The three villages border Papua New Guinea, covering around 4,000 square kms, and are the least developed spots in the island of Papua. 

Now the villages are being transformed, with permanent houses and front-yard farming. Where there used to be scarcity, food abounds.

It all began less than three months ago when the ministry of villages, underdeveloped regions and transmigration sent a team of agricultural and social experts to the villages and worked together with the locals to improve the living conditions of the Indonesia’s eastern-most border communities.

Dasarus Daraserme, 50, said that farming makes his life much easier. “These days, I don’t have to go deep into the forest to find food. It’s all right here in my front yard, you see?” he told IPS, pointing at his newly-sown crops.

“It was getting harder and harder to find food, animals and herbs there [in the forest],” he added.

Expansion by three big palm oil plantations has reduced forest resources in the Keerom District.

Daraserme said his plot yields more than he and his family need, even after he sold the surplus. “We need only one and half kilogrammes of vegetables and fruits a day in average, or some five kilogrammes a week. Now we have hundreds of kilogrammes of cucumber, soybean, chilly, tomatoes, green beans. We don’t know what to do about it,” he said.

Anton Sirmei, 53, who grows pumpkin, kale, cabbage, chilly and tomatoes, also has a surplus. “In the past, there was a lack of food. That’s a problem. Now we have more. This is also a problem,” he said.

The closest town with a market is Senggi, which is 12 hours away on foot. Car transportation is available only once a week.

Professor Ali Zum Mashar, who trains the locals in farming techniques, is now helping them organise a cooperative to sell their agricultural products.

“The government invested some money in the village corporation, just the set the wheel of business in motion,” Mashar said.

Mashar said he actually expected a large surplus. “My microbe-based fertilizer can change bare lands into fertile spots. It is able to convert an ex-mining site to a green farm, let alone this fertile soil of Usku,” he said.

He found 18 species of microbes in the forests of Kalimantan while doing his doctoral studies in 2000. He eventually developed a technology that converts the microbes into liquid form, which he calls Bio P 2000 Z. Successful experiments have proved their capability to increase crop yields by as much as threefold.

“The crop yields should double in quantity, quality and speed. We started working in August, now after only three months, you can see for yourself,” he added, pointing at the gardens in the houses’ front yards.

He said the first goal is that the people have enough food, which has been achieved. Expanding the markets is the next step.

The villagers harvest their crops every two weeks. In terms of both quantity and quality, the Usku villagers produce better vegetables and fruit than their counterparts in the transmigration enclave, who are mostly skilled farmers from Java.

Usku, Molof and Namla village definitely have much more to offer than vegetables, fruits and crops to the outside. Non-timber forest products such as herbs and spices, honey, cinnamon, resin, sandalwood and various fruits also have high economic values for the local community.

Mashar and his team are now constructing a ranch for deer breeding in effort to reduce deer hunting in the forest. “But deer breeding is more than just foodstock. It will become tourist attraction too. So soon we will have a sort of village tourism here,” he said.

The biggest challenge now is training villagers in business management, in a community where 80 percent of the population is illiterate. The village has only one primary school with poor facilities. Four teachers manage around 150 students.

Health care is another major issue. The clinic has only one doctor and often has no medicines. Common diseases here are elephantiasis, skin fungus and mumps.

But hopes are high that the increasing harvest will improve incomes, and bring better medical services, education and infrastructure.

“There is still a long way to go. But we are paving the way to a better tomorrow,” Mashar said.

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Funding Inclusive Education for Children with Disabilities in Developing Countries Fri, 21 Oct 2016 14:45:10 +0000 Lindah Mogeni 0 Freedom of the Press Faces Judicial Harassment in Brazil Thu, 20 Oct 2016 23:58:14 +0000 Mario Osava Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

Journalists working for the Brazilian newspaper Gazeta do Povo, harassed by a series of lawsuits after reporting the high remunerations of judges and prosecutors in the southern state of Paraná, during a meeting at the newspaper’s offices with Governor Carlos Alberto Richa. Credit: PSDB

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 20 2016 (IPS)

The same justice that exists to ensure rights can become a tool to violate them and restrict freedom of the press, as seen with the recent wave of lawsuits against journalists and the media in Brazil.

The latest high-profile case involves the Gazeta do Povo, the main daily newspaper in Curitiba, the capital of the southern state of Paraná, which is facing 48 lawsuits from judges and public prosecutors who are suing the paper and several of its employees for reporting their incomes in February.

“There were weeks when four workdays out of five were spent running from one town to another in Paraná, to appear at hearings. I think overall we traveled more than 10,000 kilometres,” Rogerio Galindo, one of the three reporters facing legal action, told IPS.“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties.” -- Mendes Junior

Elvira Lobato, a journalist who writes for the Folha de São Paulo newspaper, went through a similar ordeal after publishing a Dec. 15, 2007 article titled “Universal celebrates its 30th birthday, with a business empire”, about the obscure dealings of the evangelical Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which owns television and radio networks and newspapers.

Lucio Flavio Pinto, an award-winning journalist who has published the independent newsletter Jornal Pessoal since 1988 in Belém, the capital of the northern state of Pará, has faced 33 legal actions brought by the local media empire “O Liberal” since 1992, after he uncovered illegal activities allegedly engaged in by its owners, the Maiorana family.

In Gazeta do Povo, three journalists, a computer graphics artist, a systems analyst, and the newspaper publishing company face legal action, accused of causing damage to the plaintiffs, who are demanding monetary compensation.

These legal proceedings have been brought in small courts scattered through dozens of towns – civil lawsuits that do not exceed 40 legal minimum monthly wages (about 11,000 dollars).

“Counting the lawyer and the driver, seven of us had our family and professional lives disturbed” from April to June, said Galindo, who underscored the case of Euclides García, who was not able to be with his wife in the last months of her pregnancy.

Fortunately, the Federal Supreme Court ordered a suspension of all proceedings, in a preliminary ruling by Judge Rosa Weber on Jun. 30, on the eve of the birth of Garcia’s son.

The lawsuits were filed in response to a Feb. 15 Gazeta do Povo article which revealed that judges in Paraná received in 2015 remuneration averaging 527,500 Brazilian reals (165,000 dollars at the current exchange rate) – 28 per cent above the ceiling set by the constitution, which stipulates that judges cannot earn more than 90.25 per cent of what Supreme Court justices are paid.

In the case of the Paraná public prosecutors, their pay was 23 per cent above the constitutional limit.

This distortion was created by payments for different expenses, compensations, retroactive payments and subsidies, which were added to salaries.

“At no time was it stated that they were illegal remunerations, but that legal accumulations resulted in amounts that exceeded the constitutional limit,” Leonardo Mendes Junior, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, told IPS.

The information disclosed is publicly available on the government’s Transparency web site. What the newspaper articles did was put it in a legal context and point out that the judicial branch cost Brazil 1.8 per cent of GDP, compared to an average of 0.4 per cent in Europe.

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit:

Lucio Flavio Pinto has won a number of international awards for his investigative reporting on corruption in the northern state of Pará, which has led to a number of lawsuits against him. Credit:

But the Association of Paraná Judges said in a statement that the “offensive content” in the articles suggested the presence of illegalities in the judicial branch and led to criticism of judges. They also denied having agreed on a number of individual lawsuits by its members, and that these actions threatened the freedom of press.

However, by forcing the accused to travel from town to town, some of them up to 500 kilometres away from the newspaper office in Curitiba, Gazeta do Povo’s reporting was undermined, as three of its seven political reporters were kept away from their jobs for many days.

“This happened precisely in the midst of political upheaval in the country, jeopardising the sustainability of the newspaper and revealing a great potential (for a wave of lawsuits) to cause irreversible damage, when the press already faces serious economic difficulties,” said Mendes Junior.

“It is interesting to note the concept of ‘judicial censorship’ mentioned by Carmen Lucia Rocha, the new president of the Federal Supreme Court, to describe the sequence of actions that keep away from their jobs a significant part of (a newspaper’s) journalists,” he said.

Each trip made by the defendants around the state to appear in hearings cost the newspaper about 25,000 reals (7,800 dollars), estimated Galindo, adding up costs of transport, hotels, meals and attorney’s fees, let alone the lost hours of journalistic work.

With the suspension of the legal proceedings, the journalists expect a final decision from the Federal Supreme Court, which is to take up the case as requested by Gazeta do Povo, arguing that judges in Paraná cannot try these cases since they are interested parties.

“Some of the judges have acknowledged that they cannot decide these cases, but most have not,” said Mendes.

This is an extreme case, in which justice system officials hand down rulings in their own interest, while punishing their alleged attackers with forced trips and proceedings that limit their freedom.

But the abuse of the right to sue journalists who report on awkward issues has become a common practice in Brazil.

In 2007 and 2008, the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God brought a total of 107 legal actions, filed by its followers around the country, to smother Elvira Lobato and Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s most widely circulated newspaper. It does not really matter that the journalist and the paper won every case; the punishment preceded the judgment.

Lucio Flavio Pinto had to study law to defend himself, which took time away from his one-man publication, the Jornal Pessoal. The sales of the bimonthly newsletter, with a print run of 2,000 copies, is his source of income, since he accepts no advertising.

The legal proceedings against him lasted four to five years on average. But four lawsuits, filed 11 years ago, are still pending. Having been convicted twice, he counted on the solidarity of people all over the country to pay the monetary penalties.

In many cases, those suing him are not seeking the implementation of the sentences, he said. “They prefer to keep the sword hanging over my head, by dragging out the proceedings,” the journalist, whose investigative reporting prevented illegal appropriations of vast extensions of land in Pará, while costing him several physical assaults, told IPS.

“Recurrent legal actions are the most efficient form of censorship,” said Pinto, recognised as an “information hero” by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders.

In his case he did not receive solidarity from business organisations such as the National Association of Newspapers, which granted the 2016 Freedom of the Press award to Gazeta do Povo, reinforcing the general reaction from the journalism sector to the harassment from judges and prosecutors in Paraná.

There have been other “attempts to curtail freedom of the press that in turn help to prevent new cases” with their strong repercussions, Ángela Pimienta, head of the Institute for Journalistic Development that maintains the internet portal Press Observatory, told IPS.

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Water Bodies Central to Urban Flood Planning Wed, 19 Oct 2016 11:21:32 +0000 Jency Samuel A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

A couple wait on an overturned garbage bin to be rescued by boat during the Chennai flooding of December 2015. Credit: R. Samuel/IPS

By Jency Samuel
CHENNAI, India, Oct 19 2016 (IPS)

“The rain was our nemesis as well as our saviour,” says Kanniappan, recalling the first week of December 2015 when Chennai was flooded.

“Kind neighbours let us stay in the upper floors of their houses as the water levels rose. The rainwater was also our only source of drinking water,” he added.“Urban planners value land, not water.” -- Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment

Kalavathy, another resident, isn’t very familiar with the links between extreme weather events and climate change. All she knows is that in December, her house was completely submerged in 15 feet of water. Now, after working night shifts, she gets up at 4am to pump water, supplied by the administration during fixed timings.

The simple lives of Kalavathy and her neighbours, who live in row houses behind the 15-foot-high wall built on the embankment of Adyar River, seem to revolve around water. Either too much or too little.

Chennai, the capital city of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, literally became an island in December 2015. The airport was inundated. Trains and flights had to be cancelled, cutting off the city for a few days from the rest of India.

The Chennai floods claimed more than 500 lives and economic losses were pegged at 7.4 billion dollars, with similar figures for all flood-affected Indian cities.

Urban flooding in India and other countries is one of the issues being discussed at the Habitat III meeting in Quito, Ecuador this week. The Indian government has also released a draft for indicators of what a “Smart City” would look like.

Extreme weather events

Incessant rains also left Chennai  inundated in November. “The average rainfall for Chennai in November is 407.4 mm, but in 2015 it was 1218.6 mm. For December, the average rainfall is 191 mm, whereas in December 2015 it was 542 mm, breaking a 100-year-old rainfall record,” said G.P. Sharma of Skymet Weather Services Pvt Ltd.

While the extreme rainfall that Chennai experienced was attributed to El Nino, scientists predict that with climate change, extreme weather events will increase. “There will be more rain spread over fewer days, as happened in Chennai in 2015, Kashmir in 2014, Uttarakhand in 2013,” says Sushmita Sengupta of the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi-based research and advocacy organisation. This concurs with the IPCC fifth assessment report that predicts that India’s rainfall intensity will increase.

Poor urban planning and urban flooding

According to India’s National Institute of Disaster Management, floods are the most recurrent of all disasters, affecting large numbers of people and areas. The Ministry of Home Affairs has identified 23 of the 35 Indian states as flood-prone. It was only after the Mumbai floods of 2005 that the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), a government body, distinguished urban floods as different from riverine floods. The cause of each is different and hence each needs a different control strategy.

The Chennai city administration was ill-prepared to cope with the freak weather, in spite of forecast warnings from Indian Meteorological Department. Jammu & Kashmir had neither a system for forecasting floods nor an exclusive department for disaster management when it was hit by floods in 2014. While a different reason can be attributed for the flooding and its aftermath for each of the Indian cities, the common thread that connects  them is extremely poor urban planning.

As per a report by Bengaluru-based Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), in 1951, there were only five Indian cities with a population of more than one million. In 2011, this number rose to 53. To cater to the increasing population, the built-up area increased, roads were paved and open spaces dwindled.

But an IIHS analysis shows that the built-up area has been increasing disproportionately compared to population growth. Between 2000 and 2010, Kolkata’s population grew by about 7 percent, but its built area by 48 percent. In the same period, Bengaluru’s built area doubled compared to its population, indicating the commercial infrastructural development.

Disappearing urban sponges

The open spaces that disappeared, giving way to concrete structures, are primarily water bodies that act as sponges, soaking up the rainwater. Increasing population also led to increased waste and the cities’ water bodies turned into dumping grounds for municipal solid waste, as was the case with Chennai’s Pallikaranai marshland. They also became sewage carriers like the River Bharalu that flows through Guwahati, Assam.

“Urban planners value land, not water,” says Sengupta.

A 1909 map of Chennai shows a four-mile-long lake in the centre of the city. It exists now only in street names such as Tank Bund Road and Tank View Road. T.K. Ramkumar, a member of the Expert Committee on Pallikaranai appointed by the Madras High Court, told IPS that in the 1970s, the government filled up lakes within the city and developed housing plots under ‘eri schemes’, eri in Tamil meaning lakes.

In fact eris are a series of cascading tanks, where water overflowing from a tank flows to the next and so on till the excess water reaches the Bay of Bengal. But the marsh and the feeder channels have been blocked by buildings, leading to frequent floods. NDMA suggests that urbanisation of watersheds causes increased flow of water in natural drains and hence the drains should be periodically widened. Not only are the water courses not widened, but heavily encroached upon.

Encroachment of water bodies is a pan-India problem. The water spread of all its cities have been declining rapidly over the years. “Of the 262 lakes recorded in Bengaluru in the 1960s, only ten have water. 65 of Ahmedabad’s 137 lakes have made way for buildings,” says Chandra Bhushan of CSE. Statistics reveal that the more a city’s water spread loss, the more the number of floods it has experienced.

Way forward

After the Chennai floods, the government-appointed Parliamentary Standing Committee demanded strict action against encroachments. It directed the Tamil Nadu administration to clear channels and river beds to enable water to flow, to improve drainage networks and to develop vulnerability indices by creating a calamity map. The Committee’s direction applies equally well to all the cities.

The Indian government has allocated 164 million dollars to restore 63 water bodies under its Lakes and Wetlands Conservation Program. But urban flood statistics reveal that the efforts need to be speeded up.

Yet in the Draft Indian Standard for Smart Cities Indicator, there is no indicator to measure the disaster preparedness and resilience of a city.

“Catchment areas and feeder channels should be declared ecologically sensitive and should be protected by stringent laws,” says Sengupta.

As for Chennai, “The retention capacity of Pallikaranai should be enhanced by suitable methods after hydrological and hydrogeological studies says,” said Dr. Indumathi M. Nambi of the Indian Institute of Technology.

She adds that the Buckingham Canal should be connected to the sea to facilitate discharge during floods. Plans are afoot to demonstrate this with the cooperation of industries and NGOs.

The plans are sure to work as Jaipur has created a successful public-private partnership model. Mansagar Lake, which had turned into a repository of sewage, received 70 percent funding from the central government for restoration. The state government raised the balance with the help of the tourism industry by allocating space for entertainment and hospitality spots, successfully restoring the lake.

The restoration of water bodies and flood mitigation measures will need to be site-specific, taking the extent and topographical conditions of catchment area, existing and proposed storm water drains, status of embankments and bunds of water bodies and permeability of soil conditions into account. But with such measures and political will, experts believe the safety of inhabitants and urban resilience can be accomplished.


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Big Powers Set to Grab High Level UN Posts Tue, 18 Oct 2016 14:27:32 +0000 Thalif Deen By Thalif Deen

When Antonio Guterres, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, takes office as the new UN Secretary General on January 1, his top management team is likely to be dominated by nominees from the five big powers, namely the US, Britain, France, China and Russia (P5).

As befits tradition, the current management team of mostly Under-Secretaries-Generals (USGs) will submit their resignations – providing Guterres with a clean state before he takes over.

Asked about the longstanding custom, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS: “I believe there is a tradition for the most senior officials, like USGs, to turn in resignations.”

But heads of UN agencies, he pointed out, “are approved by the boards of those respective agencies for fixed terms, which do not necessarily end now, so they would continue on for the duration of their terms.”

According to an equally longstanding tradition, the P5 stake their claims to some of the most powerful jobs in the Organization, heading UN Departments overseeing Political Affairs, Peacekeeping, Economic and Social Affairs, Management and Humanitarian Affairs.

“For big powers, these high level posts are considered their political and intellectual birthrights,” said an Asian diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

James Paul, who served for nearly 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum tracking the politics of the United Nations, told IPS that from the earliest days of the UN, the P5 have greatly influenced the selection of high-level posts in the Secretariat.

In theory, he said, the Secretary General fills these posts independently, drawing on the best candidates worldwide. The Charter mandates independence of UN staff from government interference.

Ban once told the press, he makes high-level appointments “in a transparent and competitive manner, based on merit, while taking geographical and gender balance into account.” In practice, key appointments are made quite differently.

Paul said the P5 carefully vet these appointments and in certain posts they literally name their own appointees. “Under this system, departments have been virtual fiefdoms, controlled over long periods,” he noted.

For the UN’s first 46 years, through a total of 14 appointees, the Under Secretary General heading the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) was always a citizen of the former Soviet Union (now Russian Federation).

Even former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld “named” a Russian to the post – or to be more accurate, accepted the Russian nominee. The US had its own fief over an equally long period, he added.

Paul said that after the end of the Cold War, Russian clout diminished. The Brits took over the DPA post for 13 years, through two appointees. Now, he pointed out, the United States has taken over the appointment, controlling it for the past eight years, through two appointees. “A US fiefdom is clearly in the making”.

Meanwhile, the Brits have been in charge of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) since 2005, through eleven years and three appointees. “A UK fiefdom is definitely in place.”

Palitha Kohona, a former Chief of the UN Treaty Section, told IPS that an incoming Secretary-General (SG) might want to appoint his/her own team of managers because he/she would prefer to have people who can be trusted in senior positions.

“SGs tend to appoint their closest confidants to senior positions in the inner cabinet. Therefore, it is difficult to imagine that a new SG would want to continue with the same team of managers who served under Ban Ki-moon.”

Importantly, said Kohona, promises may have been made to influential countries in exchange for their support in the lead up to the appointment of the SG. These need to be honoured.

“Despite every effort made to ensure a more equitable representation of the Member States of the UN in senior positions, certain posts tend to be given to specific nationalities or to certain regional groups,” said Kohona, a former Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations.

For example, he singled out peacekeeping, political affairs, legal and humanitarian affairs. “While past appointees could be described as competent, there is no logical reason for perpetuating such a monopoly in a body that aspires to be truly representative.”

The current practice also enables the countries or groups concerned to influence UN activities to reflect their own interests, despite the requirement to maintain neutrality. While merit alone cannot be the only criterion, the need to be representative, must be, Kohona argued.

“Having emerged from within the Secretariat, Kofi Annan could be said to have been more sensitive to the wishes of the staff than Ban Ki-moon. Both attempted to reform the administration to be more reflective of contemporary needs. Both achieved limited success. Much remains to be done. “

A new SG must consider Secretariat reform to be a priority. There is no doubt that the Secretariat must reflect the needs of the contemporary world, and its attitudes and practices must be upgraded to ensure the more efficient delivery of services. Inevitably, the Secretariat will be asked to deliver more with less, he noted.

The selection of appropriate top managers will be a critical element in implementing the necessary changes, Kohona declared.

Paul told IPS France is seigneur of one of the most visible and long-lasting recent fiefdoms in the Secretariat. A French diplomat has now been chief of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations for nearly twenty years, through four successive appointees and two successive Secretaries General.

He said the Department’s culture has come to be visibly French and many of the appointees at a senior level have been French citizens or those of francophone countries.

“DPKO is a highly-prized position, since peacekeeping is a bigger-ticket operation that all the UN departments put together. France is happy to have such a top post under its control.”

Such fiefdoms, he said, do not mean that the incumbents are always less than competent or that they are automatically highly biased. Some appointees, however, would fit that description. The overall record is mixed, he noted.

“The system as a whole increases unfairness and dishonesty in the appointment system, greatly reinforces the control of the P-5 and tends towards mediocrity in the UN’s highest offices.”

Among the UN diplomatic community, such P5 leverage over top appointments is an open secret and cause for occasional fury, said Paul.

“Even the most effective incumbents serving in these P5-controlled posts symbolize a system of disregard for the Charter, disrespect for the opinions of other nations, and contempt for the very idea of neutrality of the international civil service,” declared Paul.

Samir Sanbar, a former UN Assistant-Secretary-General (ASG) who once headed the Department of Public Information told IPS for at least the first five SGs, it was indeed a traditional step for all USG’s to submit their resignations to allow for a new team.

They were mostly USGs who were Heads of Departments; others with similar rank were designated for special assignments, leaving after a specific accomplishment or lack of feasible outcome; an honorable example was Gunnar Jarring who made seven attempts to implement resolution 242 on the Middle East.

“Now there are dozens of envoys hanging around for years– -some for decades— on the pretext of pursuing a vague resolution or perplexed action,” said Sanbar, who served under five different Secretaries-Generals.

“It erodes the credibility of both the UN, its member states openly seeking posts, however symbolic.”.

“In the interest of a credible dynamic UN, it will be crucial for the new SG to announce new guidelines on senior appointments, limit their framework and-most important-maintain the position designated by the Charter as Chief Administrative Officer leading a dedicated competent International Civil Service, a unique UN asset,” declared Sanbar.

The writer can be contacted at

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Q&A: Land Degradation Could Force 135 Million to Migrate in Next 30 Years Tue, 18 Oct 2016 10:30:33 +0000 Manipadma Jena A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District, Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man stands in the middle of parched paddy land in the northern Kilinochchi District, Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI/BONN, Oct 18 2016 (IPS)

One of the critical challenges facing the world today is that emerging migration patterns are increasingly rooted in the depletion of natural resources.

Entire populations are being disempowered and uprooted as the land that they rely on for their survival and for their future no longer provides sustenance.

Many people will move within their own region or to nearby cities, driving unplanned urbanisation. Up to 135 million people are at risk of distressed migration as a result of land degradation in the next 30 years, says a United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) vision document.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) along with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change both envision land rehabilitation and restoration as significant actions in development and addressing climate change.

Governments from all over the world are currently meeting in Nairobi in order to agree on the strategic direction of the Desertification Convention. IPS correspondent Manipadma Jena interviewed Monique Barbut, Executive Secretary of the UNCCD, ahead of the ongoing fifteenth session of the Committee for the Review of the Implementation of the Convention (CRIC15) in Nairobi. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

Monique Barbut. Photo courtesy of UNCCD.

Q: With as many as 170 countries affected by drought or desertification, how could these factors drive conflicts and forced migrations?

A. Two Somali proverbs, nabadiyocaano meaning ‘peace and milk’ and col iyoabaar which means ‘conflict and drought’, illustrate the strong connection between stability and access to pasture and water. The world’s drought-prone and water scarce regions are often the main sources of refugees.

But neither desertification nor drought on its own causes conflict or forced migration. But they can increase the risk of conflict and intensify ongoing conflicts. Converging factors like political tension, weak institutions, economic marginalisation, lack of social safety nets or group rivalries create the conditions that make people unable to cope. The continuous drought and water scarcity from 2006 to 2010 in Syria is a recent well-known example.

Droughts are natural phenomena, they are not fated to lead to forced migration and conflict. Severe droughts also occur in countries like Australia and the United States, but government intervention has made these experiences bearable.

For poor countries where safety nets do not exist, the intervention of the international community is vital.

In Mali, for example, unpredictable and decreasing rainfall seasons have led to a decline in harvests. More and more herders and farmers’ are moving into cities searching for employment. In Bamako, Mali’s capital, population in just over 20 years has grown from 600,000 to roughly   2 million with living conditions becoming more precarious and insecure. As Lagos fills up with those fleeing desertification in rural northern Nigeria, its population now 10 million. Disillusioned, unemployed youth are easy prey for smugglers, organised drug and crime cartels, even for Boko Haram.

Pastoralists face similar challenges when they are compelled to move beyond their accepted boundaries in search of water and pasture and risk clashing with other populations unwilling to share resources. Clashes between pastoralists and farmer are a serious challenge for governments in Somalia, Chad and Niger.

Q: Which other countries are showing signs of vulnerability to extreme droughts in the near future?

A: Drought occurs in almost every climatic region. With climate change, droughts are expected to spread to new areas and to become more frequent and more intense. The vulnerable regions are Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle-East and North Africa, South-Eastern Europe, Central Asia, Australia, Brazil, India, U.S. and China. In the coming decades, most of the United States, the Mediterranean region, Southwest Asia, Western and Southern Africa and much of Latin America, especially Mexico and Brazil, will face extreme droughts.

The more important question, however, is “who is going to be affected and what can be done about it?” The livelihoods of the poor in developing countries will be the most impacted because they rely heavily on natural resources.  So, more investment is needed to incentivise them to adopt sustainable land management (SLM).

But frankly, the investments we have for land rehabilitation are insufficient. We must also improve land tenure security because farmers with secure ownership are more likely to adopt good practices. Improving access to markets and rural services will create alternative non-farm employment, reducing pressure on land and the impacts of droughts in turn.

Q: A lot now hinges on achieving Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) which requires a paradigm shift from ‘degrade-abandon-migrate’ to ‘protect-sustain-restore’. UNCCD aims to achieve LDN by 2030.  Given the tremendous and diverse pressures on land for economic growth, also from large populations in regions like Africa and Asia, where do you see their achievements in 14 years?

A. We want to move from business as usual to a future where the amount of productive land passing from one generation to the next remains stable.

In the current scenario, large numbers of people and a large share of national economies are tied to the land sector, particularly in the developing countries. So any degradation of the land reduces a country’s productivity. Unsustainable land use practices costs Mali about 8 percent of its gross domestic product, for example.

By 2030, along with a higher world population, a large middle class will emerge, accelerating the demand to draw more from these land-based sectors. For Africa and Asia to bridge these gaps, the farmers need to keep every inch of their land productive. This switch to sustainable land management however needs strong government support – to move farmers to scale up these good practices, to recover degraded lands and to prevent losing the most productive lands to urbanisation.

Reforms would move credit, market access and rural infrastructural development to ignite sustainable growth in agriculture. This is what it will take, to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030.

The Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative that seeks to restore degraded lands and create green jobs in the land-based sectors is a good example of this vision. The Desertification Convention is working with partners around the world to develop initiatives that are linked to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) target of achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030.

Q: Which countries are faring better in turning around land degradation and what is the key factor driving this achievement?

A. A 2008 global assessment showed that most of the land restoration since 1983 was in the Sahel zone. But we have seen a rise in global attention to land degradation through diverse initiatives. that include the Conventions on Biological Diversity and Climate Change,the Bonn Challenge on Forest and Landscape Restoration and the New York Declaration on Forests. There are also regional initiatives such as Initiative 20×20 in the Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa’s Great Green Wall and initiative AF100, also in Africa.

Once the SDGs were adopted last year, our ambition for 2016 was to have at least 60 countries committing to set voluntary national targets to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030. We have surpassed that target. Today, we have more than 100 country commitments.

This achievement is due, in part, to the success of a pilot project that enabled 14 countries to assess and politically communicate the potential returns each would get by reversing land degradation in target areas. Armenia, Belarus and Ethiopia could quantify how they could meet their national obligations under the climate change agreement by pursuing land degradation neutrality.

Some common patterns among the countries that tend to fare better in fighting land degradation and drought (DLDD) is strong government leadership that values the socio-economic benefits accruing to their people and political commitment to make effective policies. They also have active champions of good land use practices which can be NGOs, development and private sector partners as well as small and large farmers.

Q: UNCCD is open to private business funding for projects under LDN. Which type of projects would businesses -for- profit show investment interest?

A. There is a growing appetite in the private sector for sustainable land use projects that can contribute to land degradation neutrality. More industry players have committed to LDN-related initiatives and other environmental targets. Companies committing to reduce the ecological impacts of their commodity supply chains rose from 50 in 2009 to nearly 300 by 2014, Supply Change reported in 2016. Many businesses dealing in agricultural and/or forestry commodities get raw materials from the land, and may be interested in investing in projects that make their supply chains more sustainable.

But there is no dedicated public funding pool investing globally in projects to combat land degradation, and public financing alone is not sufficient to protect our planet’s ecosystems. The private sector needs to step up. This is what created the need and opportunity for a new dedicated funding source –the LDN Fund. It combines public and private capital in support of the SDG target of land degradation neutrality.

The sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry (including agroforestry), land rehabilitation and conservation, and the ecotourism sectors can support profitable investments. Forestry has attracted 77 percent of all capital raised for LDN investments to date. Agriculture is expected to see the strongest increase in investments and to grow by nearly 350 percent by 2021. It is clear that projects that incorporate at least some component of food and/or timber production are more likely to generate a stable cash flow are more appealing to private investors in LDN.

In the developed countries, many of the conservation activities receiving private investment are backed by government legislation. A strong regulatory framework provides certainty to the market and helps to create end buyers. As a result, the investments attract steady flows of private capital.

Q: Do governments need to put in place smallholder-safeguard mechanisms for private investments in land?

A. Safeguard mechanisms that recognise the land rights of smallholders are vital, even when the farmers have no formal tenure. Smallholdings support billions of livelihoods, which makes these households extremely sensitive to land use change.

In developing countries, government policies designed to attract investment are often biased towards large-scale farming, and hardly offer the protection to smallholders require. Private investors should have their own safeguards but governments have a responsibility to implement and enforce mechanisms to protect smallholders. The LDN Fund is designed to align with progressive global environmental and social standards.

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Indigenous Land Rights Bring Economic, not just Environmental Benefits Mon, 17 Oct 2016 03:46:52 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

Cloud forest in Costa Rica. Credit: Germán Miranda/IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
Oct 17 2016 (IPS)

Secure indigenous land rights not only bring environmental benefits, they can also foster economic development, according to a new report released by the World Resources Institute.

The report, Climate Benefits, Tenure Costs: The Economic Case for Securing Indigenous Land Rights, describes how local communities can sustainably manage forests and generate economic growth when given tenure rights to their land.

In Guatemala, Indigenous communities have successfully created sustainable income from the forest, while treating it as a renewable resource, Juan Carlos Jintiach, Advisor of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA) told IPS.

Indigenous communities in Guatemala export forest products including highly nutritious berries which are popular in Korea and Japan, said Jintiach.

“The role of forests in climate mitigation is vastly under-appreciated, even by most climate experts,” Dan Zarin

Their careful management of the forests has also made their wood products popular with guitar manufactures such as Gibson and Fender, he added.

“In Guatemala the community-based industry is very well organized.” They have a land rotation system for their timber activities and they monitor the timber products up to the point they reach the consumer.

“They have a sophisticated way of managing their forests – you can almost trace a product from the tree it came from on a particular patch of land.”

“They use this revenue to improve local development, healthcare and education in their communities and that’s where the economic impact comes into the picture,” said Jintiach.

The world’s 370 million Indigenous people have only limited land rights and are much more likely to live in extreme poverty than non-Indigenous peoples.

Although they make up just five percent of the world’s population, Indigenous peoples make up 15 percent of the world’s extreme poor, according the World Bank.

Therefore, inclusive economic growth which benefits indigenous peoples is one of the ways that countries can tackle extreme poverty, and achieve the first Sustainable Development Goal of ending extreme poverty.

However, economic benefits are not the only reason why Indigenous Land Rights are important, the report argues.

“The role of forests in climate mitigation is vastly under-appreciated, even by most climate experts,” Dan Zarin, Director of Programs, Climate and Land Use Alliance said at the launch of the report.

“Other than the oceans there are no other carbon capture and storage technologies that are nearly as cost effective as forests and are proven on a large scale,” said Zarin.

“Deforestation rates on legally recognised Indigenous lands are two to three times lower registered to Indigenous peoples,” the report found.

Yet far too often government overlook local communities and allocate the rights to exploit a forest and other natural resources to multinational corporations with few if any links to the land.

“Indigenous Peoples and other communities hold and manage 50 to 65 percent of the world’s land, yet governments recognise only 10 percent as legally belonging to these groups, with another 8 percent designated by governments for communities,” the report found.

The report argues that allocating land rights to indigenous groups is relatively inexpensive for governments especially considering the measurable benefits.

“Secure indigenous forestlands provide significant global carbon and other ecosystem service benefits in Bolivia, Brazil, and Colombia, estimated at between $679 and $1,530 billion for the next 20 years,” said the report.

“Meanwhile, the costs of securing indigenous forestlands amount to less than one percent of these benefits.”

However without secure land rights, indigenous communities are often unable to protect the forest, Helen Ding, Environmental Economist and report author World Resources Institute, told IPS.

“We have seen that the REDD+ program has been there for more than 10 years now and there is still deforestation happening in Brazil and Indonesia. The reason for that is partly because many of these lands are held by indigenous people are not recognised and they are not protected,” said Ding.

In practical terms, she points out, land tenure rights allow local communities to access credit, which will enable them to generate economic benefits.

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Negligent Central American Leaders Fuel Deepening Refugee Crisis Fri, 14 Oct 2016 19:29:04 +0000 Erika Guevara-Rosas 0 The Elusive Woman Secretary-General Fri, 14 Oct 2016 06:37:32 +0000 Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN; chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee in 1997-1998 that approved Kofi Annan’s first reform budget; initiator of the Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation; and a well-known analyst of the UN system’s work. ]]>

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury is former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the UN; chairman of the UN’s Administrative and Budgetary Committee in 1997-1998 that approved Kofi Annan’s first reform budget; initiator of the Security Council resolution 1325 underscoring women’s equality of participation; and a well-known analyst of the UN system’s work.

By Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury
NEW YORK, Oct 14 2016 (IPS)

United Nations’ apex forum, the General Assembly elected the next Secretary-General yesterday by acclamation rubber-stamping the recommendation of the Security Council (SC). I am appalled by the choice of 15 members of the Security Council of another man following eight others in 70 plus years of UN’s existence as if only men are destined to lead this global organization.

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury

The Council members were totally insensitive to a groundswell of support worldwide for a woman as the next Secretary-General. They advanced the legacy of ignoring the 50 per cent of humanity in their action. This is an absolute aberration of the system whereby the 15 members of the Council impose their choice prompted by P-5 pressure and manipulation upon the total membership of 193, not to speak of wide swath of civil society opinion and activism for a woman Secretary-General.

It is so very unfortunate that in the selection process politics has trumped women’s equality, violating UN Charter’s article 8 which underscores the eligibility and equality of men and women to participate in any capacity in all its organs – principal or subsidiary.

The grapevine is spreading that one of the East European women candidates would get the post Deputy Secretary-General (D-SG) as a part of the deal about the new SG. This is not a big deal as we already had two woman DS-Gs in the past.

It should also be remembered that when the DS-G post was created in 1998 by the General Assembly, it was the understanding that if the S-G is from an industrialized country, the DS-G would be from a developing country and vice-versa. Similarly, if the S-G is a man, the DS-G should be a woman – no possibility of vice-versa till now. This double balance in UN’s two highest posts has been ignored on occasions in recent years.

I would also underscore that the new S-G should bring in a true and real 50-50 gender balance at the level of Under Secretaries-General (USGs) and Assistant Secretaries-General (ASGs). This is an action which should be clearly laid down in a transparent way within the first 100 days in office.

UN General Assembly’s 70th President Mogen Lykketoft’s praiseworthy initiative for exposure of the candidates to wider membership and civil society did not have any impact of the predominant political process in the Security Council. Doing well in a Q&A is not a shortcut to the world’s most demanding job.

I believe strongly that a most practical and feasible way to prevent such Security Council’s choice imposition– though the UN Charter envisages as such– the General Assembly should decide to also hold straw polls on all candidates the way Council does to send a signal about how the majority of UN membership is expressing their choice. This can be done informally like the SC straw polls but made public and transmitted to the Council.

This will at least tell the world how the UN membership as a whole is assessing the candidates and hopefully will have an impact on the Council’s choice. All this can be done without amending the Charter or disrespecting any of its provisions.

Like any leader of an organization, the UN leader’s success or absence of it depends on his team. That is another area I belief needs a total overhaul in UN. It is long overdue. As in case of any new corporate CEO, each time the UN’s Chief Administrative Officer – that is how the S-G is described in the UN Charter – gets elected or reelected, interested quarters wonder whether he will introduce any new guidelines on senior appointments, and will he be subject to pressure from the big powers — as it happened with his predecessors?.

In that context, it is strongly felt that the UN’s so-called political appointments at ASG and USG levels should be more transparent and open. The pressures from Member States and personal favoritism have made the UN Charter objective of “securing the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity” (article 101.3) almost impossible to achieve.

It is also to be kept in mind that for his (yes, still it is “his”) own appointment, the incoming Secretary-General makes all kinds of deals – political, organizational, personnel and others. And those are to be honored during first years in office. That then spills over for the second occasion when he starts believing that a second term is his right, as we have seen in recent years.

The tradition of all senior management staff submitting their resignations is only notional and window-dressing. The new Secretary-General knows full well that there is a good number of such staff who will continue to remain under the new leadership as they are backed strongly by influential governments. In the process, merit and effectiveness suffer.

It is a pity that the UN system is full of appointments made under intense political pressure by Member States individually or as a group. Another aspect of this is the practice of identifying some USG posts for P-5 and big contributors to the UN budget.

What makes this worse is that individuals to these posts are nominated by their governments, thereby violating article 100 of the UN Charter which says that “In the performance of their duties the Secretary-General and the staff shall not seek or receive instructions from any government or from any other authority external to the Organization.”

The reality in the Secretariat does not reflect the Charter objectives – I believe it never did. One way to avoid that would be to stop nomination and lobbying – formally or informally – for staff appointments giving the S-G some flexibility to select senior personnel based on “competence and integrity”. Of course, one can point out inadequacies and possible pitfalls of this idea. But, there the leadership of the S-G will determine how he can make effective use of such flexibility being made available to him.

A very negative influence on the recruitment process at the UN, not to speak of senior appointments, has been the pressure of donors – both traditional and new ones – to secure appointments of staff and consultants, mostly through extra-budgetary resources and other funding supports. This has serious implications for the goals and objectives as well as political mission and direction of the UN in its activities.

No Secretary-General would be willing or be supported by the rest of the UN system to undertake any drastic reform of the recruitment process for both the senior management or at other levels. Also, at the end, he has to face the Member States in the General Assembly to get their nod for his reforms.

Yes, opposition will be there, both from within his own Secretariat and from influential Member States, but the determination and effectiveness of leadership of the new S-G will be tested in having the courage to push a drastic overhaul of the appointments and recruitments practice within the UN system as a whole.

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Antonio Guterres: New UN Secretary General Thu, 13 Oct 2016 15:28:57 +0000 Farhana Haque Rahman By Farhana Haque Rahman, Director General, Inter Press Service
ROME, Oct 13 2016 (IPS)

The new UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who takes office on January 1, arrives with strong credentials — both as a former Prime Minister of Portugal and an ex-UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Farhana Haque Rahman

Farhana Haque Rahman

As a senior UN official, he spearheaded an ambitious but politically intricate action plan to battle one of the world’s major humanitarian crises that threatened to unravel European unity as millions of refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Asia landed on the shores of Europe last year.

Guterres was elected mostly on merit – with a rare unanimous decision by the five veto-wielding permanent members at a time when the Security Council is sharply divided over Syria, Yemen, Ukraine and North Korea. The consensus in the 15-member Council, and the approval of his nomination by the 193-member General Assembly, underlined a strong affirmation of his appointment.

When both the Security Council and the General Assembly gave their overwhelming support to Guterres, they side-stepped two alternative options: picking the first woman Secretary-General or the first Secretary-General from Eastern Europe.

The lobbying for a female UN chief was initiated by more than 750 civil society and human rights organizations, while the proposal for an East European as UN chief came mostly from member states.

While there was a strong case for a woman Secretary-General in a 71-year-old male-dominated world body, Eastern Europe had less of a legitimate claim. As a geographical entity, it existed only within the confines of the UN, not outside of it. After the end of the Cold War, most Eastern European states became an integral partner of the European Union (EU) or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and often both

So, in effect, Guterres overcame both campaigns, as he was anointed the fourth Western European to hold the position.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea, who will step down on December 31 after a 10-year tenure, will leave behind two legacies: the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. But it will be left to Guterres to ensure their implementation.

A member of the Socialist Party in Portugal, Guterres spent over 20 years in government and public service before he was elected by the UN General Assembly to become the 10th High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), serving for a decade until the end of 2015.

His work with the UNHCR was nothing short of groundbreaking. As High Commissioner, he oversaw the most profound structural reform process in UNHCR’s history and built up the organization’s capacity to respond to some of the largest displacement crises since the end of World War Two.

Guterres has already pledged to serve the “victims of conflicts, of terrorism, human rights violations, poverty and injustices of this world”. Ban Ki Moon rightly complimented Guterres as a “superb choice” and said “his experience as Portuguese prime minister, his wide knowledge of world affairs, and his lively intellect will serve him well in leading the United Nations in a crucial period”.

However, he acknowledged that the election was also a disappointment as his vision of a female successor did not become a reality. Ban Ki Moon, is not alone in his sentiments, as many consider the outcome of the election to be “bittersweet”. Christiana Figueres, a Costa Rican diplomat and one of Guterres’ female rivals for the job, tweeted on 5 October, “Bitter:not a woman. Sweet: by far the best man in the race. Congrats Antonio Guterres! We are all with you”.

Guterres takes over the UN at a time when the world body has remained paralyzed over several unresolved political problems, including the five-year-old devastating civil war in Syria, hundreds of civilian killings in Yemen, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, and the emergence of North Korea as the world’s newest nuclear power in defiance of Security Council resolutions.

The new Secretary-General will also be entrusted with the task of resolving several lingering problems, including ongoing reports of sexual abuse of women by some UN peacekeepers and compensation for Haitian victims of cholera inadvertently brought in by UN peacekeepers, and address new challenges, such as helping muster the trillions of dollars needed to implement the 17 SDGs and the Climate Change agreement as well as ensuring a 50:50 gender parity in senior and decision-making positions in the UN Secretariat.

One of his first appointments should be to name a woman as his Deputy, preferably from the developing world.
We wish him well in his endeavors.

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Boko Haram: Recruited by Friends and Family Wed, 12 Oct 2016 00:32:35 +0000 Rose Delaney2 0 Report Details UN Failings in Juba, South Sudan Violence Tue, 11 Oct 2016 23:52:31 +0000 Lindah Mogeni 0 Resisting the Dakota Access Pipeline: “This Is Not The End” Tue, 11 Oct 2016 05:12:50 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage A #NoDAPL demonstration in Oakland, CA. Credit: Peg Hunter / Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

A #NoDAPL demonstration in Oakland, CA. Credit: Peg Hunter / Flickr. CC BY-NC 2.0

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
NEW YORK, Oct 11 2016 (IPS)

Resistance towards the controversial Dakota Access pipeline continues after a federal court rejected requests to halt construction on Monday.

Since August, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and thousands of allies from across the North American nation have gathered in North Dakota to protest the 1,172 mile long pipeline.

The movement, known as #NoDAPL, an acronym of No Dakota Access Pipeline, has also garnered unprecedented support across the world, from Ecuador to New Zealand. In September, New Zealand Maori politician Pita Paraone voiced his support, stating: “If I didn’t support this, then what planet am I on?”

The $3.8 billion pipeline, undertaken by oil company Energy Transfer Partners and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, is to transport over half a million barrels of oil per day to Illinois. If built, it would be laid under multiple bodies of water including the Missouri River close to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe’s reservation.

The project was met with widespread criticism as it would destroy sacred and culturally important landscapes.

“[The pipeline] has absolutely no regard for our existence on this place…it has completely disregarded our burial sites, and our spiritual sites. It has disregarded all of those things that bind native people to the landscape,” artist and Sioux County native involved in #NoDAPL Cannupa Hanska Luger told IPS.

Standing Rock Sioux tribe reported that several sacred sites including burial grounds and places of prayer have already been destroyed.

“[The pipeline] has completely disregarded our burial sites, and our spiritual sites. It has disregarded all of those things that bind native people to the landscape,” -- Cannupa Hanska Luger.

The pipeline also poses a great risk of contaminating the tribe’s main source of water. Luger stressed the necessity of clean water, especially for an area that relies on agriculture.

“We actually have alternatives to oil. We don’t, as a living being on this planet, have an alternative to water. Once the last river is poisoned, we’re done,” he told IPS, also noting that they are “water protectors” rather than protesters.

According to federal data, pipeline spills are a daily occurrence. Between 2010 and 2013, there were almost 2000 incidents of leaks, amounting to an average of 1.6 incidents per day.

Despite these risks, critics say that plans for the pipeline were fast tracked, as the U.S. Corps of Engineers did not adequately assess the potential for oil spills or its impact on the environment.

In response, the agency said that a more rigorous environmental assessment would have been conducted if the initial evaluation showed any significant environmental effects.

However, the Army Corps noted negative consequences after rejecting a prior route from Bismarck, the state capital of North Dakota, citing potential contamination of the state capital’s water source.

“What they did is they went backdoor and went straight to tribal lands…which is always the fallback for any major construction project that has to do with fossil fuel extraction,” Red Warrior Camp organiser Krystal Two Bulls told IPS.

Red Warrior Camp is one of the main camps established along the Missouri River to protect the land from construction.

Beth Hill, a former Greenpeace activist who has been fundraising and delivering supplies to camps set up by the river, told IPS that the project is reminiscent of another controversial pipeline, stating: “This is basically Keystone with a different name.”

The 1,179 mile Keystone XL pipeline was poised to transport an increased supply of oil from Canada to the U.S. While the U.S. State Department said that the project would not impact the environment significantly, the agency also expressed the need to find alternative routes to avoid impacting the “environmentally sensitive area” of Sand Hills.

After six years of reviews, President Obama finally rejected the plan in 2015, citing concerns of environmental protection and climate change.

“America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change. And frankly, approving this project would have undercut that global leadership,” he stated.

Recently, during the 8th Annual Tribal Nations Conference, President Obama addressed the issue of DAPL, telling attendees that “together, you are making your voices heard.”

The issue of the controversial pipeline also reached the halls of the United Nations, prompting Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz to call on the U.S. government to halt construction of the pipeline and to consult with indigenous groups who were denied access to information and excluded from the planning processes.

“The United States should, in accordance with its commitment to implement the Declaration on the rights on indigenous peoples, consult with the affected communities in good faith and ensure their free, and informed consent prior to the approval of any project affecting their lands, particularly in connection with extractive resource industries,” she stated.

Prior to Tauli-Corpuz’s statement, the Department of Justice, the Department of Army and the Department of the Interior made a joint statement to temporarily halt construction while the government reviews its previous decisions and to hold formal consultations with tribes.

On Sunday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit reversed this ruling anddenied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s injunction to stop construction of the pipeline.

Many expressed disappointment in the ruling including Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault II who responded that “this is not the end of this fight.”

“We will not rest until our lands, people, waters and sacred places are permanently protected from this destructive pipeline,” he continued.

Indigenous Environmental Network’s Native Energy and Climate Campaign Organiser Kandi Mossett told IPS that it has been an “emotional rollercoaster” but that the Energy Transfer Partners has yet to acquire a permit to build the pipeline under the river.

“We’re here and we’re going to be here if they try to continue to build,” she said.

On the other hand, North Dakota Senator John Hoeven applauded the decision, stating: “Energy infrastructure is vital to our country’s economy and national security, and it can be built safely.”

He added the need to provide help to local law enforcement to “ensure that any ongoing protests are within the law.”

Aggressive Response to “Water Protectors” and Media

However, observers have reported that the #NoDAPL movement is being met with militarised aggression and violence.

Hill told IPS of the militarised presence by the camps, noting that there were cars without license plates and armed guards who would not say who their employer was.

“You feel like you’re being watched constantly,” said Hill.

Similarly, Luger express his concerns to IPS of such a presence, stating: “When you bring miltarised people to a protest where people are just basically trying to protect their water, stuff gets ugly really fast.”

Earlier in September, security guards working for the pipeline company allegedly attacked Native Americans with dogs and pepper spray. At least 30 people were pepper sprayed and six, including a young child, were bitten by dogs. While speaking at the 33rd Session of the UN Human Rights Council, Archambault told UN officials of the incident, stating: “We stand in peace but have been met with violence.”

Energy Transfer Partners did not immediately respond to IPS’ requests for comment.

In a statement, the County Sheriff’s department said that it was protestors who became violent. “This was more like a riot than a protest. Individuals crossed onto private property and accosted private security officers with wooden posts and flag poles,” said Morton County Sheriff Kyle Kirchmeier. The Sheriff’s department is currently leading an investigation into the incident.

Confrontations have since continued leading to numerous arrests. Most recently, almost 30 people were arrested during protests on Monday following the ruling.

Mossett told IPS that if construction continues, there would only be more arrests of those protecting the river.

Also among those arrested since the movement began have been media personnel.

“The coverage of this issue is clearly a threat,” said Luger to IPS in response to media arrests.

“[The government is] focused on media folks because they are terrified of this information getting out,” he continued.

After filming and covering the incident with the dogs, Democracy Now! host and executive producer Amy Goodman was charged with criminal trespassing by North Dakota.

“This is an unacceptable violation of freedom of the press,” Amy Goodman said in a statement. “I was doing my job by covering pipeline guards unleashing dogs and pepper spray on Native American protestors,” she continued.

Larger than Just One Pipeline

As winter quickly approaches, Native Americans and allies are bracing themselves for the long haul.

“All of us are prepared to be at camp for as long as it takes,” Two Bulls told IPS.

But this is not just their fight, she added.

“Anybody that breathes air, lives on this land or drinks water—this is their fight too,” Two Bulls told IPS.

“This is much larger than this pipeline…it’s about [deconstructing] this system and [creating] another system that works in the benefit of all people,” she continued.

Luger echoed similar sentiments to IPS, stating: “This is not an indigenous movement, this is a human movement…if there is a leak in the river, half of the country has the potential of being tainted by this.” But they cannot stop this danger alone, he said.

“I just hope that my children can go back to North Dakota and I can point out these geographical places and say this is our story, this is our history and we are from here. And look, that hill proves it,” Luger said.

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Life Goes On, Barely, After 50 Years of Occupation Mon, 10 Oct 2016 17:38:27 +0000 Fabíola Ortiz An eight-meter-high "security wall" borders part of the Aida refugee camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

An eight-meter-high "security wall" borders part of the Aida refugee camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabíola Ortiz
AIDA CAMP, West Bank, Oct 10 2016 (IPS)

Over almost five decades of Israeli occupation, the number of Palestinian refugees has grown with every generation, saturating basic services in the 19 camps that are home to about 200,000 people in the West Bank run by the United Nations.

“Every year, the camp becomes more and more crowded and difficult to live. We don’t have privacy, any comfort, it is not easy,” Mohammad Alazza, 26, told IPS."The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return." --Munther Amira

He was born and raised in Aida camp, 1.5 km north of the city of Bethlehem and bordered by the 721-km wall that separates Israel and the West Bank.

Families in Aida endure spotty water provision and frequent energy shortages. Nearly all households are connected to water, electricity and sewage networks, but they are old and in poor condition, the UN says. After a recent agreement with the Palestinian Water Authority, water is provided to Aida camp for two days every other week.

Next year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the occupation since 1967 and a hundred years since the Balfour Declaration (1917), that is said to have laid the foundation for the formation of the State of Israel.

Founded in 1950, Aida’s first inhabitants came from 17 villages destroyed in western Jerusalem and western Hebron during the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, what Palestinians call ‘nakba’, catastrophe in Arabic.

“At that time, the families that were expelled from the villages had the expectation they might come back to their houses someday. They just closed their houses and took the key with them thinking the war would be over in some weeks. We are still waiting for this moment to come,” stressed Alazza, whose grandparents originally came from Beit Jibreen.

At the entrance of the camp there is a tall gate with a huge key on top, symbolising what Aida’s families claim as their right of return. “Each family still keeps the original key from their homes. People believe that one day they will go back to their land. We live with this hope and we believe this occupation will end eventually,” Alazza said.

There are currently 5,500 people living in Aida registered at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), of whom around 3,000 are children. The camp faces serious challenges related to overcrowding, lack of space, poor infrastructure, high levels of unemployment, food insecurity and protection issues due to regular incursions by the Israeli army.

The director of UNRWA operations in the West Bank, Scott Anderson, says that due to the occupation, the Palestinian economy is stagnant. He added that human rights for Palestinians are still not fully embraced. Israeli settlements continue to exacerbate tensions.

“It is challenging if you are a Palestine refugee. Everything is a bit worse in the camps: unemployment rates, housing, access to water and electricity. Despite their resilience, they have a difficult reality,” he told IPS.

Aida camp is located between the municipalities of Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Jerusalem and is near two large Israeli settlements – Har Homa and Gilo – considered illegal by the international community.

“Gilo is less than two km away and they have 24-hour fresh water, gardens and schools for children. We live just next to this settlement and we suffer from lack of all of these. We’ll never accept this. My home village is 40 minutes distant and I can’t reach it. It is not easy to be a refugee in my country,” Alazzo complained.

Aida has been a hot spot since the Second Intifada (also called as Al-Aqsa, a Palestinian uprising started in 2000) and refugees became highly exposed to violence as a result of military operations.

The increasing number of injuries in the camp are due to excessive force documented by the UN. In 2015, there were 84 incursions by Israeli security forces, 57 injuries (21 were minors), 44 arrests (including 13 minors), and one fatality with the death of a minor.

Walking through the alleys and narrow streets of Aida, it is common to hear stories about men and boys taken from their homes by Israeli security forces.

“We’re always afraid of our sons being taken by Israeli army. I never leave them alone. It is normal for the Israeli soldiers to take kids. It’s a scary life,” Sumayah Asad, a 40-year-old mother of six, told IPS.

It was a Friday morning, a sacred day for the Muslims, and she was handing out chocolates and sweets as gifts to whoever passed in front of her house. Asad said she was celebrating her 12-year-old son’s release after five days in detention.

“I’m happy now to see my son released from the Israeli occupation. Soldiers came to my house at three in the morning and caught my boy. They let him out after discovering he hadn’t done anything. Kids should be playing or be in the school, not in jail,” she said.

Although not everyone agrees that coexistence is possible among Jews and Palestinians, Munther Amira, 45, who was born in Aida and whose family came from the village Dier Aban (South Jerusalem), remains optimistic that peaceful change can be achieved.

“Yes, we can coexist. The idea of coexistence is based on human rights and should include our right of return. Here in Palestine, Christians and Muslims already live together. It’s difficult to develop a democracy under an occupation,” he told IPS.

Amira is an activist with the national Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign. In his opinion, boycotting Israeli products is a peaceful tool to bring pressure in order to reach into an agreement.

“We are under siege. We can’t import anything without the permission of the Israeli occupation. By boycotting Israeli products, we support the freedom of Palestine. It’s a non-violent tool against the occupation, if it’s done collectively, it’ll be very effective,” he suggested.

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Gang Violence Drives Internal Displacement in El Salvador Fri, 07 Oct 2016 21:52:29 +0000 Edgardo Ayala Girls skip rope in the camp where they are staying in the town of Caluco, in western El Salvador, in makeshift accommodations on a basketball court. Dozens of families have fled from the neighbouring rural community of El Castaño, owing to the criminal violence and threats from gangs.

Girls skip rope in the camp where they are staying in the town of Caluco, in western El Salvador, in makeshift accommodations on a basketball court. Dozens of families have fled from the neighbouring rural community of El Castaño, owing to the criminal violence and threats from gangs.

By Edgardo Ayala
CALUCO, El Salvador, Oct 7 2016 (IPS)

A basketball court in this small town in western El Salvador was turned overnight into a shelter for some two dozen families forced to flee their homes after a recent escalation of gang violence.

But they are still plagued with fear, grief and uncertainty.

“I am devastated, I have lost my father and now we are fleeing with my family, as if we had done something wrong”, said a 41-year-old woman, waiting for lunchtime in the camp set up in Caluco, a rural municipality in the western department of Sonsonate in El Salvador.

She, like the rest of the victims interviewed by IPS, asked that her name not be used, for fear of retaliation.

Her father was killed mid-September by members of the Calle 18 gang, which then threatened to kill the rest of the family. Calle 18 and Mara Salvatrucha, the two main gangs, are responsible for most of the criminal activity in this Central American country of 6.3 million people.“The phenomenon is not well known because it is shrouded in silence: people are threatened and forced to leave their homes in silence, since it is safer than filing a complaint.” -- Osvaldo López

In 2015, the murder rate was 103 per 100,000 inhabitants in El Salvador, which made it the most violent country in the world, with the exception of countries suffering from armed conflict, like Syria.

The left-wing administration of Mauricio Funes (2009-2014) facilitated a gang truce in 2012, which lead to a dramatic drop in homicides.

But his successor, former guerrilla leader Salvador Sánchez Cerén, also from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FLN), ruled out an extension of the truce as it was widely rejected by the public, and the homicide rate soared once again.

“Back in El Castaño we left the fields where my father worked growing corn and beans, and I left my chicken breeding,” said the woman in the shelter, next to her husband and two children, and surrounded by children playing amidst makeshift tents and rooms built with plastic and wood.

The shelter was set up by local authorities in Caluco, when dozens of the 60 families in El Castaño, a rural community in this municipality, fled on Sept. 18 because of a recent surge in violence unleashed by Calle 18, which has controlled the area for the last two years.

In the territory under their control, the gangs freely rob, rape and extort, according to the people in the shelter. Anyone who fails to make the required “protection payments” is given three days to get out or be killed, they said.

For now, the gang members have retreated in the face of the police and military incursion that occurred in response to the mass displacement of villagers. On Sept. 4 a group of refugees returned home for a few hours, under police guard, to check their crops and feed their animals.

Most of the families in the community sought shelter with family and friends in other localities in the area, since they left their homes before the shelter had been built.

“I feel out of place but at the same time calm, because there are no armed people around me,” said one 64-year-old victim, who fled to a friend’s house in Izalco, about 10 km from El Castaño.

He has left behind his livelihood, small-scale farming and dairy production, and now he will have to figure out another way to make a living. For the time being, he earns some money ferrying people and cargo back and forth in his worn-down old truck.

“I have to see what I’ll do to put food on the table,” he told IPS, as he drank a soft-drink in the shade of a tree, in his forced new place of residence. He has already sold his six cows, which produced 70 litres of milk per day that he would sell to a nearby dairy.

This is not a new phenomenon in the country and has been reported on occasion by the local press, but the exodus of local people of El Castaño and the shelter assembled in Caluco have exposed the serious problem of forced displacement in El Salvador.

In a report published on Sept. 26, the Civil Society Bureau against Forced Migration and Organised Crime reported 146 cases of displacement between Aug. 2014 and Dec. 2015, in a partial recount since the organization does not cover the whole country.

The victims filed complaints in just 36 per cent of the cases, according to the report. This low rate was due mainly to fear of retaliation and mistrust in state institutions.

Government authorities have played down the phenomenon. Vice President Oscar Ortiz recently stated that it should not be blown out of proportion because “it’s not as if things were similar to Afghanistan.”

“The government has tried to avoid acknowledging the issue of internal displacement,” said Nelson Flores of the Foundation for the Study of the Application of Rights (FESPAD), one of the 13 organisations that make up the Bureau.

As a result, it has also failed to make an assessment of the problem and its impacts, he told IPS.

“The phenomenon is not well known because it is shrouded in silence: people are threatened and forced to leave their homes in silence, since it is safer than filing a complaint,” said Osvaldo López, head of the Dignity and Justice Programme of the Episcopal Anglican Church of El Salvador – one of the religious organisations that tracks gang-related violence.

He said the government does not officially recognise the critical situation of forced displacements driven by criminal violence, because that would entail an admission that it had lost its ability to provide security, and was in need of international protection and support.

“Other countries might open their doors to let in people who want to leave El Salvador, but a declaration of this kind would have strong political and economic repercussions for the country,” he told IPS.

From 2006 to 2014, López headed the Programme of Assistance for Refugees and Asylum Seekers in El Salvador, for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (Acnur).

Reports from international organisations indicate that thousands of people are compelled to leave their homes in silence, without leaving any trace in the official statistics.

The Global Report on Internal Displacement 2016 said that in 2015 there were 289,000 victims of forced displacement in El Salvador. The total for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico combined – among the most violent areas in the world – amounts to one million.

“Displacement in the region tends to remain unquantified and unaddressed for reasons ranging from political to methodological,” according to the report, issued by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, linked to the United Nations, and the Norwegian Refugee Council.

In most of Central America, there is a lack of recognition that criminal violence causes internal displacement, the report says, adding that Honduras is the only country that has officially recognised the phenomenon.

Meanwhile, the victims at the Caluco camp are waiting to be able to return in a few days to their homes, once the authorities set up a permanent police post in El Castaño.

Girls skip rope in the camp where they are staying in the town of Caluco, in western El Salvador, in makeshift accommodations on a basketball court. Dozens of families have fled from the neighbouring rural community of El Castaño, owing to the criminal violence and threats from gangs.

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Reject Abusers from UN Human Rights Council: Advocacy Groups Fri, 07 Oct 2016 04:23:03 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage The UN Human Rights Council chamber in Geneva. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré.

The UN Human Rights Council chamber in Geneva. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré.

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) and the UN Watch have called on UN member states to oppose the bids of some of the major human rights abusing governments from joining the Human Rights Council (HRC).

“This is absurd and outrageous,” said UN Watch’s Executive Director Hillel Neuer on the potential reelection of certain member states to the HRC.

“[HRC] has failed when it elects some of the worst human rights abusers. Who speaks for citizens? Not the Human Rights Council,” he continued at a press conference.

Geneva-based UN Watch and New-York based HRF cited Resolution 60/251 to remind governments of their obligations to uphold human rights. According to the resolution, which established the council in 2006, General Assembly members must consider candidates’ contribution to the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.

Guided by this resolution and using criteria from various organisations including Freedom House and Reporters without Borders, UN Watch and HRF measured candidates’ suitability for election and found that eight out of 17 countries have poor human rights records and fail to qualify for a seat on HRC.

Among those countries is Saudi Arabia, currently one of 47 members of the Geneva-based council.

The Middle Eastern nation is notorious for its restrictions of freedom of speech and of the press, often prosecuting and imprisoning dissenters and government critics.

Raif Badawi, a Saudi writer and activist, was arrested in 2012 for insulting Islam and was sentenced to 1000 lashes and ten years in prison. He had expressed concerns on the lack of freedoms in the country through his blog.

“Petrol dollars and politics are once again trumping human rights,” -- Hillel Neuer

“Raif speaks the language of freedom fluently,” said Ensaf Haidar, a Saudi-Canadian human rights activist and wife of Badawi.

After the ruling, Haidar received anonymous death threats and escaped to Canada with their children. She continues to work towards the release of Badawi, stating: “Our wish is one—to be reunited again.”

Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen, is also responsible for the indiscriminate killing of Yemenis.

The UN Human Rights Office has estimated that there have been over 9,000 casualties since military operations began in March 2015. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein noted that the Saudi-led coalition is responsible for twice as many civilian causalities as all other forces put together.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also found that the coalition was responsible for 60 percent of recorded child deaths and injuries, and listed Saudi Arabia as party to conflict who commit grave violations against children. However, the country successfully pressured the UN to remove the listing after threatening to withdraw funding from critical UN programs.

“Petrol dollars and politics are once again trumping human rights,” Neuer told IPS.

He added that as long as they are in the HRC, Saudi Arabia is able to shield themselves from scrutiny and continue committing human rights violations.

“When human rights abusers get this false badge of legitimacy, they use it to strengthen their dictatorial regime and to crush the morale of political prisoners within their borders,” he stated.

In June, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also called for the expulsion of Saudi Arabia from the Human Rights Council, citing systematic violations of human rights.

“Failure to act on Saudi Arabia’s gross and systematic human rights violations committed in Yemen and its use of its membership to obstruct independent scrutiny and accountability threatens the credibility of both the Human Rights Council and the General Assembly,” said Director of AI’s Asia-Pacific Program Richard Bennett.

UN Watch and HRF have begun their appeals to UN member states including Canada, the United States, and European Union to comply with the minimum standards of the council by not voting for regimes such as Saudi Arabia.

It would not be the first time a member state was rejected from HRC due to its human rights record. In 2015, three-term HRC member Pakistan failed to win a reelection to the council, a shock that prompted “introspection” to its causes.

In a report prior to the 2016 elections, the UN Watch and HRF found Pakistan unfit as a HRC candidate due to its restrictions on freedom of expression, discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, and gender-based violence.

In order to achieve such a feat again, Neuer said that member states regarded as “leading champions” at the UN on human rights resolutions must take the lead.

“Samantha Power should be taking the lead but she’s silent—that is unacceptable,” he told IPS.

Samantha Power is currently the U.S. Ambassador to the UN.

“It would be meaningful if democracies not only vote quietly but would speak out and say that we created the human rights council to have a different kind of membership and we need to uphold that,” Neuer continued.

António Guterres, the newly nominated Secretary General, will have a important role to play by ensuring human rights criteria for those elected into HRC, he concluded.

The HRC is composed of 47 member states and will hold elections at the end of October for 14 positions. Alongside Saudi Arabia, UN Watch and HRF called to reject the candidacies of China, Cuba, Egypt, Iraq, Malaysia, Russia and Rwanda from the HRC.

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Unexpected Eritrean Journalistic Voice Rises in Ethiopia Thu, 06 Oct 2016 09:33:30 +0000 James Jeffrey Eritrean journalist Estifo displaying Tsilal, the magazine he edits, which deals with the risks of migration and difficult reality of being in Europe. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Eritrean journalist Estifo displaying Tsilal, the magazine he edits, which deals with the risks of migration and difficult reality of being in Europe. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

By James Jeffrey
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 6 2016 (IPS)

It took Eritrean journalist Estifo* seven years to save up enough money to pay a fixer to get him and his family from the capital, Asmara, to the shared border with Ethiopia. After they crossed the border by foot, they turned themselves in to the Ethiopian authorities and claimed asylum as refugees.

Now Estifo is one of thousands of Eritreans living in Addis Ababa, where he edits a magazine that aims to dissuade other Eritreans in the Ethiopian capital and dotted around the country in refugee camps from attempting to make the risky journey north through Libya and across the Mediterranean toward Europe.“You had no rights as a journalist and it was risky even if you were working for the State TV. If you did something they didn’t like, they would call the police.” -- Beyene, an Eritrean journalist

“The magazine deals with the risks of migration and difficult reality of being in Europe,” says Estifo, the magazine’s editor. “Also once you are in Europe you can’t come back—things change too much. Whereas in Addis there’s more in common, and it’s easier to one day go back to Eritrea.”

Ever since Ethiopia’s late long-term ruler Meles Zenawi established an open-door policy toward refugees, the country’s refugee population has grown to about 700,000, the largest in Africa.

And that open door policy even extends to accepting refugees from a country viewed by Ethiopia as its arch nemesis since a catastrophic two-year war between the two that ended in 2000 but left matters unresolved and mutual antipathy only stronger.

It’s hardly surprising that among those going south over the shared border are journalists. A list compiled in 2015 by the Committee to Protect Journalists of the 10 countries where the press is most restricted ranks Eritrea as the most censored country in the world and Africa’s worst jailer of journalists.

The crackdown on media in Eritrea began in earnest in 2001, reportedly taking advantage of when the world was distracted by the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

“In September they shut down private news channels and most of my colleagues were arrested,” says Estifo, who as a sports writer avoided arrest (a friend had previously advised him to take the position to avoid undue attention).

Still fearing for his safety, however, he joined the military media operating at Sawa, the desert base where Eritrean Defence Forces recruits and national service conscripts are sent for basic military training.

Living conditions were bad, Estifo says, and he was paid only 600 Eritrean nakfa (38 dollars) a month, leaving little after his 500 nakfa rent.

Then in 2007 he managed to get paternity leave with his wife pregnant, and afterwards rather than him returning to Sawa, they went into hiding. For two years Estifo never left his home, he says.

Once he deemed it safe enough, he started to venture out and began selling shoes with the help of his wife, slowly saving money for the escape to the border. Eventually it was time.

“We didn’t sell any of our possessions before we left in case people got suspicious,” he says. “We reached the border around 2 a.m. but we waited until dawn to cross otherwise we might have been shot by patrols.”

Eritrean journalists Estifo and Beyene discussing the contents of their magazine Tsilal, the Tigrayan word for umbrella. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Eritrean journalists Estifo and Beyene discussing the contents of their magazine Tsilal, the Tigrayan word for umbrella. Credit: James Jeffrey/IPS

Beyene is another refugee journalist working with Estifo on the magazine who recalls the arrest of 40 journalists in 2009, accused of leaking news about Eritrea to foreign media.

“You had no rights as a journalist and it was risky even if you were working for the State TV,” Beyene says. “If you did something they didn’t like, they would call the police.”

Arrests sometimes happened as journalists were relaxing in the communal tea room.

“They wanted you to see it so you became afraid,” Estifo says.

Repression of media and its means is all-consuming in Eritrean society. Fearing the spread of an Arab Spring-type uprising, Eritrea scrapped plans in 2011 to provide mobile Internet for its citizens, making it even harder to access independent information.

Internet is available but only through slow dial-up connections, and fewer than 1 percent of the population goes online, according to U.N. International Telecommunication Union figures. Eritrea also has the lowest figure globally of cell phone users, with just 5.6 percent of the population owning one.

“For the young there’s no chance to do your own thing, you can’t do anything for your family, everything pushes you to leave,” says Yonathon, 31, who left Eritrea in 2011 and spent a year in an Ethiopia-based refugee camp before relocation to Addis Ababa. “No one can stand for justice there—before you start they will capture you; such efforts are good for nothing.”

Eritrea’s authoritarian government employs a vast spying and detention network. Yonathon, while clearly not sympathetic to those involved, appreciates the realities: “It’s a matter of survival, to feed their families—the situation forces them to spy.”

Yonathon and 29-year-old Teklu sitting next to him have Eritrean friends who attempted the Mediterranean crossing from Libya. Fortunately, no one they know died. But thousands have.

And a 20-year-old niece of Yonathon died in Libya waiting to make the crossing; he doesn’t know the cause. Teklu has relatives who were kidnapped during their northward overland travels and released after ransoms were paid.

“Of course it has come to my mind,” Yonathon says of trying to make the crossing. “I’ve been here four years: what is my future going to be if I stay here?”

Such frustrations are addressed in the magazine, called Tsilal, the Tigrayan word for umbrella, and chosen because refugees are under the umbrella of another country’s protection, Estifo says.

Its production is funded by the Norwegian Refugee Council, and it comes out once every two months with a circulation of about 3,000 free copies, of which about 600 go to refugee camps. Each of the seven journalists working on the magazine is paid 750 birr (31 dollars) per month.

“The money’s not enough but we have to do it or we won’t be heard,” Estifo says, adding it’s important to illustrate how the reality of living in Europe is often a far cry from the more glamourous version seen on social media by young Eritreans.

The magazine also features more encouraging articles about Eritrean artists and entrepreneurial activities, while it avoids contentious issues such as politics and religion so as not to put itself and the Norwegian Refugee Council in an awkward position. Ethiopia also has its own struggles with press freedom—the same CJR survey of restricted press placed Ethiopia at number four.

“Currently we just cover soft issues but we want to go beyond to those issues we feel are more important,” Estifo says. “But we’re restrained by our funding. If we got other funding we could write independently about more topics.”

Another problem is not having enough resources to enable reporters to visit camps and talk to Eritreans there. The three largest camps—May Aini, Adi Harush and Hitsats refugee camps—are all the way in the northwest of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, close to the borders with Eritrea and Sudan, hundreds of kilometers away from Addis Ababa.

And the magazine has no office, rather it is put together on laptops in cafes with notably Italian-sounding names that have been opened by Eritreans—Eritrea used to be an Italian colony.

“Sometimes I spend the whole day in a café working on the laptop, drinking tea and eating some shiro at lunch,” Yonathon says.

But despite the Tigrayan voices amid cafes with Italian names, Addis Ababa can never replace being back in Eritrea.

“Life is difficult here, you can’t replicate home, and people’s behaviour changes here,” Yonathon says.

Hence the importance of never forgetting about Eritrea’s ongoing troubles and those left behind. Estifo harbours ambitions of one day starting a radio station that could be picked up by those in Eritrea.

“Getting out of Eritrea is one way of demonstrating against the government,” Estifo says. “But while in places like Ethiopia, Eritreans must ask themselves how they can bring about freedom with our own resources.”

*Only first names are used in this article due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter. 

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Antonio Guterres Selected as Next UN Secretary-General Faces Tremendous Challenges Wed, 05 Oct 2016 21:19:21 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands Antonio Guterres will be the ninth UN Secretary-General from January 1 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré.

Antonio Guterres will be the ninth UN Secretary-General from January 1 2017. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré.

By Lyndal Rowlands

The 15 members of the UN Security Council jointly announced Wednesday their decision to select Antonio Guterres of Portugal as the ninth Secretary-General of the United Nations.

“We have a clear favourite and his name is Antonio Guterres,” Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s Permanent Representative to the UN and Security Council President for the month of October told media, flanked on either side by his 14 counterparts on the council.

Per UN tradition, the UN Security Council’s decision, to be formalised on Thursday, is expected to be endorsed by the full 193 members of the UN General Assembly.

However this show of unity from Security Council members comes at a time when diplomacy over Syria is at a new low with US Secretary of State John Kerry announcing earlier this week that Russia and the United States were suspending talks on Syria.

The ongoing conflict in Syria is just one of the many challenges that Guterres will face as the world’s top diplomat.

Fortunately many believe that Guterres is among those best prepared for the task, as shown through his performance in what has been the most open and transparent selection process of a UN Secretary-General to date.

Prime Minister of Portugal from 1995 to 2002 Guterres was later UN High Commissioner for Refugees from 2005 to 2015, during a time when the number of displaced people worldwide grew to its highest level since the end of the Second World War.

However Guterres’ selection has ultimately disappointed those who believed that the next Secretary-General should be the first woman to lead the international organisation or the first Eastern European to hold the job.

“Ultimately, the next UN secretary-general will be judged on his ability to stand up to the very powers that just selected him, whether on Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, the refugee crisis, climate change or any other problem that comes his way,” -- Louis Charbonneau, Human Rights Watch.

While skipping the Eastern European rotation is a break with tradition, the inability to select a female candidate from seven highly qualified female contenders seems like an even deeper blow for an organisation which has long claimed to see gender equality as one of its central goals. However the gender break down of the Security Council itself, 14 men and one women, shows that for many UN member states gender equality is still a long way off. Guterres will also be the fourth European man to hold the position – although the first since 1981 – showing that Europe with just over 10 percent of the world’s population still has a firm grasp on global affairs.

Michel Gabaudan President of Refugees International who worked under Guterres at UNHCR told IPS that he was delighted that this year’s open selection process ultimately resulted in the selection of Guterres.

“I think we need a strong leader, we need a visionary leader and we need a diplomatic leader and I think Mr Guterres definitely has shown to have all of these qualities,” said Gabaudan.

“He brings countries together which is basically the job of the Secretary General so tremendous challenge ahead for Mr Guterres but I think the UN has selected the right person for that difficult job.”

Natalie Samarasinghe, Executive Director of the United Nations Association, UK and co-founder of the 1 for 7 Billion campaign told IPS that she believes that Guterres selection also reflects the success of this year’s improved selection process.

“The announcement today is testament to the impact of the more open and inclusive process for which 1 for 7 Billion campaigned,” Samarasinghe told IPS.

“Guterres was not seen as a frontrunner at the beginning of the race – “wrong” gender and region for starters – but was widely considered to have done well in his General Assembly dialogue and in other events, with many commenting on his experience and ability to inspire.”

The 1 for 7 Billion campaign has called for improvements in the appointment of the Secretary-General, including calling for a single, longer term of office to remove the perceived pressures of pleasing the veto-wielding five permanent members of the Security Council – China, France, Russia the United States and the United Kingdom.

These perceived pressures were also noted by Louis Charbonneau, UN Director at Human Rights Watch.

“Ultimately, the next UN secretary-general will be judged on his ability to stand up to the very powers that just selected him, whether on Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, the refugee crisis, climate change or any other problem that comes his way,” noted Charbonneau.

However, like many others, Charbonneau also welcomed Guterres appointment:

“With Antonio Guterres, the Security Council has chosen an outspoken and effective advocate for refugees with the potential to strike a radically new tone on human rights at a time of great challenges.”

Guterres is considered likely to be a candidate willing and able to stand up for the voiceless at the UN. In April, he told journalists of how his experience volunteering with the homeless had inspired his career in politics.

The news of Guterres’ selection also coincided with the confirmation that the Paris Climate Change agreement has enough signatories to enter into force within 30 days. The important next stage of implementing the non-binding agreement will now fall to Guterres’ purview.

Guterres will replace outgoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of South Korea.

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UN Unable to Fully Investigate Chemical Weapons Allegations in Sudan Wed, 05 Oct 2016 04:42:29 +0000 Lindah Mogeni By Lindah Mogeni

The UN has only limited access to Jebel Marra, the location in Sudan where Amnesty International alleges Sudanese government forces have used chemical weapons, UN Peacekeeping Chief Herve Ladsous said here Tuesday.

‘’We have not come across any evidence regarding the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra,’’ Ladsous told the UN Security Council, noting that UN mission’s consistently restricted access into Jebel Marra has hindered effective monitoring and reporting.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has also assessed that no conclusions regarding Amnesty’s conclusions can be made without further investigation.

In a report released on September 30, Amnesty pointed to the alleged use of chemical weapons by Sudanese government forces against civilians in Darfur, resulting in an estimated 200-250 deaths since January 2016.

Amnesty alleges that chemical weapons have been deliberately targeted towards civilians in the remote region of Jebel Marra in Darfur at least 30 times in the past eight months.

The Amnesty investigation was conducted remotely, from outside Jebel Marra, mostly due to access restrictions. It therefore relied upon satellite imagery, extensive interviews, and expert analyses of survivors’ injuries.

According to the report, interviewed survivors witnessed a ‘’poisonous black smoke that gradually changed colour and smelled putrid’’ during the attacks in their villages.

‘’It smells like someone burning plastic, mixed with the smell of rotten eggs…’’said Kobei, a senior armed opposition group commander, in an interview in the report.

Survivors witnessed a ‘’poisonous black smoke that gradually changed colour and smelled putrid.’’

Disturbing images from the investigation show injuries ranging from weeping blisters, bloody lesions and darkened skin peeling off. Other reported injuries include eye problems, severe respiratory problems, involuntary seizures, red urine, miscarriages, bloody vomiting and diarrhea.

The report mentioned that children were generally more affected than adults after the alleged exposure. Further, injured survivors have had ‘’no access to adequate medical care.”

Both chemical weapons experts who reviewed the evidence stated that the victims experienced a variety of symptoms that “strongly suggest an exposure to chemical weapon agents.”

Identifying the specific chemical agents requires collecting samples from those allegedly exposed, from the environment and from weapon remnants used during the attacks. Given the severe access restrictions into Jebel Marra, Amnesty have not been able to do this.

Sudan is currently a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention that bans the use of chemical weapons.

The Sudanese government has refuted the allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Jebel Marra and said that it will to cooperate with the OPCW investigation.

In a letter dated 27 September 2016, Sudan’s Minister of Justice, Awad Hassan Elnour, said that the evidence in the report is “unreliable, contradictory and unsubstantiated ’’ and alleged that ‘’the survivors and witnesses in the report were either members of the opposition or influenced under fear.”

Elnour questioned whether the satellite imaging relied on in the report showed government forces wearing protective suits and helmets against chemical weapons as they stood on the very ground supposed to be targeted with such weapons. She additionally questioned the alleged death toll of 200 people, considering no such information was available in any health centers in the country.

The report however alleges that the chemicals were released primarily through air bombs and rockets and that the victims had no access to medical treatment.

Peacekeepers from the UN-African Union force in Darfur have been denied access into Jebel Marra where the alleged chemical weapon attacks occurred, according to Ladsous, in his briefing to the UN Security Council on October 4.

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