Inter Press Service » Indigenous Rights http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 16 Apr 2014 09:32:20 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Yakama Nation Tells DOE to Clean Up Nuclear Waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/yakama-nation-tells-doe-clean-nuclear-waste/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 18:21:39 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133655 The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.” He tells IPS “they looked around and […]

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At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

At the perimetre of Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington State. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
YAKAMA NATION, Washington State, U.S. , Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

The Department of Energy (DOE), politicians and CEOs were discussing how to warn generations 125,000 years in the future about the radioactive waste at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, considered the most polluted site in the U.S., when Native American anti-nuclear activist Russell Jim interrupted their musings: “We’ll tell them.”

He tells IPS “they looked around and saw me. I said, ‘We’ve been here since the beginning of time, so we will be here then.’ That was when they knew they’d have a fight on their hands.”“Helen Caldicott told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die." -- Yakama Elder Russell Jim

With his long braids, the 78-year-old director of the Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Programme (ERWM) for the Yakama tribes cuts a striking figure, sitting calmly in his office located on the arid lands of his sovereign nation.

The Yakama Reservation in southeast Washington has 1.2 million acres with 10,000 federally recognised tribal members and an estimated 12,000 feral horses roaming the desert steppe. Down from the 12 million acres ceded by force to the U.S. government in 1855, it is just 20 miles west from the Hanford nuclear site.

Though the nuclear arms race ended in 1989, radioactive waste is the legacy of the various sites of the former Manhattan Project spread across the U.S.

While the Yakama have successfully protected their sacred fishing grounds from becoming a repository for nuclear waste from other project sites by invoking the treaty of 1855 which promises access to their “usual and accustomed places,” Hanford is far from clean, though the DOE promised to restore the land.

“The DOE is trying to reclassify the waste as ‘low activity.’ They are trying to leave it here and bury it in shallow pits. Scientists are saying that it needs to be buried deep under the ground,” Jim explains.

Tom Carpenter of Hanford Challenge watchdog group tells IPS “it is a battle for Washington State and the tribes to get the feds to keep their promise to remove the waste. There are 42 miles of trenches that are 15 feet wide and 20 feet deep full of boxes, crates and vials of waste in unlined trenches.”

There are a further 177 underground tanks of radioactive waste and six are leaking. Waste is supposed to be moved within 24 hours from leak detection or whenever is “practicable” but the contractors say there is not enough space.

Three whistleblowers working on the cleanup raised concerns and were fired. Closely followed by a local news station, it is an issue that is largely neglected by mainstream media and the Yakama’s fight seems all but ignored.

“We used to have a media person on staff but the DOE says there is no need as ‘everything is going fine,” says Russell Jim. His department lost 80 percent of its funding in 2012 after cutbacks. His tribe doesn’t fund ERWM, the DOE does. “The DOE crapped it up, so they should pay for it.”

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

Russell Jim, Yakama Elder and Director of Environmental Restoration & Waste Management Program (ERWM) for the Yakama Nation. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

But everything is not fine. With radioactive groundwater plumes making their way toward the river, the Yakama and watchdog groups says it is an emergency. Some plumes are just 400 yards from the river where the tribe accesses Hanford Reach monument, according to treaty rights.

Hanford Reach nature reserve, a buffer zone for the site, is the Columbia’s largest spawning grounds for wild fall Chinook salmon

Washington State reports highly toxic radioactive contamination from uranium, strontium 90 and chromium in the ground water has already entered the Columbia River.

“There are about 150 groundwater ‘upwellings’ in the gravel of the Columbia River coming from Hanford that young salmon swim around,” explains Russell Jim.

“Helen Caldicott [founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility] told us in 1997 that if we eat fish from the Columbia, we’ll die,” he adds.

Callie Ridolfi, environmental consultant to the Yakama, tells IPS their diet of 150 to 519 grammes of fish a day, nearly double regional tribal averages and far greater than the mainstream population, puts them at greater risk, with as much as a one in 50 chance of getting cancer from eating resident fish.

Migratory fish like salmon that live in the ocean most of their lives are less affected, unlike resident fish.

According to a 2002 EPA study on fish contaminants, resident sturgeon and white fish from Hanford Reach had some of the highest levels of PCBs.

Last year, Washington and Oregon states released an advisory for the 150-mile heavily dammed stretch of the Columbia from Bonneville to McNary Dam to limit eating resident fish to once a week due to PCB toxins.

Fisheries manager at Mike Matylewich at Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), says, “Lubricants containing PCBs were used for years, particularly in transformers, at hydroelectric dams because of the ability to withstand high temperatures.

“The ability to withstand high temperatures contributes to their persistence in the environment as a legacy contaminant,” he tells IPS.

While the advisory does not include the Hanford Reach, the longest undammed stretch of the Columbia, Russell Jim doubts it’s safe.

“The DOE tells congress the river corridor is clean. It’s not clean but they are afraid of damages being filed against them.” A cancer survivor, Jim’s tribe received no compensation for damages from radioactive releases from 1944 to 1971 into the Columbia as high as 6,300,000 curies of Neptunium-239.

Steven G. Gilbert, a toxicologist with Physicians for Social Responsbility, tells IPS there is a lack transparency and data on the Hanford cleanup. “It is a huge problem,” he says, adding that contaminated groundwater at Hanford still interacts with the Columbia River, based on water levels.

Though eight of the nine nuclear reactors next to the river were decommissioned, the 1,175-megawatt Energy Northwest Energy power plant is still functioning

“Many people don’t know there is a live nuclear reactor on the Columbia. It’s the same style as Fukushima,” Gilbert explains.

In the middle of the fight are the tribes, which are sovereign nations. Russell Jim says they are often erroneously described as “stakeholders” when they are separate governments.

“We were the only tribe to take on the nuclear issue and testify at the 1980 Senate subcommittee. In 1982 we immediately filed for affected tribe status. The Umatilla and the Nez Perce tribes later joined.”

Yucca Mountain was earmarked by congress as a nuclear storage repository for Hanford and other sites’ waste but the plan was struck down by the president. Southern Paiute and Western Shoshone in the region filed for affected status.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico was slated to take waste from Hanford but after a fire in February, the site is taking no more waste. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has expressed concern about the lack of storage options.

The U.S. has the largest stockpile of spent nuclear fuel globally – five times that of Russia.

“The best material to store waste in is granite and the northeast U.S. has a lot of granite. An ideal site was just 30 miles from the capital, but that is out,” says Russell Jim with a wry smile, considering its proximity to the White House.

He does not plan to give up. “We are the only people here who can’t pick up and move on.”

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U.S. Urged to Push World Bank on Human Rights Safeguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-urged-push-world-bank-human-rights-safeguards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-push-world-bank-human-rights-safeguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-urged-push-world-bank-human-rights-safeguards/#comments Thu, 10 Apr 2014 23:25:27 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133578 Rights advocates and community leaders, together with some U.S. lawmakers, are urging the United States to take a more robust role in pushing the World Bank to explicitly incorporate human rights into policies that dictate how and when the bank can engage in project lending and technical assistance. The World Bank has been a pioneer […]

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Participants in Uganda’s second Gay Pride parade held in August 2013. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently received plaudits for halting a planned loan to Uganda after that country passed onerous anti-gay legislation. Credit: Faith Lokens/IPS

Participants in Uganda’s second Gay Pride parade held in August 2013. World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently received plaudits for halting a planned loan to Uganda after that country passed onerous anti-gay legislation. Credit: Faith Lokens/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Apr 10 2014 (IPS)

Rights advocates and community leaders, together with some U.S. lawmakers, are urging the United States to take a more robust role in pushing the World Bank to explicitly incorporate human rights into policies that dictate how and when the bank can engage in project lending and technical assistance.

The World Bank has been a pioneer in working to ensure that its assistance does not lead to or exacerbate certain forms of discrimination or environmental degradation.“No one at the bank was encouraged, rewarded or promoted for stopping a project because of human rights concerns.” -- Rep. James P. McGovern

Yet the Washington-based institution has long been criticised for refusing to institutionalise a specific focus on human rights, and is currently involved in a major review of these policies.

“I recognise that constructing sustainable relationships between development priorities and human rights can be a challenging endeavour for the World Bank, but it is a crucial endeavour to undertake,” James P. McGovern, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, said Wednesday at a hearing he chaired on the subject.

“Human rights due diligence and assessments would ensure that each project is properly vetted and that possible violations of human rights are acknowledged beforehand and can be prevented. This not only protects the integrity of individuals but also ensures the sustainability of a project, which means more people will benefit from the World Bank’s investment long term.”

The World Bank and its sister institution, the International Monetary Fund, are currently meeting in Washington for a semi-annual summit.

McGovern warned that important bank policies on rights, the environment and indigenous peoples are often treated as “little more than one box that needed to be checked” by project managers. Further, he said, “No one at the bank was encouraged, rewarded or promoted for stopping a project because of human rights concerns.”

The World Bank has long been barred by its membership from engaging in overtly political issues. Yet many say rights issues need not be considered political, and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim recently received plaudits for halting a planned loan to Uganda after that country passed onerous anti-gay legislation.

Kim “responded very well” to the Uganda issue, Barney Frank, a former member of Congress, told the hearing Wednesday. But he warned that “it’s not good when things are done ad hoc.”

“Some of the countries can complain they weren’t warned,” Frank said.

“That’s why it’s important to have a framework in place, so any country contemplating brutal actions in the future will be on notice … I think it’s reasonable to say, ‘If we’re going to punish you, we should let you know in advance what the rules are.’”

Review opportunity

A two-year review of the bank’s safeguard policies is currently underway, and could be finished by the end of the year. Proponents of these reforms say the review offers an important opportunity for leverage, particularly by the United States.

“It’s really incumbent on the United States and the U.S. Congress, as large shareholders with strong influence, to take a very progressive and aggressive role on promoting human rights standards at the bank,” Arvind Ganesan, director for business and human rights at Human Rights Watch, a global watchdog group, told IPS.

“This is critically important because, increasingly, governments such as that of China have influence over the bank, and they’ve been very clear they don’t want human rights standards incorporated into the bank.”

Ganesan, who also testified Wednesday, says the bank needs to incorporate human rights-focused due diligence into its vetting of potential project funding, and to show that its projects are mitigating human rights concerns.

On questioning from lawmakers, Ganesan noted that several European countries on the World Bank’s board have offered strong support for such changes. But he warned that other governments have been “hostile” to the idea.

Certain parts of the bank’s staff are sympathetic to the idea of greater human rights focus in the institution’s lending, Ganesan says. But he cautions that “the staff in general needs to be far more motivated to include human rights.”

A bank spokesperson told IPS the safeguards review is “making good progress”, with a public update due Saturday.

“We are ramping up our standards to ensure the delivery of a strengthened policy framework which is more efficient and comprehensive; a system that will enable the Bank to assert its position as a force for good in sustainable development; a new policy framework that is clear to implement and to hold us accountable for,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

“[W]e are looking at how most appropriately to address the adverse impacts of discrimination and exclusion … along with how to cover vulnerable/disadvantaged issues such as sexual orientation.”

Lessons learned

Lawmakers on Wednesday also heard testimony about three past World Bank-supported projects: agricultural development initiatives in Uzbekistan, despite widespread findings of child and forced labour in that country’s important cotton industry; an oil pipeline between Chad and Cameroon that saw bank funds diverted by a corrupt and oppressive government in N’Djamena; and a series of palm oil plantations in Honduras that have led to the takeover of indigenous lands.

The Chad-Cameroon pipeline, worth some seven billion dollars “was meant to be transformational. Yet even an internal bank evaluation found the project had not contributed to poverty reduction but rather enriched the government of Chad – meaning more and more corruption and human rights violations,” Delphine Djiraibe, an attorney with the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights, told the hearing.

“We hope the U.S. Congress will put pressure on the World Bank Group to learn from the fiasco of this project and not keep repeating the same mistakes that lead to serious human rights violations and environmental degradation.”

On Thursday, over 180 global civil society groups accused the World Bank of directly facilitating a spate of large-scale land acquisitions through its annual publication of business-friendliness metrics known as the Doing Business index, as well as a new initiative called Benchmarking the Business of Agriculture. While such rankings measure how a country’s regulations impact on industry, critics say the widely watched indicators push governments to prioritise industry over poor and marginalised communities.

“The [Doing Business] framework is creating competition between nations to cut down economic regulations as well as environmental and social safeguards in order to score better in the ranking,” the Oakland Institute, a watchdog group, says in a new report on the issue.

“[T]he … ranking has the collateral effect of facilitating land grabbing by advocating for ‘protection of investors’ and property reforms that make land a marketable commodity and facilitate large-scale land acquisitions.”

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Indigenous Leaders Targeted in Battle to Protect Forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indigenous-leaders-targeted-battle-protect-forests/#comments Wed, 09 Apr 2014 17:45:22 +0000 Michelle Tullo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133548 Indigenous leaders are warning of increased violence in the fight to save their dwindling forests and ecosystems from extractive companies. Indigenous representatives and environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas met over the weekend here to commemorate those leading community fights against extractive industries. The conference, called Chico Vive, honoured Chico Mendes, a […]

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The open wounds of the Amazon. Credit:Rolly Valdivia/IPS

The open wounds of the Amazon. Credit:Rolly Valdivia/IPS

By Michelle Tullo
WASHINGTON, Apr 9 2014 (IPS)

Indigenous leaders are warning of increased violence in the fight to save their dwindling forests and ecosystems from extractive companies.

Indigenous representatives and environmental activists from Africa, Asia, Australia and the Americas met over the weekend here to commemorate those leading community fights against extractive industries. The conference, called Chico Vive, honoured Chico Mendes, a Brazilian rubber-tapper killed in 1988 for fighting to save the Amazon.“Right now in our territory we can’t drink the water because it’s so contaminated from the hydrocarbons from the oil and gas industry." -- Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation in BC, Canada

The gathering also recognised leaders who are continuing that legacy today.

“His struggle, to which he gave his life, did not end with his death – on the contrary,” John Knox, the United Nations independent expert on human rights and the environment, said at the conference. “But it continues to claim the lives of others who fight for human rights and environmental protection.”

A 2012 report by Global Witness, a watchdog and activist group, estimates that over 711 people – activists, journalists and community members – had been killed defending their land-based rights over the previous decade.

Those gathered at this weekend’s conference discussed not only those have been killed, injured or jailed. They also shared some success stories.

“In 2002, there was an Argentinean oil company trying to drill in our area. Some of our people opposed this, and they were thrown in jail,” Franco Viteri, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon, told IPS.

“However, we fought their imprisonment and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in our favour. Thus, our town was able to reclaim the land and keep the oil company out.”

Motivated by oil exploration-related devastation in the north, Ecuadorian communities in the south are continuing to fight to defend their territory. Viteri says some communities have now been successful in doing so for a quarter-century.

But he cautions that this fight is not over, particularly as the Ecuadorian government flip-flops on its own policy stance.

“The discourse of [President Rafael] Correa is very environmentalist, but in a practical way it is totally false,” he says. “The government is taking the oil because they receive money from China, which needs oil.”

China has significantly increased its focus on Latin America in recent years. According to a briefing paper by Amazon Watch, a nonprofit that works to protect the rainforest and rights of its indigenous inhabitants, “in 2013 China bought nearly 90% of Ecuador’s oil and provided an estimated 61% of its external financing.”

The little dance

Many others at the conference had likewise already seen negative impacts due to extractives exploration and development in their community.

“We have oil and gas, mines, we have forestry, we have agriculture, and we have hydroelectric dams,” Chief Liz Logan of the Fort Nelson First Nation in British Columbia, Canada, told IPS.

“Right now in our territory we can’t drink the water because it’s so contaminated from the hydrocarbons from the oil and gas industry … The rates of cancer in our community are skyrocketing and we wonder why. But no one wants to look at this, because it might mean that what [extractives companies] are doing is affecting us and the animals.”

Logan described the work of protecting the community as a “little dance”: first they bring the government to court when they do not implement previous agreements, then they have to ensure that the government actually implements what the court orders.

Others discussed possible solutions to stop the destruction of ecosystems, and what is at stake for the communities living in them. The link between local land conflicts and global climate change consistently reappeared throughout many of the discussions.

“My community is made up of small-scale farmers and pastoralists who depend on cattle to live. For them, a cow is everything and to have the land to graze is everything,” said Godfrey Massay, an activist leader from the Land Rights Institute in Tanzania.

“These people are constantly threatened by large-scale investors who try to take away their land. But they are far more threatened by climate change, which is also affecting their livelihood.”

Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch described the case of the contentious Belo Monte dam in Brazil, which is currently under construction. Local communities oppose the dam because those upstream would be flooded and those downstream would suddenly find their river’s waters severely reduced.

“People are fighting battles on local levels, but they are also emblematic of global trends and they are also related to a lot of the climate things going on,” Miller told IPS. “[Hydroelectric] dams, for example, are sold as clean energy, but they generate a lot of methane, which is a powerful greenhouse gas.”

According to Miller, one value of large gatherings such as this weekend’s conference is allowing participants to see the similarities between experiences and struggles around the world, despite often different cultural, political and environmental contexts.

“In each case there are things that are very specific to them,” Miller said. “But I think we are also going to see some trends in terms of governments and other actors cracking down and trying to limit the political space, the ability for these folks to be effective in their work and to have a broader impact on policy.”

Yet activists like Viteri, from Ecuador, remain determined to protect their land.

“We care for the forest as a living thing because it gives us everything – life, shade, food, water, agriculture,” Viteri said. “It also makes us rich, even if it is a different kind of richness. This is why we fight.”

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Q&A: “Bolivia Marked the Start of a Major Indigenous Awakening” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/133318/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=133318 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/133318/#comments Mon, 31 Mar 2014 16:46:13 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133318 Marianela Jarroud interviews Álvaro García Linera, vice president of Bolivia

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Marianela Jarroud interviews Álvaro García Linera, vice president of Bolivia

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Mar 31 2014 (IPS)

He describes himself as someone who was drawn to Marxism as a result of his commiseration with the plight of indigenous people in his country, and he is considered one of the most influential Latin American thinkers of the 21st century.

Álvaro García Linera, 51, is seen as the “right hand man” of Bolivia’s leftist President Evo Morales.

Bolivia’s 51-year-old vice president took part in the foundation of the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army, whose aim was to support the indigenous insurgency. In 1997 he was released after five years in the San Pedro prison in La Paz.

Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera during his recent visit to Santiago. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Bolivian Vice President Álvaro García Linera during his recent visit to Santiago. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

He is also one of the main forces behind the lawsuit against Chile that Bolivia filed at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to reclaim access to the Pacific Ocean, which his country lost in the 1879-1883 War of the Pacific.

Bolivia has not had diplomatic ties with Chile since 1978. But during Chilean President Michelle Bachelet’s first term (2006-2010), relations warmed with Morales – in office since 2006 – although they cooled again under the government of Chile’s right-wing former president Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).

Now that Bachelet, a socialist, is back in office since Mar. 11, the Bolivian government wants to renew diplomatic relations. The Chilean administration has stated that while it is open to dialogue, the dispute will be settled in The Hague.

García Linera makes no secret of his hopes that “things could change.”

“If a dictator like (Chilean General Augusto) Pinochet (1973-1990) proposed access to the sea for Bolivia in the 1970s, we hope a democratic, socialist government could make that right a reality in the 21st century,” he said during a brief visit to Chile on Tuesday Mar. 25.

The vice president was in Santiago to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Art and Social Sciences, where he gave a lecture to an audience of 350 people.

In this interview with IPS, García Linera said Bolivia has taught Latin America a lesson by recognising, in its 2009 constitution, that it is a “plurinational” state. The 54-year-old Morales, a member of the Aymara community, is the first native president in the history of Bolivia, a country with a historically downtrodden indigenous majority.

Q: Given the experience of the indigenous government in Bolivia, how do you see the movements of other native peoples in Latin America, who also demand that their rights be respected and who hope to eventually hold political power?

A: What has happened in Bolivia marks the start of a major popular, indigenous awakening. No two experiences are ever the same, and we can’t expect something similar to happen in other countries. But what is common to the entire continent is that all Latin American societies are plurinational, but not the states themselves.

There is social and cultural diversity, a strong social presence of indigenous peoples to a greater or lesser extent. But the state remains monocultural, and to a certain point ethnocidal, because it kills the diversity of cultures. So Bolivia has been a pioneer in showing the need for plurinational states.

Q: Has the process in Bolivia provided lessons for the rest of Latin America?

A: In first place, in the case of Bolivia, the adoption of social concerns by the government was organised by the indigenous movement because it is a majority. And in other places perhaps the indigenous movement isn’t in a leadership position.

But any other social, cultural, labour-related, urban sector that wants to lead the struggle for equality, justice and recognition is obliged to incorporate among its issues the question of recognition of the plurinational society in the plurinational state. That is what is missing, and that is Bolivia’s message.

The second message is that popular issues can be a central focus of the state and the nation, and that it is possible for the leadership of a country and the definition of its goals to be based on the popular concerns set forth by social movements.

Q: What concrete role do indigenous people currently play in your country? Have they achieved political and economic predominance in proportion with their status as a majority in the population?

A: Yes. The subordinate sectors, which were previously dominated, discriminated against, considered inferior, unfit and incapable, are today in power in the government.

The indigenous way of thinking and organisational structures of mobilisation, decision-making and deliberation are now the core of the state organisation.

Social movements, at the head of the indigenous movement, now hold the power.

And since they achieved power, there have been changes in legislation to consolidate equal rights, equal opportunities, recognition of special collective rights for indigenous peoples, incorporation of the indigenous narrative in the Bolivian narrative, and use of public resources not only to reduce inequalities but also to empower economic and cultural activities of the indigenous sectors that were previously excluded.

Q: In the context of the cultural revolution led by Morales, what is needed to put an end to poverty and complete the programmes that provide assistance to the neediest segments of the population?

A: We have made a great deal of progress. Extreme poverty – people living on less than a dollar a day – stood at 45 percent eight years ago. Of every 10 Bolivians, four, almost five, lived on less than a dollar a day. Outrageous.

In eight years, that proportion has been reduced to 20 percent. That is still outrageous, but the reduction by more than 25 percentage points reflects an irrevocable decision to use the common assets or common property to put an end to the historical inequality of extreme poverty.

There is still much to be done. Social sectors, the rural and indigenous movement, that in the past were not taken into account in public policies are today the groups that are designing public policies in consultation with other sectors – but they are the ones leading the policy-making.

Now almost half of all public spending, the state’s resources, which have grown nearly ninefold due to the nationalisation of the country’s natural gas and oil, and which in the past went strictly to business-related segments, go to the sectors that were previously marginalised in our country.

There has been a growing empowerment of the indigenous economy, the rural peasant economy, the neglected popular sectors, which has made it possible for them to gradually improve their living conditions.

Before we reached the government, the average annual income was 800 dollars. Now it is 3,300 dollars. That’s still very low, but we have increased it nearly fourfold. And our objective, if we keep up this pace of stability and growth, is for the average real annual income of Bolivians to reach 12,000 dollars by 2020. That might still be low in comparison to the rest of Latin America, but it wouldn’t be so low anymore.

One fact: eight years ago, Chile produced 13 times more wealth than Bolivia. The gap was enormous. Today the difference is one to eight; by the end of this decade it will be one to four; and by 2025 it will be one to two. In other words, more wealth is being generated, and that wealth is being distributed among the neediest, and among those who were neglected in the past.

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A Honduran Paradise that Doesn’t Want to Anger the Sea Again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/honduran-paradise-doesnt-want-anger-sea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=honduran-paradise-doesnt-want-anger-sea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/honduran-paradise-doesnt-want-anger-sea/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 13:17:57 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133238 At the mouth of the Aguán river on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, a Garífuna community living in a natural paradise that was devastated 15 years ago by Hurricane Mitch has set an example of adaptation to climate change. “We don’t want to make the sea angry again, we don’t want a repeat of what […]

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One of the walkways built by the community of Santa Rosa de Aguán to connect the local houses with the beach to preserve the sand dunes. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

One of the walkways built by the community of Santa Rosa de Aguán to connect the local houses with the beach to preserve the sand dunes. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

By Thelma Mejía
SANTA ROSA DE AGUÁN, Honduras , Mar 26 2014 (IPS)

At the mouth of the Aguán river on the Caribbean coast of Honduras, a Garífuna community living in a natural paradise that was devastated 15 years ago by Hurricane Mitch has set an example of adaptation to climate change.

“We don’t want to make the sea angry again, we don’t want a repeat of what happened with Mitch, which destroyed so many houses in the town – nearly all of the ones along the seashore,” community leader Claudina Gamboa, 35, told IPS.

Around the coastal town of Santa Rosa de Aguán, the stunning landscape is almost as pristine as when the first Garífunas came to Honduras in the 18th century.

The people who came from the sea

The Garífunas make up 10 percent of the population of 8.5 million of Honduras, which they reached over two centuries ago.

The Garífunas are descendants of Africans captured and brought to the region by European slave ships that sank in the 17th century off the island of Yarumei – now St. Vincent – where they settled and intermarried with native Carib and Arawak people.

From St. Vincent, which was under British dominion, they were expelled in 1797 to the Honduran island of Roatán. Later, the Spanish colonialists allowed them to move to the mainland, and they spread along the Caribbean coast of Honduras and other Central American countries.

To reach Santa Rosa de Aguán, founded in 1886 and home to just over 3,000 people, IPS drove by car for 12 hours from Tegucigalpa through five of this Central American country’s 18 departments or provinces, until reaching the village of Dos Bocas, 567 km northeast of the capital.

From this village on the mainland, a small boat runs to Santa Rosa de Aguán, located on the sand in the delta of the Aguán river, whose name in the Garífuna language means “abundant waters.”

Half of the trip is on roads in terrible conditions, which become unnerving when it gets dark. But after crossing the river late at night, under a starry sky with a sea breeze caressing the skin, the journey finally comes to a peaceful end.

A three-year project to help the sand dunes recover, which was completed in 2013, was carried out by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) through the Global Environment Facility’s (GEF) Small Grants Programme, with additional support from the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

The project sought to generate conditions that would enable the local community to adapt to the risks of climate change and protect the natural ecosystem of the dunes.

The initiative enlisted 40 local volunteers, almost all of them women, who went door to door to raise awareness on the importance of protecting the environment and to educate people about the risks posed by climate change.

“They called them crazy, and thought the people working on that were stupid, but I asked them ‘don’t stop, just keep doing it.’ Now there is greater awareness and people have seen the winds aren’t hitting so hard,” Atanasia Ruíz, a former deputy mayor of the town (2008-2014) and a survivor of Hurricane Mitch, told IPS.

She and Gamboa said the women played an essential role in raising awareness on climate change, and added that thanks to their efforts, the project left an imprint on the white sand and the local inhabitants.

People in the community now understand the importance of protecting the coastal system and preserving the dunes, and have learned to organise behind that goal, Gamboa said. “It’s really touching to see the old women from our town picking up garbage for recycling,” she said.

The sand dunes act as natural protective barriers that keep the wind or waves from smashing into the town during storms.

“When the sea got mad, it made us pay. When Mitch hit, everything here was flattened, it was just horrible,” Gamboa said.

Some people left town, she said, “because we were told that we couldn’t live here, that it was too vulnerable and that the sea would always flood us because there was no way to keep it out.

“But many of us stayed, and with the knowledge they gave us, we know how to protect ourselves and our town,” she said, proudly pointing out how the vegetation has begun to grow in the dunes.

In late October 1998, Hurricane Mitch left 11,000 dead and 8,000 missing in Honduras, while causing enormous economic losses and damage to infrastructure.

Santa Rosa de Aguán was hit especially hard, with storm surges up to five metres high. The bodies of more than 40 people from the town were found, while others went missing.

The effort to recover the sand dunes along the coast included the construction of wide wooden walkways to protect the sand.

In addition, the remains of cinder block houses destroyed by Mitch were finally removed, to prevent them from inhibiting the natural formation of dunes.

The project also introduced recycling, to clear garbage from the beach and the sandy unpaved streets of this town, where visitors are greeted with “buiti achuluruni”, which means “welcome” in the Garífuna language.

Lícida Nicolasa Gómez is an 18-year-old member of the Garífuna community who prefers to be called “Alondra”, her nickname since childhood.

“I loved it when they invited me to the dunes and recycling project, because we were deforesting the dunes, hurting them, destroying the vegetation, but we’re not doing that anymore,” she said.

“We even made a mural on one of the walls of the community centre, to remember what kind of town we wanted,” she added, with a broad smile.

The mural of scraps of plastic and other recyclable materials made on the community centre wall by the people of Santa Rosa de Aguán to celebrate their way of life and the beauty of Garífuna women, and remind the town of the need to mitigate climate change. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The mural of scraps of plastic and other recyclable materials made on the community centre wall by the people of Santa Rosa de Aguán to celebrate their way of life and the beauty of Garífuna women, and remind the town of the need to mitigate climate change. Credit: Thelma Mejía/IPS

The mural includes scraps of plastic, metal, tiles and bottle tops. It reflects the beauty of the Garífunas, showing people fishing, crops of mandioc and plantain, and the sea and bright sun, while reflecting the desire to live in harmony with the environment.

The sand dunes are up to five metres high in this small town at the mouth of a river that runs through the country’s tropical rainforest.

Hugo Galeano, from GEF’s Small Grants Programme, told IPS that Santa Rosa de Aguán became even more vulnerable after Hurricane Mitch, which affected the local livelihoods based on fishing, farming and livestock.

For this community built between the river and the sea, flooding is one of the main threats to survival, said the representative of the GEF programme.

Ricardo Norales, 80, told IPS that, although the sand dunes and vegetation are growing, “the location of our community means we are still exposed to inclement weather.

“With the project, we saw how the wind and the sea don’t penetrate our homes as much anymore. But we need this kind of aid to be more sustainable,” he said.

The history of Santa Rosa de Aguán is marked by the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes, which have hit the town directly or indirectly many times since it was founded.

But the sand dunes are once again taking shape along the shoreline, where the community has built walkways to the sea.

Local inhabitants want their town to be seen as an example of adaptation to climate change and the construction of alternatives making survival possible. Several of them said they did not want an “ayó” – good-bye in Garífuna – for their community.

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U.S. Joins Global Transparency Tide in Extractives Sector http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/u-s-joins-global-transparency-tide-extractives-sector/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-joins-global-transparency-tide-extractives-sector http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/u-s-joins-global-transparency-tide-extractives-sector/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 23:57:05 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133189 An unusual combination of industry, government, investors and civil society here is celebrating the United States’ initial acceptance into a prominent global initiative aimed at strengthening transparency and accountability in the extractives industry. Last week, the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) board accepted the U.S. application to become a candidate country in the grouping. The […]

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Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. So-called ‘blood diamonds’ helped fund civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, but now provide much-needed jobs as well as revenue for the government. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

Artisanal diamond miners at work in the alluvial diamond mines around the eastern town of Koidu, Sierra Leone. So-called ‘blood diamonds’ helped fund civil wars in Sierra Leone and Liberia, but now provide much-needed jobs as well as revenue for the government. Credit: Tommy Trenchard/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Mar 24 2014 (IPS)

An unusual combination of industry, government, investors and civil society here is celebrating the United States’ initial acceptance into a prominent global initiative aimed at strengthening transparency and accountability in the extractives industry.

Last week, the Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) board accepted the U.S. application to become a candidate country in the grouping. The United States thus became the first Group of Eight (G8) wealthy nation to formally become part of EITI, and joins around 41 other countries that have already done so.“We’re at the end of the era of easy access to resources, where operators have to go further afield and at greater risk." -- Paul Bugala

EITI, based for the past decade in Oslo, promotes a set of global standards for the oil, gas and mining sector that works to reduce corruption and promote good governance. Proponents say the United States’ participation underlines a strengthening global trend towards transparency, particularly in the extractives sector.

“This is just another part of the wave of transparency – recognition that this information is important not only to investors but also to countries in which industry operates and to the communities that share their environment with mines and drilling,” Paul Bugala, a member of the panel that drew up the U.S. EITI application and an analyst at Calvert Investments, a socially responsible firm, told IPS.

“We’re at the end of the era of easy access to resources, where operators have to go further afield and at greater risk. If investors don’t have project-level payment information, we’re flying blind in many ways.”

The EITI process offers equal voice to government, industry and civil society representatives, and the United States’ application was jointly fashioned – and approved – by broad representation from each of these sectors.

“The oil and gas industry has worked with civil society groups and governments for over a decade through EITI to promote payment transparency in various countries,” Stephen Comstock, an official with the American Petroleum Institute (API), a central industry lobby group, told a trade journal last week.

“Expanding this effort to the United States will hopefully provide U.S. citizens with a new perspective of the significant revenue and economic impact generated from U.S. exploration and production.”

Project-level information

At its base, the EITI standard mandates that governments and companies provide regular disclosure of royalties and revenues from natural resource extraction. The idea is that these parallel reports will allow for easy understanding of money local communities may be owed – and where any discrepancies may be coming from.

The U.S. application will go beyond the standard, to include renewable energy sources and additional minerals. In 2013, the U.S. federal government collected some 14 billion dollars from companies involved in natural resource extraction, typically the country’s second largest source of revenue.

Yet critics say domestic accountability mechanisms are too opaque.

“The kind of information that’s available for the public is aggregated, searchable only by year and state and some commodities,” Mia Steinle, the U.S. EITI civil society coordinator and an investigator at the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), a watchdog group here, told IPS.

“Coal mining communities, for instance, can’t really tell whether they’re getting the money due to them by the federal government. If industry wanted to work in a community that had project-level information, however, its members could make a decision based on whether a previous project had been worthwhile or not.”

Empowering the public with such data is, of course, of particular importance in developing countries, where extractives contracts have often been struck between powerful companies and governments that can be oblivious to local benefit. EITI currently lists 26 countries as compliant with its standards, and another 18 countries as candidates.

The initiative is being bolstered by landmark though pending legislation in the United States and the European Union. Due the E.U. moves, Tullow Oil, a British company, on Tuesday became the first drilling company to offer project-level payments reporting in every country in which it’s operating.

“Tullow’s move shows that global oil companies can disclose such information at little cost and without fear of competitive harm,” Ian Gary, a senior policy manager at Oxfam America, an anti-poverty campaigner, said Tuesday. “The disclosures … show that some oil and mining companies are embracing – rather than fighting – the global transparency tide.”

1504 pending

Yet even as the E.U. moves towards implementation of its new transparency requirements, known as the Accounting Directive, by next year, a similar proposal in the United States remains stuck in litigation. The provision, known as Section 1504, became law back in 2010, but its implementation has since been held up by regulators and industry pressure.

Last year, a proposed Section 1504 rule, which would require disclosure of all payments made by U.S.-listed extractives companies to foreign governments, was struck down in the courts. Campaigners are now pointing to the United States’ EITI candidacy as added impetus for the main regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), to speed up its work rewriting the rule.

“The new EITI standard … calls for fully public reporting, by company and by project. This is what the SEC proposed in its 2012 rule,” Jana Morgan, coordinator of Publish What You Pay USA, a pro-transparency group, told IPS.

“The EITI board’s decision puts additional pressure on the SEC to prioritise scheduling a rulemaking for Section 1504. U.S. government support for the Section 1504 rule released in 2012, coupled with its advocacy for U.S. candidacy in the EITI, makes clear that the [Obama] administration views these initiatives as complementary.”

Interestingly, the legal challenge to Section 1504 was spearheaded by the American Petroleum Institute, the group that helped fashion the U.S. EITI application and which has welcomed the country’s new candidature. POGO’s Steinle says that, given the recent court decision, EITI-related project-level reporting for the United States remains unresolved and will be discussed this year.

Nonetheless, she stresses that the EITI discussions between civil society, industry and government representatives were surprisingly fruitful.

“It’s so useful and powerful for those three sectors to be face to face for these types of discussions. We’ve broken down a lot of walls, simply having people get together who would normally never talk to one another,” she says.

“As other countries are committing to EITI or similar initiatives, it’s very important that the United States is now following these good international examples. Hopefully this will help to set an example for those countries that aren’t yet on board.”

The United States will now have three years to bring its reporting into alignment with the EITI standard. U.S. officials say they plan to file their first report in 2015.

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Port Development Brings Progress to Brazil – At a Price http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/port-development-brings-progress-brazil-price/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=port-development-brings-progress-brazil-price http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/port-development-brings-progress-brazil-price/#comments Fri, 21 Mar 2014 09:05:39 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133135 “We are victims of progress,”complained Osmar Santos Coelho, known as Santico. His fishing community has disappeared, displaced to make way for a port complex on São Marcos bay, to the west of São Luis, the capital of the state of Maranhão in Brazil’s northeast. The Ponta da Madeira maritime terminal, which has been in operation […]

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View of the port of Ponta da Madeira, in northeast Brazil, where vessels - including Valemax megaships - dock to load iron ore mined in Carajás. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

View of the port of Ponta da Madeira, in northeast Brazil, where vessels - including Valemax megaships - dock to load iron ore mined in Carajás. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
SÃO LUIS, Brazil, Mar 21 2014 (IPS)

“We are victims of progress,”complained Osmar Santos Coelho, known as Santico. His fishing community has disappeared, displaced to make way for a port complex on São Marcos bay, to the west of São Luis, the capital of the state of Maranhão in Brazil’s northeast.

The Ponta da Madeira maritime terminal, which has been in operation since 1986, has strengthened the influence of its owner, the giant mining company Vale, in São Luis. The terminal currently exports 110 million tonnes a year of iron ore, consolidating a logistical corridor of decisive importance for local economic development.

Ships too big for China



The 23-metre draught in Ponta da Madeira allows Valemax ships to dock in the harbour. They are the largest mineral cargo vessels in the world, with a capacity of 400,000 tonnes, and have been in operation since 2011.


China, the principal customer for Vale’s iron ore, should be the main destination of these megaships, but it banned them from its ports as too large. However, a Chinese shipyard is building 12 of these vessels for Vale. South Korea is building another seven.


Vale’s goal is to have 35 Valemax ships, 16 of which would be chartered. Their size cheapens transport costs and helps the company compete with Australia, a mining power that is closer to the large Asian market. Moreover, the giant ships reduce greenhouse gas emission per tonne of mineral transported by 35 percent, Vale said.

To get its ore to China, Vale, the world’s second largest mining transnational,
uses transfer stations in the Philippines, and will shortly open a distribution centre in Malaysia to transfer goods to smaller ships. Two Brazilan ports and six abroad currently accept Valemax vessels.

Company trains arrive at the port, transporting minerals from Carajás, a huge mining province in the eastern Amazon region that has made Vale the world leader in iron ore production. The port also exports a large proportion of the soya grown in the centre-north of Brazil.

Beside it, a Vale plant converts iron ore to spherical pellets.

These activities create thousands of jobs, especially in Vale’s area of direct influence, Itaqui-Bacanga, an area of 58 poor districts in the southwest of São Luis.

Young people aspire to work there because the pay is good, and Vale’s human resources policies, inherited from its long life as a state company (1942-1997), guarantee job stability. An employee “is only fired if he or she really messes around a lot,” an executive told IPS.

Vale also offers a lot of temporary work for the expansion of the port, and its railroad track, so far one-way, is in the process of being made two-way, with the aim of doubling mining exports from 2018.

Because of these and other local projects, the economy of the surrounding neighbourhoods is booming, said George Pereira, the secretary of the Itaqui-Bacanga Community Association (ACIB). Three plants are planned, for pulp and paper, cement and fertilisers, as well as a coal-fired thermoelectric station, among others.

Some 55 kilometres further south, in the municipality of Bacabeira, the state oil company Petrobras will build the Premium I refinery, which will be the largest in Brazil when it opens in 2018. The project will be put out to tender in April, and at its peak will employ 25,000 workers, the company says.

The employment boom boosts consumption, trade and services, “but this is not the development we want. We have more money in our pockets but no water to drink, because the rivers are polluted,” Pereira said.

Sanitation, drinking water, transport, teachers and doctors are scarce, while there is an excess of violence, drugs and prostitution in the poor districts, where the population is soaring, he said. Close to 200,000 people already live there, and two more housing estates are under construction, he said.

In this context, Vale “does good works, but in isolation, without transformative programmes to develop the entire area,” Pereira criticised. The priorities are education and sanitation, he said.

Ironically, the association that criticises and puts pressure on Vale is its own creature. It arose from the company’s social investment, required by the state National Economic and Social Development Bank (BNDES) as a condition for financing the iron ore pellet plant.

ACIB is governed by representatives of the five divisions that make up Itaqui-Bacanga and was created 10 years ago to mobilise the local population for an urban clean-up project. Its overheads and its headquarters, a two-story building, are funded by Vale, Pereira said.

Among the company’s numerous social action projects, some are outstanding for their effectiveness, such as extensions to the Itaqui-Bacanga Centre for Professional Education, an educational centre belonging to the National Industrial Apprenticeship Service (SENAI).

This year the centre is providing technical education for 10,000 students, twice the enrolment it had in 2013 and five times that of 2010, thanks to 14 new classrooms and five new laboratories.

Three other centres along the corridor between Carajás and São Luis are supported by similar partnerships between Vale and SENAI, Janaina Pinheiro, Vale’s human resources manager, told IPS.

In 2013, SENAI trained 65,000 students in Maranhão, compared to 10,000 a decade ago, state director Marco Moura told IPS.

Industrialisation in São Luis is concentrated around the ports on São Marcos bay. Near Ponta da Madeira is the state port of Itaqui, which has handled cargo of all kinds since the 1970s, and this year will see the addition of a grain terminal to export soya and maize from the new agricultural frontiers in the centre and north of the country.

Some of Brazil’s new ports were created with the goal of becoming industrial hubs, including Suape and Pecém, in the northeastern states of Pernambuco and Ceará. They were planned as industrial-port complexes and have been boosting the local economies for the past decade.

Both these ports have Petrobras refineries, and Suape has a petrochemical plant and eight shipyards, while Pecém has a steelworks and electricity generating plants. Many companies are locating in the enormous industrial zones on the landward side of the two ports.

The São Luis ports were unconnected to that wave of industrialisation because they belong to the poorest Brazilian region, which is backward and neglected compared to other hubs in the northeast.

The bay’s deep water, suitable for large-draught vessels, its location facing the North Atlantic, and the Carajás railway link, were advantages for the Ponta da Madeira terminal.

Osmar Santos Coelho, Santico, outside the shed where he keeps his nets and fishing gear, on a narrow beach that escaped takeover by the port terminal built by the Vale mining company in São Luis, in Brazil’s Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Osmar Santos Coelho, Santico, outside the shed where he keeps his nets and fishing gear, on a narrow beach that escaped takeover by the port terminal built by the Vale mining company in São Luis, in Brazil’s Northeast. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But there have been victims, the 73-year-old Santico reminded IPS, for instance “between 80 and 100” artisanal fisherfolk from Boqueirão, who were evicted from their fishing village on the beach and resettled in different districts.

A few years later, many of them have returned to fish in the São Marcos bay, in spite of this being banned, and they have settled on a small stretch of beach not occupied by the port, he said.

“We had no other trade, and we were hungry,” he said. They eventually built eight rough cabins from poles and palm leaves, some for living in and others just for fishing equipment.

Santico has a house in a nearby district and a cabin on the beach for the gear he uses for his sporadic night-time fishing expeditions. “There are hardly any fish left, and only a few prawns,” after new underwater concrete breakers were built to control tidal currents, he said.

As a result, fisherfolk negotiated with Vale and three years ago the company donated food baskets for 52 fisherfolk, worth between 308 and 725 dollars. “That’s how we survive,” Santico said.

Thousands of other families were evicted to make way for docks and port installations. Itaqui was, in fact, the name of a district that disappeared.

More city districts are now threatened by the industrial zone under construction next to the highway. Vila Maranhão fears extinction, squeezed between the railway and the new industrial hub, and only a few kilometres from a coal-fired thermoelectric plant, a large aluminium industry and stockpiled minerals.

“There is no official word yet, but it’s only a matter of time before we are evicted from here,” predicted Lamartine de Moura, a 71-year-old ACIB director who has lived in Vila Maranhão for 23 years. “If we’re not forced out by expropriation, we will be by the pollution,” she told IPS.

A university study found heavy metals in the local stream, and mineral dust in the air stains the houses and spreads respiratory diseases, she said.

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Carbon-Cutting Initiative May Harm Indigenous Communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/carbon-cutting-initiative-may-harm-indigenous-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=carbon-cutting-initiative-may-harm-indigenous-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/carbon-cutting-initiative-may-harm-indigenous-communities/#comments Thu, 20 Mar 2014 23:35:29 +0000 Bryant Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133131 Civil society and advocacy groups are warning that a prominent carbon-reduction initiative, aimed at curbing global emissions, is undermining land tenure rights for indigenous communities, putting their livelihoods at risk. On Wednesday, an international dialogue here focused on the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation Plus (REDD+) programme, overseen primarily by the United Nations and […]

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U.S. Native American leader Tom Goldtooth. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

U.S. Native American leader Tom Goldtooth. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Bryant Harris
WASHINGTON, Mar 20 2014 (IPS)

Civil society and advocacy groups are warning that a prominent carbon-reduction initiative, aimed at curbing global emissions, is undermining land tenure rights for indigenous communities, putting their livelihoods at risk.

On Wednesday, an international dialogue here focused on the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation Plus (REDD+) programme, overseen primarily by the United Nations and World Bank.“As the carbon in living trees becomes another marketable commodity, the deck is loaded against forest peoples." -- Arvind Khare

The Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a coalition of organisations focused on land tenure and policy reforms, presented new research highlighting the lack of legal protection and safeguards for indigenous communities living in forests.

“As the carbon in living trees becomes another marketable commodity, the deck is loaded against forest peoples and presents an opening for an unprecedented carbon grab by governments and investors,” said Arvind Khare, RRI’s executive director.

“Every other natural-resource investment on the international stage has disenfranchised indigenous peoples and local communities, but we were hoping REDD would deliver a different outcome. Their rights to their forests may be few and far between, but their rights to the carbon in the forests are non-existent.”

REDD+ provides a series of financial incentives and rewards for developing countries to reduce their carbon emissions resulting from deforestation.

The World Bank plays an active role in REDD+ through its Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and the Forest Investment Programme (FIP), both of which are designed to encourage better forest conservation and stewardship.

However, watchdog groups say Latin American, African and Asian indigenous communities living in forests have yet to receive any REDD+ revenue streams from their respective governments.

“There has been no transfer of funds to the [indigenous] communities through the governmental REDD processes,” Khare told IPS. “And therefore, in most of these countries … no money has been transferred to the communities through these two major bodies [REDD+ and FCPF], which are actually piloting REDD in the world.”

RRI’s new research, which examines 23 countries, finds that only Mexico and Guatemala have laws meant to clarify tenure rights over carbon. Meanwhile, none of the countries have a legal framework or institutions in place to determine who receives REDD+ benefits for carbon emission reductions.

One-eighth the deforestation

In order to ensure that indigenous communities receive an appropriate share of the financial benefits from REDD+, many of the participants at Wednesday’s dialogue called on the programme’s overseers to explicitly link carbon rights with land tenure rights.

“Tenure must be a centrepiece of REDD …That recognition of local rights is essential to the viability of carbon markets,” said Alexandre Corriveau-Bourque, a tenure analyst at RRI.

“These observations are based not only on moral or legal grounds but on a growing body of academic literature demonstrating that communities with secure tenure have proven that they promote the permanence of forest carbon” – essentially, preventing deforestation – “often achieving better outcomes than state-protected areas.”

For instance, in areas of the Amazon where the land ownership rights of indigenous communities are respected and legally protected, the rate of deforestation is only one-eighth of the level in areas not under indigenous control.

When land tenure rights are not clearly recognised or legally protected, however, the potential for violent conflict, state repression and heightened deforestation increases.

“It’s also clear that insecure, unclear and unrecognised community tenure rights can lead to conflict and deforesting activities,” Corriveau-Bourque continued. “If governments decide that carbon is a public good and claim exclusive state ownership, as many have with mineral resources … it will add another layer of contestation and conflict in an already crowded field.”

In 2002, New Zealand declared state ownership of its carbon supplies, which actually resulted in an increase in deforestation. As a result, the government has since reformed the law to adapt a policy that gives communities and individuals more freedom to engage in the carbon trade.

According to RRI, 15 of the 21 countries with national planning documents for REDD+ noted that a major cause of deforestation and forest degradation was the absence of clear tenure policies.

Misattributed blame

In addition to the lack of clear land tenure rights, some analysts believe that the implementation of REDD+ will be detrimental to indigenous people as governments seek to misattribute and direct blame for deforestation towards local communities, rather than on the corporate interests operating in fragile forest ecosystems.

“The message coming from forest peoples is that they are being pressed from both sides,” Tom Griffiths, a coordinator with the Forest Peoples Programme, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“On the one hand, their forests are being given out without their knowledge and agreement to foreign companies for agricultural development and oil extraction. And on the other, they’re being pressed by these same climate initiatives, which are actually limiting their access to the forest.”

Griffiths suggested that the industrial sector is largely responsible for driving deforestation in many countries, but that subsistence farmers and poor people often get the blame.

He also notes that some analysts have characterised traditional rotational farming as “slash and burn” agriculture.

“There’s a deep prejudice in forest policymaking, and indeed the forest profession, against so-called slash and burn agriculture,” said Griffiths. “In fact, there’s a large amount of science to show that, with the right conditions, it is a fully sustainable form of land use and in fact can even enrich forest ecosystems.

“We’re very concerned that some of these REDD policies, forest climate policies, are not paying adequate attention to these obligations to protect customary rights to land and crucial customary systems or ways of using the land.”

Earlier this month, indigenous groups from around the world held an international conference on deforestation and local rights in Palangka Raya, Indonesia.

In addition to singling out agribusiness, infrastructure as well as mineral and energy extraction, they called for a halt to “green economy” projects, which they argued prohibit forest peoples’ “fundamental rights”.

In a declaration, the conference organisers directly criticized REDD+ both for its lack of progress on emissions reduction and for the restrictions it imposes on the rights of indigenous forest peoples to use their land.

“Global efforts promoted by agencies like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), [REDD+] and the World Bank to address deforestation through market mechanisms are failing,” states the communiqué.

“Not just because viable markets have not emerged, but because these efforts fail to take account of the multiple values of forests and, despite standards to the contrary, in practice are failing to respect our internationally recognised human rights.”

Furthermore, the declaration indicated that organisations collaborating on initiatives like REDD+ have implemented development programmes that have themselves contributed to deforestation:

“Contradictorily, many of these same agencies are promoting the take-over of our peoples’ land and territories through their support for imposed development schemes, thereby further undermining national and global initiatives aimed at protecting forests.”

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Pepsi Pledge Signals Momentum on Land Rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/pepsi-pledge-signals-momentum-land-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pepsi-pledge-signals-momentum-land-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/pepsi-pledge-signals-momentum-land-rights/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 21:09:37 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133065 PepsiCo, the world’s second largest food and beverage manufacturer, has agreed to overhaul its longstanding policies around land rights, instituting a series of new safeguards and transparency pledges throughout its global supply chains. Anti-poverty and development advocates are lauding the announcement, made Tuesday at the company’s New York headquarters. Coming on the heels of a […]

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Sugar cane being sold at a market on the edge of Phnom Penh. The global soft drinks market alone is thought to use some 176 million tonnes of sugar each year. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

Sugar cane being sold at a market on the edge of Phnom Penh. The global soft drinks market alone is thought to use some 176 million tonnes of sugar each year. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

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

PepsiCo, the world’s second largest food and beverage manufacturer, has agreed to overhaul its longstanding policies around land rights, instituting a series of new safeguards and transparency pledges throughout its global supply chains.

Anti-poverty and development advocates are lauding the announcement, made Tuesday at the company’s New York headquarters."These companies are very competitive, and it turns out that a simple index, aimed at encouraging a ‘race to the top’, is an effective tool." -- Chris Jochnick

Coming on the heels of a similar pledge made late last year by Coca-Cola, the move appears to strengthen a new trend in corporate recognition of land rights, while also offering clear recognition of the growing power of consumer demand.

PepsiCo’s new pledge includes a “zero tolerance” policy for agriculture-related “land-grabbing”, or large-scale land acquisitions, among all of its commodity suppliers, only the second such company to do so.

In addition to its namesake sugared soft drink, PepsiCo owns a vast empire of well-known consumer brands, including Gatorade, Tropicana, Quaker and Frito-Lay.

“Agriculture is an integral part of PepsiCo’s supply chain,” Paul Boykas, vice president for public policy at PepsiCo, said Tuesday.

“Regardless of the source of the commodity – whether from suppliers, directly or indirectly, a farm or processor – this land policy defines our intentions and the actions we as a company will take to recognise land rights throughout our supply chain.”

With annual sales of some 65 billion dollars, PepsiCo is the world’s second-largest producer of soft drinks, producing global brands including Mountain Dew, Miranda and others. The global soft drinks market alone is thought to use some 176 million tonnes of sugar each year, while PepsiCo’s commodity usage spans hundreds of ingredients.

In its new land policy, PepsiCo notes that it sources its raw materials from a “wide range” of land tenure set-ups, both formal and informal. As an initial step, the company says it will “comprehensively map”, and then implement a “presumption of transparency” throughout, its supply chains.

It has also pledged to implement free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) principles when either the company or its suppliers are acquiring land, with the aim of ensuring a substantive conversation and negotiating process with local communities.

Further, when the company or its suppliers are operating in a country that does not have “adequate land rights protections”, PepsiCo says it will lobby the national government of that country to put in place and implement specific FPIC principles.

This land in Liberia has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. PepsiCo’s new pledge includes a “zero tolerance” policy for agriculture-related “land-grabbing”, or large-scale land acquisitions, among all of its commodity suppliers. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

This land in Liberia has been leased by the government to Equatorial Palm Oil for 50 years. PepsiCo’s new pledge includes a “zero tolerance” policy for agriculture-related “land-grabbing”, or large-scale land acquisitions, among all of its commodity suppliers. Credit: Wade C.L. Williams/IPS

This unusual step is part of a broader commitment to be public and vocal about its new land policies, an agreement reportedly won through discussions with the anti-poverty group Oxfam International.

“This commitment to be a public advocate – towards others in the industry, towards governments and suppliers – is new terrain, both for campaigners and certainly for the companies themselves,” Chris Jochnick, the director of the private sector department at Oxfam America, told IPS.

“It’s very helpful to have major companies advocating on these issues at both the global and national level, among their industry peers and vis-à-vis the direct suppliers. For local communities and NGOs, it’s also useful to be able to point to these major companies and say that they’re insisting on FPIC standards.”

Race to the top

Both the recent Coca-Cola and now the PepsiCo pledges came about in part due to negotiations with and public pressure organised over the past year by Oxfam, and Jochnick says the new commitments are significant. He particularly points to the zero tolerance for land grabbing as “very ambitious”.

A year ago, Oxfam began a new initiative aimed at highlighting the land policies adopted by 10 of the world’s largest consumer brands, including PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. In November, Oxfam and others filed a shareholder resolution calling on PepsiCo to file an annual report “focused on the issue of land rights along the company’s supply chains”.

“PepsiCo’s sources of sugar include suppliers that have been linked to land grabs, which poses risk to the company and shareholder value,” the resolution stated. “PepsiCo must urgently recognize this problem and take steps to ensure that land rights violations are not part of its supply chain.”

In November, Coca-Cola announced that it would institute a “zero tolerance” policy for land-grabbing. Since then, almost 275,000 people have signed petitions calling on PepsiCo to follow suit.

“We’ve been surprised ourselves with how much pressure consumers have been able to exert, and how sensitive the brands are to that kind of engagement,” Jochnick says.

“These companies are very competitive, and it turns out that a simple index, aimed at encouraging a ‘race to the top’, is an effective tool. These companies would choose to be a leader rather than be perceived as a laggard.”

A year ago, just two of the companies on Oxfam’s list of 10 had even begun talking about land rights. According to an updated scorecard released last month, seven companies are now making specific commitments on the issue (the scores don’t include the new pledges by PepsiCo).

“We feel there’s real momentum around land rights right now,” Jochnick says. “So the next step will be to use that action to push the suppliers – Cargill, Bunge – to focus more broadly on land.”

Weak standards

As part of its new commitments on Tuesday, PepsiCo noted its ongoing participation in at least two multi-stakeholder groupings, aimed at creating voluntary social and environmental standards around the production of palm oil and sugarcane. Global demand for these products is currently surging, constituting the majority of the recent increase in land-grabbing.

Yet activists have increasingly panned these industry-led certification initiatives, including the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Bonsucro, which focuses on the global sugar supply. Nonetheless, for the moment PepsiCo says it will continue its participation in both groupings.

“PepsiCo’s new land policy is a positive step. But instead of taking responsibility for eliminating land grabbing from its palm oil supply chain, PepsiCo is relying solely on the inadequate standards of the RSPO,” Gemma Tillack, a senior forest campaigner at the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), a watchdog group, told IPS.

“The RSPO continues to certify companies that destroy rainforests and cause massive climate pollution and human rights violations. To fully address these serious problems, PepsiCo must join other leading consumer companies and adopt a truly responsible palm oil sourcing policy.”

Last week, RAN and other advocacy groups formally opened to applications a new standards initiative, the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), which aims to “build on” the RSPO process. In a joint statement released last week, POIG’s membership said it will “prove that palm oil production does not need to be linked to forest destruction, social conflict or worsen climate change.”

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Fight Brews over Wild vs. Hatchery Salmon in U.S. Northwest http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/fight-brews-wild-vs-farmed-salmon-u-s-northwest/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fight-brews-wild-vs-farmed-salmon-u-s-northwest http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/fight-brews-wild-vs-farmed-salmon-u-s-northwest/#comments Tue, 18 Mar 2014 18:23:20 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133047 Built in 1909, Bonneville Fish Hatchery is one of the oldest and largest in the Columbia River Basin, located in the U.S. Pacific Northwest. The hatchery annually produces over 11 million young fall Chinook salmon, three million coho eggs and 500,000 young steelhead for a number of rivers in the basin as part of an […]

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Bonneville Dam’s fish ladders allow Chinook salmon to migrate freely. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

Bonneville Dam’s fish ladders allow Chinook salmon to migrate freely. Credit: Jason E. Kaplan/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
PORTLAND, Oregon, Mar 18 2014 (IPS)

Built in 1909, Bonneville Fish Hatchery is one of the oldest and largest in the Columbia River Basin, located in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

The hatchery annually produces over 11 million young fall Chinook salmon, three million coho eggs and 500,000 young steelhead for a number of rivers in the basin as part of an agreement under the 1938 Mitchell Act.“It’s amazing. We have a healthy population of wild and ‘natural origin’ fish." -- Paul Hoffarth

This was designed to mitigate the loss of habitat from the numerous hydropower projects built along the Columbia Basin in the 1930s to provide cheap power and aid in river navigation.

Development came at a severe cost to the previously prolific wild salmon and steelhead runs, estimated at 16 million, that sustained regional Native American tribes as the fish returned from the ocean.

After over a century of steadily declining migrations, resulting in 13 threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead species with returns averaging 600,000, things might be looking up. An estimated 1.2 million of the Chinook salmon species alone crossed the Bonneville Dam fish ladders during the fall 2013 migration.

Caroline Looney-Hunt of the Yakama Nation tells IPS she has been a tribal fisherwoman for over 40 years, since age 12.

“I was the only girl fishing with my three younger brothers and my cousin and stepdad, who was also my uncle,” she said.  According to tradition, when a brother dies, the surviving brother will raise his children.

When her father died at age 35, her mother and 10 siblings faced a crisis but survived through fishing the Columbia. A tribal treaty with the U.S. government allows the Yakama, Warm Springs, Nez Perce and Umatilla tribes special fishing rights on the Columbia.

The tribes have been an important part of the recent restoration of salmon migrations, according to the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fisheries Commission (CRITFC). All four tribes in Washington, Idaho, and Oregon have implemented, with the help of hired biologists, successful hatchery programmes that have restored low and previously extinct salmon and steelhead runs.

Stuart Ellis, a biologist at CRITFC, tells IPS there are three types of hatcheries under the Mitchell Act.

Production hatcheries tend to be the largest, like Bonneville, and are designed to mitigate the loss of salmon for commercial and sports fisheries and tribes, while restoration ones aim to repopulate extinct and threatened runs with wild salmon.

The third method combines restoration with production, which is what the tribes prefer.

Yet some critics believe that hatcheries represent yet another threat to wild salmon. Lawsuits have been filed over hatcheries on Washington’s Elwha River, where dams were recently decommissioned, and hatcheries on Oregon’s McKenzie River and Sandy River in the Columbia Basin.

The lawsuits cite the Endangered Species Act to access the courts to change how hatcheries are utilised.

In 2007, the century-old 22-megawatt Bull Run Hydropower project was decommissioned to support restoration of the Sandy River, but the Native Fish Society says Sandy River hatchery salmon supplied by the Bonneville site out-compete wild fish.

Bill Bakke, director of science and conservation for the Native Fish Society, tells IPS the NOAA government fisheries “don’t have a conservation mission. They are producing a huge amount of fish.”

According to the Mar. 14 ruling, the lawsuit has resulted in reducing Sandy hatchery releases from one million down to almost 500,000 fish, short of the target but a partial victory.

Mike Matylewich, fisheries manager for CRITFC, tells IPS “that project is a fisheries mitigation project which has the concrete to concrete hatchery structure.”

“The Native Fish Society would like to see the fish spawning in the river… [and their] remedy would be to shut down the programme,” he said. “The tribes would also like to see fish spawning in the river. [They] have advocated for integrated hatchery programmes that utilise wild fish in the brood stock so that the characteristics of the hatchery fish are as similar to the wild fish as possible.”

“The Nez Perce tribe has had a lot of success with their Snake River [Columbia tributary] fall Chinook program,” Sara Thompson, Public Information Officer for CRITC tells IPS. “That is a supplementation programme designed to put spawning fish on the spawning grounds. They had 56,000 adult fall Chinook go over the granite dam.”

While expensive, these programmes have a proven success rate of restoration.

“[These are] emergency cases and necessary,” explains Bakke, of restoration hatcheries for extinct salmon runs. “You will suffer a lower reproduction success but you don’t have a choice.” He contrasts this with larger hatcheries from state run projects. “What are their financial returns?”

For instance, state-run Entiat Hatchery in Washington had famously low returns for spring Chinook, with a harvest cost per fish at 68,000 dollars, according to a 2002 IEAB audit.

In 1990, only one spring Chinook was harvested, bringing costs for that fish to 800,000 dollars – the yearly cost of the programme. It was eventually phased out due to low returns and perceived risks to wild populations.

Ellis and Matylewich say things have improved since that report. Hanford Reach, former nuclear facility turned wildlife reserve, has become the largest spawning ground for wild fall Chinook in the entire basin and some hatchery-reared fish successfully spawn there as well.

Located east of Bonneville, the reserve has the longest stretch of undammed habitat along the Columbia.

Paul Hoffarth of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which manages the area, tells IPS “It’s amazing. We have a healthy population of wild and ‘natural origin’ fish. We tend to refer to fish now as ‘natural origin’ as this may be more accurate.

“A natural origin fish spawns in the wild and has strong physical characteristics, referred to as ‘fitness.’ Our fall Chinook are 80-90 percentage natural origin.”

He concedes a minority of naturally spawning fish were initially raised at nearby restoration hatcheries which don’t mark the fins, meaning commercial fishers will release them as if they were wild.

Starting in mid-March, juveniles have been emerging from the spawning gravel. They will stay at the site for 90 days until their ocean migration in the summer.

Back on the Yakama Reservation, Looney-Hunt says fishing is her only livelihood. Though she has experienced a lot of hardship, she says, “The last three years have been pretty good.” She processed 40 crates of fish one day.

Ellis and Matylewich are also keen to point out that hatcheries also provide much needed work to the region.

In her 54 years on the Yakama Reservation, the tribal fisherwoman has faced early deaths in her family due to accidents and alcoholism and is justifiably proud of her 15 years of sobriety.

“If I’m going to die, it’s probably going to be in the Columbia. We say ‘if you take from the river, it will take from you.’ The community has lost several fishermen to the Columbia but it has also been their lifeline. The next fishing season, which starts in May for the tribes, is predicted to be even better.”

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Sun Shines on Forest Women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sun-shines-forest-women/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sun-shines-forest-women http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/sun-shines-forest-women/#comments Fri, 07 Mar 2014 08:13:17 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132514 Chintapakka Jambulamma, 34, looks admiringly at a solar dryer. It’s the prized possession of the Advitalli Tribal Women’s Co-operative Society- a collective of women entrepreneurs that she leads. She opens up a drawer in the dryer, scoops out a handful of the medicinal plant Kalmegh and exclaims, “Look, it’s drying so fast.” Around her, women […]

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Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

Forest women in Anantagiri forest in the south-east of India check out their solar dryer. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS.

By Stella Paul
ANANATAGIRI, India, Mar 7 2014 (IPS)

Chintapakka Jambulamma, 34, looks admiringly at a solar dryer. It’s the prized possession of the Advitalli Tribal Women’s Co-operative Society- a collective of women entrepreneurs that she leads.

She opens up a drawer in the dryer, scoops out a handful of the medicinal plant Kalmegh and exclaims, “Look, it’s drying so fast.”“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds. Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

Around her, women from the co-operative break into laughter.  The women are from the Koya and Konds tribes in the Eastern Ghat mountains of southern India. The forest has always been their home and their source of sustenance. Now, these women are tapping the sun that shines through it.

The solar dryer has four panels attached. It was installed two years ago by the Kovel Foundation – a non-profit group that helps forest tribes defend their rights and improve their livelihood.

The dryer – one of the two such machines installed by the foundation so far, cost about a million rupees (17,000 dollars)  says Krishna Rao, director of the foundation.

The investment has been worth it, he says, because the women are using it to run a business sustainably. “There are 2,500 women from 20 villages in the cooperative. None of them have studied beyond the junior school. Yet, they know how to run a business well,” Rao tells IPS.

“They are organised and work well as a team. Also, they are learning how to collect the roots, leaves and fruits without harming the mother plant, so that their resources don’t run dry.”

The forests of this region yield more than 700 non-timber forest products that include leaves, edible herbs, medicinal plants, fungi, seeds and roots. Most popular among them are honey, gum, Amla (Indian gooseberry), Tendu leaves, Mahua flowers and soap nuts.

Koyas and Konds have made a living for centuries off such forest products.  Penikala Ishwaramma, 23, is one of the herb gatherers. On a good day she gathers 20-25 kg of herbs. This year there is a bumper growth of the kalmegh herb in the forest, and Ishwaramma has gathered 116 kg of it.

The forest department buys much of this produce – 25 products must be sold to the department alone. But tribal people find the department’s procurement process slow and its prices lower than the market price. The forest department pays 45 rupees for a kilogram of gooseberry, while the existing market price is more than 60 rupees (about a dollar).

It’s this disappointment with government prices that drove the women to build their own collective business of selling forest products. Within two years, they are close to earning the 200,000 rupees (3,300 dollars) the Kovel Foundation loaned them.

The foundation had also provided basic entrepreneurial skill-building. Every day women like Ishwaramma bring their bounty directly to the cooperative where the managing team weighs and buys them, paying much higher than the government rate.

“We work hard, gather good quality herbs and seeds, “ says Ishwaramma. “Our life depends on this money. Why should we settle for less?”

But making a profit for the cooperative depends on producing good quality herbs quickly and efficiently – a difficult task as the women lack proper infrastructure to store or dry their produce. In addition, forests villages are very vulnerable to extreme weather, especially cyclonic storms.

According to the Disaster Management department of Andhra Pradesh state in southern India, the area has witnessed over 60 cyclones in the past 40 years, and the frequency is rising.

Using solar energy to dry their herbs has helped the women minimise risks of damage. In 2013, their forest was hit by five big cyclones – Mahasen. Phailin, Helen, Lehar and Madi. Yet the group didn’t lose much of their produce.

“Before a storm approaches, we try to dry as much of the herbs as possible and quickly pack them,” says Jambulamma. “We no longer need to leave them in the courtyard to dry.”

With drying and packaging no longer under weather, the group is now focusing on building a network of regular buyers, which would help them break even.

Bhagya Lakshmi, programme manager at the Kovel Foundation which connects the women with herbal product manufacturers, agrees. “They have already got their first big client which is a Bangalore-based herbal pharmaceutical company called Natural Remedies Private Limited. Currently, they are buying kalmegh in bulk quantity. We are trying to find more firms who will buy other products from them.”

Besides establishing a clientele, the women are planning to upgrade their technology. Krupa Shanti heads five forest villages in the area. Shanti says she is proud of the women’s cooperative and would like to see it grow bigger.

The government has installed a solar photo voltaic station at a nearby school that can convert and store solar power. Shanti is lobbying authorities to install one such station in her village.

“The government has so many welfare schemes. But for forest women like us, the best scheme is one that will help us become economically independent. If the government installs a solar charging station in each of our villages, we can expand this business and change our future.”

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Chevron Wins Latest Round in Ecuador Pollution Case http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/chevron-wins-latest-round-ecuador-pollution-case/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chevron-wins-latest-round-ecuador-pollution-case http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/03/chevron-wins-latest-round-ecuador-pollution-case/#comments Wed, 05 Mar 2014 00:46:32 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132455 In the latest twist in a 21-year-old environmental pollution case, a U.S. federal judge Tuesday ruled that the victims of massive oil spillage and their U.S. attorney could not collect on a nine-billion-dollar judgement by Ecuador’s supreme court against the Chevron Corporation. In a racketeering case brought by the U.S. oil giant, the judge found […]

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Outside the New York federal courthouse on Oct 15, 2013, Ecuadorians and their supporters gather to protest the Chevron lawsuit. Credit: Samuel Oakford/IPS

Outside the New York federal courthouse on Oct 15, 2013, Ecuadorians and their supporters gather to protest the Chevron lawsuit. Credit: Samuel Oakford/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Mar 5 2014 (IPS)

In the latest twist in a 21-year-old environmental pollution case, a U.S. federal judge Tuesday ruled that the victims of massive oil spillage and their U.S. attorney could not collect on a nine-billion-dollar judgement by Ecuador’s supreme court against the Chevron Corporation.

In a racketeering case brought by the U.S. oil giant, the judge found that the lawyer, Steven Donziger, and his associates had used bribery and falsified evidence to prevail against Chevron in Ecuador’s courts and thus should not be permitted to collect damages.“Misconduct on the part of a couple of lawyers... is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for a corporation that has committed massive toxic contamination.” -- Marco Simons

“It is distressing that the course of justice was perverted,” the District Court Judge Lewis Kaplan wrote in a nearly 500-page ruling.

“There is no ‘Robin Hood’ defense to illegal and wrongful conduct,” he went on. “And the defendants’ ‘this-is-the-way-it-is-done-in-Ecuador’ excuses – actually a remarkable insult to the people of Ecuador – do not help them.”

Chevron applauded the judgement “as a resounding victory,” while Donziger and his attorneys said they would take the ruling to the same appeals court that overturned a similar judgement in the case rendered by Kaplan in 2011. At that time, Chevron appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold Kaplan’s original ruling, but the Court rejected the appeal without comment.

Donziger himself called Kaplan’s latest judgement, which followed a six-week trial conducted late last year, “an appalling decision resulting from a deeply flawed proceeding that overturns a unanimous ruling by Ecuador’s Supreme Court. …We are confident we will be fully vindicated in the U.S., as we have been in Ecuador.”

The case was first filed in the U.S. federal court in 1993 on behalf of 30,000 mostly indigenous residents of the Lago Agrio region of the Ecuadorean Amazon where Texaco, which was acquired by Chevron in 2001, had operated continuously from the 1960s until 1992. For much of that period, it worked in partnership with Petroecuador, which took over all of Texaco’s operations in the region when the U.S. oil giant left.

The plaintiffs claim that Texaco dumped more than 70 billion litres of toxic liquids, left some 910 waste pits filled with toxic sludge, and flared millions of cubic metres of toxic gases – poisoning the environment in one of the most biologically diverse areas in South America and creating serious health problems, including an unusually high incidence of cancer, for people living in the region.

Apparently concerned that U.S. courts would be more sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ case, Texaco persuaded Judge Jed Rakoff to have the case transferred to Ecuador in 2002 — when it was ruled by a conservative government eager for foreign investment — on condition that the company waive certain defences, such as the expiration of the statute of limitations, and ensure that any judgement would be enforceable in the U.S. The Ecuadorean case was filed the following year.

Chevron has long argued that the damages cited by the plaintiffs are exaggerated and that, in any case, Texaco extinguished its obligations when it carried out a 40-million- dollar environmental remediation project as part of a 1995 agreement with the Ecuadorean government that covered 37.5 percent of the well sites and waste pits in the concession area.

The remaining sites were to be cleaned up by Petroecuador, according to Chevron.

But the plaintiffs, who are backed by a number of local and international green groups, have argued that Chevron, having drilled all of the original sites, also remains responsible for Petroecuador’s portion, as well as for the continuing health and other impacts of its operations that are not covered by the 1995 agreement.

The trial court in Ecuador ruled against Chevron and granted the plaintiffs, who were represented by Donziger and his associates, an 18 billion dollar judgement. The country’s Supreme Court subsequent upheld the judgement but reduced the damages to 9.5 billion dollars.

Chevron, however, has sought to prevent the plaintiffs from collecting any of the money, by, among other steps, withdrawing all of its assets from Ecuador and initiating a racketeering suit against Donziger and his team based on its charges that they used bribery and other corrupt methods to win the case and extort billions of dollars from the company.

To sustain those charges, it subpoenaed tens of thousands of documents, emails, and other materials from Donziger and other lawyers, as well as activist groups that supported the case. It even subpoenaed out-takes from a 2009 documentary produced by film-maker Joe Berlinger, “Crude,” about the case.

In his testimony last November, Donziger himself admitted making mistakes, such as concealing his interactions with and payments to a court-appointed expert witness who produced a report on which the Ecuadorean courts relied for the assessment of damages.

One former Ecuadorean judge testified for Chevron that plaintiffs paid him to ghostwrite opinions for the presiding judge who had been promised half a million dollars by Donziger for a favourable ruling. Both Donziger and the presiding judge, Nicolas Zambrano, vehemently denied those charges.

Nonetheless, Kaplan, who has never questioned the extent of the environmental damage wrought by the oil companies’ operations in the region, ruled in favour of Chevron, noting that “an innocent defendant is no more entitled to submit false evidence, to co-opt and pay off a court-appointed expert or to coerce or bribe a judge or jury than a guilty one.” He also noted that Donziger himself stood to win more than 600 million dollars in contingency fees.

If upheld, Kaplan’s ruling would prevent Donziger and the plaintiffs from collecting any damages from Chevron in U.S. courts. It also requires them to turn over any damages against Chevron they might collect in foreign courts to the company.

The plaintiffs have brought cases in three countries where Chevron has major operations and assets — Canada, Brazil, and Argentina – to enforce the Ecuadorean judgment, and Chevron’s CEO Tuesday told reporters Tuesday that Kaplan’s ruling should bolster the case in those countries.

The judgement, according to Deepak Gupta, who represented Donziger, amounted to “what is in effect a global anti-collection injunction that would preclude enforcement of a judgement from one country in every jurisdiction.” He noted that was one of the main reasons why the appeals court overturned Kaplan’s 2011 decision.

Marco Simons, legal director of EarthRights International, told IPS Tuesday’s judgement was vulnerable on other grounds as well. He said the law over whether the kinds of injunctions issued by Kaplan could be employed under the federal racketeering law remains unsettled.

In addition, he noted, the fact that Kaplan had found that the Ecuadorean judicial system had not provided due process “offers a good basis for re-filing the substantive case against Chevron in U.S. courts.”

“And even if all of what Judge Kaplan said about the fraudulent conduct of the attorneys was true, the answer shouldn’t necessarily be that Chevron gets away with no liability for what it has done in the Ecuadorean Amazon,” he said. “Misconduct on the part of a couple of lawyers, which is what Judge Kaplan suggested, is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for a corporation that has committed massive toxic contamination.”

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An Environment-Wrecking Pipeline Hangs in Limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/environment-wrecking-pipeline-hangs-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=environment-wrecking-pipeline-hangs-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/environment-wrecking-pipeline-hangs-limbo/#comments Wed, 26 Feb 2014 04:06:39 +0000 Samuel Oakford http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=132098 The Pine Ridge Reservation of the Lakota Nation, in the midwest of the United States, is one of the most abandoned places in the country and in the world. Unemployment on the reservation hovers around 80 percent and only one in ten graduate from high school. Women live an average of 52 years, men 48. […]

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Tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Dru Oja Jay/ CC 2.0

Tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Credit: Dru Oja Jay/ CC 2.0

By Samuel Oakford
NEW YORK, Feb 26 2014 (IPS)

The Pine Ridge Reservation of the Lakota Nation, in the midwest of the United States, is one of the most abandoned places in the country and in the world.

Unemployment on the reservation hovers around 80 percent and only one in ten graduate from high school. Women live an average of 52 years, men 48. Half the population over 40 has diabetes and one in four children is born with some kind of foetal alcohol disorder.

So when the big companies behind the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline traced its proposed route around Pine Ridge, they probably thought little of this community of fewer than 30,000. If anything, they assumed, the Lakota would be happy to have jobs.“We are concerned about the preservation of our life and the earth for future generations. That’s not fear, that’s common sense.” -- Debbie White Plume, Lakota activist and resident of Pine Ridge

But what Pine Ridge lacks in material riches it makes up for in a unique attachment to the environment.

In 2012, when trucks belonging to a pipeline company attempted to drive through the tribal land in South Dakota, they were blocked by native authorities and locals who had sent out a call over the local radio station’s Facebook page.

Despite their poverty, locals knew that contrary to industry talking points, potential jobs in the area would be short-lived and outside experts flown in to maintain the pipeline.

Debbie White Plume, a Lakota activist and resident of Pine Ridge, says the pipeline runs against their conception of life and relationship with Mother Nature. They will never allow the pipeline to be built without putting up a fight, she told IPS by telephone.

Plume helps organise “Moccasins on the Ground”, a training programme that teaches native people the skills and tactics of non-violent direct action. Travelling from settlement to settlement, often hundreds of miles apart, Plume teaches local communities about their rights as sovereign citizens and how they can protest encroachment by corporations.

“We see what the tar sand oil mining is causing in Canada, we see what the oil drilling in the Dakotas is doing – as they gouge her (Mother Nature) and rape her and hurt her, we know it’s all the same ecosystem that we all need to live in,” Plume told IPS. “For us it’s a spiritual stand – it’s our relative, it hurts us.”

The Keystone XL is the final of four phases of the Keystone Pipeline system that brings highly corrosive oil called diluted bitumen (dilbit) from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada south to the Gulf of Mexico to be refined.

Oil sands, by far the most polluting of any fuel, require huge quantities of energy to be extracted and leave behind byproducts like “petcoke”, a high-sulphur coal-like substance that burns dirtier than coal.

The U.S. portion of the fourth phase would be built between the frontier town of Morgan, Montana and Steele City, Nebraska, where it would join existing pipelines headed south.

This final northern segment would cross several major rivers including the Red Rivers, the Missouri and the Yellowstone Rivers and pass over the Ogallala Aquifer, a shallow underground water table that supplies over a quarter of the United States’ irrigated land.

If it is completed, the pipeline would transport fuel equivalent to 181 million metric tonnes of CO2 per year, the equivalent of 51 coal plants.

Though technically skirting the reservation’s borders, the proposed pipeline would pass between Pine Ridge and the Rosebud Reservoir, where communities draw their water.

“In our mind, that’s our water,” Plume told an August gathering in Bridger, South Dakota. “We love our water and we have to protect our water.”

Plume says the Lakota have been joined by non-native ranchers and farmers in places like Nebraska who fear contamination could ruin their cropland.

Spills

With the Alberta oil sand boom pumping out record levels of Canadian crude, accidents are on the rise. In March 2013, between 5,000 and 7,000 barrels of Canadian heavy crude spilled from a gash in ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas, leading to catastrophic environmental damage.

In October, 20,600 barrels of fracked oil spilled out of a pipeline in North Dakota.

According to the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), last year there were 364 pipelines spills in the U.S.. And in Alberta, accidents are just as common. One investigation found more than 25,000 spills there in the past 37 years.

It is virtually guaranteed that Keystone would have a spill at some point. Incredibly, when Texas activists locked themselves inside a newly installed segment of the pipeline, rays of sunshine poured through huge cracks in an exterior meant to be water tight. Later that day, the portion was buried.

Corruption

After years of opposition from activists, the U.S. State Department released its environmental impact statement on Jan. 31, finding that construction of the Keystone XL would not significantly worsen carbon emissions.

This was the test by which U.S. President Barack Obama said he would approve or veto the project. But the study assumed the oil sands would be extracted at the same rate and shipped via rail should the proposal be rejected, even though industry studies had shown the rail system was incapable of absorbing excess crude.

Democratic Party lawmakers had urged the State Department to postpone releasing the impact statement until its own Inspector General completed an investigation into whether Environmental Resource Management (ERM), the company contracted by the State Department to carry out the assessment, had hidden conflicts of interest.

Environmental groups publicised documents indicating the State Department made little effort to verify if what ERM told them was true.

In reality, the London-based company receives much of its profits from existing deals with companies like Conoco Phillips, Chevron, ExxonMobil and Canadian Natural Resources, all of which stand to benefit from the pipeline and further tapping of the Alberta oil sands.

Several ERM analysts who wrote the assessment appeared to have also been former employees of TransCanada, the company building the pipeline.

“We’ve submitted tons of evidence that the company lied on their disclosure forms,” Ross Hammond, senior campaigner at Friends of the Earth’s Climate and Energy Programme, told IPS.

“The investment community sees Keystone as critical and the State Department glossed over that issue,” Hammond told IPS.

“So basically they’re saying ‘since there’s no climate impact, you might as well build Keystone.’ There are definitely instances in the analysis where it’s really shoddy.”

Friends of the Earth alleges that TransCanada schemed to employ former Obama administration officials as State Department lobbyists.

Anita Dunn, former White House communications director and now chief lobbyist for a firm that represents TransCanada, visited the White House over 100 times after leaving office in 2009.

“The only way to approve Keystone XL is to ignore the multiple lies that TransCanada told the State Department in its application. I’m sorry to see the State Department is comfortable with that,” said Democratic congressman Raúl Grijalva, who serves on the House Committee on Natural Resources.

A 30 day public comment period following the report’s release ends Mar. 7, after which input from federal agencies, NGOs and citizens will be released for review by Secretary of State John Kerry. The last time they took public comments, the State Department was inundated with over 1.5 million letters, emails and faxes, the majority disapproving of the plan.

In Pine Ridge, Plume says the choice is clear.

“We are concerned about the preservation of our life and the earth for future generations. That’s not fear, that’s common sense.”

“Our creation story places us here at the beginning of time,” says Plume. “We are hoping president Obama will say no – if he says yes, then we’ll put our moccasins on the ground and engage in civil disobedience.”

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

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‘Humanitarian Crisis’ for Ogaden Living Near Ethiopia’s Oil Fields http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/humanitarian-crisis-ogaden-living-near-ethiopias-oil-fields/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-crisis-ogaden-living-near-ethiopias-oil-fields http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/humanitarian-crisis-ogaden-living-near-ethiopias-oil-fields/#comments Sun, 23 Feb 2014 09:35:52 +0000 Ed McKenna http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131898 New allegations of scorched earth evictions of the Ogaden people have raised concerns that a lack of benefit sharing could escalate instability in the region and reinforce separatist tensions as foreign energy companies prepare to extract oil and gas from troubled southeastern Ethiopia. “The resources in this region will make Ethiopia rich but will keep […]

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There are unconfirmed reports of the Ogaden’s predominantly pastoralist population in southeastern Ethiopia being forcefully removed from land close to oil deposits. Credit: Rudolph Atallah/IPS

There are unconfirmed reports of the Ogaden’s predominantly pastoralist population in southeastern Ethiopia being forcefully removed from land close to oil deposits. Credit: Rudolph Atallah/IPS

By Ed McKenna
ADDIS ABABA, Feb 23 2014 (IPS)

New allegations of scorched earth evictions of the Ogaden people have raised concerns that a lack of benefit sharing could escalate instability in the region and reinforce separatist tensions as foreign energy companies prepare to extract oil and gas from troubled southeastern Ethiopia.

“The resources in this region will make Ethiopia rich but will keep us impoverished. A settlement is all we can hope for to protect our claim to some of the economic advantages of our natural resources,” Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) founder Abdirahman Mahdi told IPS.

The demise of Ethiopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam triggered a two-decade conflict between the government of Ethiopia and the ONLF, which began in 1994. The ONLF has been fighting for self-determination of the eight to 10 million Somali ethnic population living in the Ogaden basin within the Somali National Regional State (SNRS).

The government’s heavy paramilitary response to the insurgency has created “a humanitarian crisis throughout the Ogaden [basin] where half of the population live through famine,” said Mahdi.

Reports of forced evictions and human rights abuses in the vicinity of oil and gas fields is creating a new wave of grievances against the government in local communities.

“The army came to our community and burnt our homes and our crops. Our situation is getting worse as the military want many villages removed because of the search for gas.

“Many people in this area have been arrested. We don’t know where they are or if they are alive. Our situation is very bad,” one Ogaden man, who asked to remain anonymous, told IPS.

  • The confirmation of huge oil and gas reserves in the Ogaden basin is set to spike Ethiopia’s wealth as investment starts to pour in from foreign energy companies.
  • Gas deposits in the Ogaden basin are estimated at 2.7 trillion cubic feet over an area of 350,000 square kilometres.
  • Currently there are three oil companies finalising exploration in the area: Africa Oil (Canada), South Western Energy (Hong Kong) and GCL Poly Petroleum Investment (China).

Ethiopia has been Africa’s fastest-growing economy in recent years and could soon be an oil-producing economy. However, a government embargo on the Ogaden has severely isolated the region’s predominantly pastoralist population from Ethiopia’s development gains. Any prospect of consultation over resource extraction at this stage look slim, says Ogaden expert Professor Tobias Hagmann from the Roskilde University in Denmark."Our situation is getting worse as the military want many villages removed because of the search for gas. Many people in this area have been arrested. We don’t know where they are or if they are alive." -- Ogaden villager

“It is very unlikely that the local population will be consulted about local projects. They are not allowed to voice political dissent. How can they be allowed to participate in local decision-making related to development plans,” he told IPS.

Government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal told IPS that oil and gas riches “will contribute to the development of the SNRS including the Ogaden region.”

The Ethiopian government has been criticised by rights organisations for preventing NGOs from providing humanitarian aid to one of the poorest regions of Ethiopia and creating an exodus of thousands of refugees.

Amnesty International’s researcher on Ethiopia  Claire Beston told IPS that the Ethiopian government’s clampdown on the Ogaden Somali population “has severely restricted access to and within the region, including that of humanitarian agencies, and has also placed major restrictions on information coming out of the region about the true state of the humanitarian and human rights situation there.”

In December 2013 the Ogaden European Diaspora Association sent a letter to the European Union requesting that aid to Ethiopia be withheld as long as human rights abuses continue against the Ogaden.  “We are living under political and economic embargo. We demand that NGOs move freely as the humanitarian situation is critical,” Mahdi said.

Chinese oil company, GCL Poly Petroleum Investment, signed a deal with Ethiopia in November 2013 to develop gas reserves at Calub and Hilala in the Ogaden region.  A month later, the ONLF accused government militia, the Liyu police, of burning swathes of pasture belonging to communities close to Calub and Hilala gas fields.

A military clampdown in the region has made verifying such reports impossible. However, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported in 2012 that the Liyu police had been responsible for extra-judicial killings as a form of collective punishment.

“The Liyu police had summarily executed 10 men during a three-day rampage on a series of villages. These attacks, as previous abuses that get carried out by the Ethiopian government as part of its counter-insurgency campaign, take place in a context of complete impunity,” HRW researcher Laetitia Bader told IPS.

Much needed dialogue seems to be the only way to reduce feelings of disaffection in the major Ogaden clan, the Darod, which accounts for close to half of the Somali population in Ethiopia and constitutes the backbone of the ONLF.

However, faltering peace talks between the ONLF and the Ethiopian government broke down in Kenya in September 2012 and the resumption of talks could be further delayed since the abduction of two ONLF negotiators in January by Ethiopian security in Nairobi.

“The ONLF has a valid claim about the lack of accountability of international oil companies operating in the Ogaden. Further, the major clan family in the region is very much frustrated by continuous harassment and an absence of political and civic rights,” said Hagmann.

“They support the ONLF because it is the only organised opposition. It’s not the best choice since many Ogaden don’t support the ONLF but it’s the only choice for those marginalised by government policies.”

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Chagos Islanders ‘Will Not Give Up’ Fight to Return Home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/chagos-islanders-will-give-fight-return-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chagos-islanders-will-give-fight-return-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/chagos-islanders-will-give-fight-return-home/#comments Thu, 20 Feb 2014 10:03:07 +0000 Nasseem Ackbarally http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131810 “The Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago is a new obstacle that the British government has placed in our path to prevent us from going back to our homeland,” claims Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG). For the past 40 years, the Chagossians have been fighting to return to […]

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The Chagossians pictured here when they visited the archipelago in 2006. Many are still fighting to return to the islands they were evicted from almost 40 years ago. Courtesy: Chagos Refugees Group (CRG).

The Chagossians pictured here when they visited the archipelago in 2006. Many are still fighting to return to the islands they were evicted from almost 40 years ago. Courtesy: Chagos Refugees Group (CRG).

By Nasseem Ackbarally
PORT LOUIS, Feb 20 2014 (IPS)

“The Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago is a new obstacle that the British government has placed in our path to prevent us from going back to our homeland,” claims Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG).

For the past 40 years, the Chagossians have been fighting to return to their home in Chagos archipelago, a set of 55 islets situated 1,200 km north of the Indian Ocean Island of Mauritius.

They lived there for five generations until the early 1970s when the archipelago was excised from Mauritius by the United Kingdom. The Chagossians were evicted and the archipelago now forms part of the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).

How the Chagossians lost their archipelago

The U.K., which was the colonial power in the region at the time, granted Mauritius independence in 1968, but kept control of the archipelago and evicted the Chagossians.

An island, Diego Garcia, on the archipelago was leased to the United States for 50 years as a military base.

The lease agreement between the U.K. and U.S. ends in 2016, however, it comes up for negotiation this year.
 However, the Chagossians feel that the 2010 creation of the MPA, which does not allow for human settlement on the Chagos archipelago or travel there unless one is in possession of a permit from the U.K. government, prevents their resettlement.

“We’ll not give up,” Bancoult tells IPS as he prepares for a new legal battle against the British government, which will be heard by the High Court of Justice in London on Mar. 30.

Bancoult was four when he and his mother, Rita, came to Mauritius. In 1983 he created the CRG to defend the rights of his community and over the years the organisation has staged numerous public demonstrations and hunger strikes.

The MPA covers almost 545,000 square kilometres and aims to protect the natural resources of the Chagos archipelago by implementing strict controls over fishing, habitation, damage to the environment and the killing, harming and collecting of animals.

The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) designated the archipelago as an area that needs to be preserved “on the basis that the archipelago is one of the most precious, unpolluted, tropical ocean environments left on earth.”

A map of the Chagos archipelago which shows the proposed Marine Protected Area. Courtesy: Nasseem Ackbarally

A map of the Chagos archipelago which shows the proposed Marine Protected Area. Courtesy: Nasseem Ackbarally

Following a feasibility study in 2002, the FCO concluded that resettlement on the Chagos archipelago was unfeasible due to the islands’ low elevation and “the islands are already subject to regular overtopping events, flooding and erosion of the outer beaches.” It also said that “as global warming develops, these events are likely to increase in severity and regularity.”

However, scientists Richard Dunne and Barbara Brown, who have been working on coral reefs in the Indian Ocean for several decades, do not agree.

Dunne tells IPS that the British government has been presenting these findings to Parliament, court and the public for the last 10 years as an argument against the resettlement of the Chagossians back in their homeland.

“We now know that the feasibility study was scientifically flawed and that little reliance can be placed upon its conclusions,” he says, adding that this may be partly the reason why the FCO is undertaking a new feasibility study this year.

“The Chagos are low-lying coral islands with a mean elevation above sea-level of only about two metres. As a consequence, they are like the Maldives to the north — very susceptible to changes in mean sea-level, storms, erosion and flooding,” he says.

But Dunne sees no reason why the Chagossians cannot return to the archipelago.

“The Chagossians have lived on these islands for nearly two centuries, and on the scientific evidence that we have today, there is no reason that they should not continue there for at least the foreseeable future, by which I mean the next four or five decades.”

Bancoult believes his people can live in such an environment.

“How come Europeans, Americans and other wealthy people from elsewhere are staying for months on Diego Garcia, Peros Banhos and Solomon Islands which are part of archipelago, while Chagossians cannot live there?” he asks.

Simon Hughes, secretary of the Chagos Conservation Trust (CCT), an organisation that has been working to conserve the biodiversity and marine ecosystem of the Chagos archipelago for the last 20 years, denies the MPA was designed to keep Chagossians from returning.

“The MPA is only three years old. Neither would the MPA be a very effective tool for this purpose. Its framework can be revised to accommodate a local population if there is one in future,” he tells IPS.

“Since under the law of BIOT there is no right of abode in the territory and all visitors need a permit, the creation of a marine protected area has no direct immediate impact on the Chagossian community,” Hughes adds.

The CCT also argues that sea level rise and erosion continue to be a problem for the islands.

According to the CCT, the benefits of an MPA around the Chagos are manyfold. It says the absence of a settled human population, the strict environmental regime and the minimal footprint of the military base on Diego Garcia have enabled a high level of environmental preservation to have occurred.

“The islands, reef systems and waters around the Chagos in terms of preservation and biodiversity are among the richest on the planet and they contain about half of all the reefs of the Indian Ocean which remain in good condition,” Hughes explains.

British lawyer and lead counsel for the Chagossians, Richard Gifford, tells IPS that the Chagos is a magnificent place to live but “obviously, there are problems to address in restoring the infrastructure, the economy, the housing and the transport but the prospects are extremely positive.”

Most of the original 1,500 Chagossians have passed away. Currently, the remaining 682 are determined speak out about the MPA.

“We are working on our own resettlement plan that we will submit to the three governments involved — Mauritius, the U.K. and the U.S. — later this year,” Bancoult says.

Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG), feel that the 2010 creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago, prevents the resettlement of the Chagossians. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

Olivier Bancoult, leader of the Chagos Refugees Group (CRG), feel that the 2010 creation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) created around the Chagos archipelago, prevents the resettlement of the Chagossians. Credit: Nasseem Ackbarally/IPS

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Bolivia’s Anti-Racism Law – Not Worth the Paper It’s Written On? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/bolivias-anti-racism-law-worth-paper-written/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bolivias-anti-racism-law-worth-paper-written http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/bolivias-anti-racism-law-worth-paper-written/#comments Thu, 13 Feb 2014 03:53:25 +0000 Franz Chavez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131528 Three years ago Bolivia passed a law to combat discrimination and racism, but no one has been convicted as a result, in spite of hundreds of legal complaints. Rebeca Javier, a young journalist without distinguishing features, was assaulted and insulted by a man using racial slurs of the kind often used against indigenous people, while […]

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Indigenous and peasant women from every region in Bolivia at a demonstration in La Paz. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

Indigenous and peasant women from every region in Bolivia at a demonstration in La Paz. Credit: Franz Chávez/IPS

By Franz Chávez
LA PAZ, Feb 13 2014 (IPS)

Three years ago Bolivia passed a law to combat discrimination and racism, but no one has been convicted as a result, in spite of hundreds of legal complaints.

Rebeca Javier, a young journalist without distinguishing features, was assaulted and insulted by a man using racial slurs of the kind often used against indigenous people, while she interviewed people in the street in the southeastern city of Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

A few hours later, the man was free, in spite of the existence of filmed evidence and witnesses."There are no known prosecutions under the law that have led to prison sentences for these acts..." -- Verónica Sánchez, the secretary general of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights

“I asked the prosecutor for justice, but she did not listen to me,” Javier complained to IPS.

“There has not been a single sentence” because prosecutors and judges do not classify acts of discrimination as crimes, Leoncio Gutiérrez, the head of the governmental Fight against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination, told IPS.

“If there is a law, there should be a penalty,” Griselda Sillerico, the acting ombudsperson, told IPS. She condemned “the impunity” that continues to condone discrimination in this country of 10.3 million people, the majority of whom are indigenous, and where the president since 2006 has been Evo Morales, a native Aymara.

“Those in charge of prosecutions are not forceful and convincing, and justice cannot be permissive and tolerant,” she said. In her view, the problem resides in the system of administration of justice in Bolivia, a plurinational state under its 2009 constitution.

On Dec. 31, after holding him for eight hours, the prosecutor in the Javier case freed the aggressor, Víctor Hugo Soria, in spite of proof and witnesses’ testimony that he had hit Javier, spat on her and insulted her with phrases like “colla de mierda” (roughly translated it means “bloody Indian”) which are used against Aymara women by racist sectors in the west of the country.

Javier, a Spanish-speaking journalist for one of the foremost television channels in the region, described her feelings of impotence in the face of the prosecutor’s action, and said she had lodged a second legal complaint. Now the case is being investigated by a police department special victims unit.

In October 2010 Morales promulgated the Law Against Racism and All Forms of Discrimination, which was controversial from the outset because it included sanctions against the media if they disseminated “racist and discriminatory ideas,” with the penalty of a temporary ban for up to a year.

Promotors of the law, which was welcomed among the indigenous peoples, are now working three years later on its dissemination via social agencies, through eight departmental committees, the ombudsman’s office and the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, Gutiérrez said.

The law is intended to eliminate racist behaviour and all forms of discrimination, and to consolidate public policies for protection and prevention, according to Article 1.

Actions committed for racist motives are criminalised, as are discrimination, dissemination and incitement to racism or discrimination, participation in racist or discriminatory organisations or associations, and insults or other verbal aggression. Penalties can range from one to seven years of imprisonment.

In Sillerico’s view, the barriers to enforcing the law are related to the difficulty in dismantling a “colonial state” that is embedded in Bolivian society and is indifferent to the problem.

“It is remarkable that there are no known prosecutions under the law that have led to prison sentences for these acts, and three years later there is no progress evident in the judicial branch, which is in charge of enforcement,” Verónica Sánchez, the secretary general of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights in La Paz (APDHLP), told IPS.

Much the same happens with cases that come to international notice, like that of 10 teenage girls who applied to enrol in a private all boys’ school in the central city of Cochabamba in 2012.

Their request unleashed protests by the school’s staff, students and parents, in spite of a law in Bolivia prohibiting sex segregation in education, Julieta Montaño, head of the Legal Office for Women, an NGO, told IPS.

“The mothers of the boy students said they would not be responsible if the girls were raped,” said Montaño, who managed to have charges laid against eight leaders, parents and teachers who opposed the girls’ entry to the school.

The girls were eventually admitted after an agreement was reached, but the criminal case is proceeding at snail’s pace. “We are not seeking the maximum penalty; we just do not want the crime to go unpunished,” in order to send a message against gender discrimination, the lawyer said.

Between January and October 2013, the Vice-Ministry of Decolonisation accepted 135 complaints about racism or discrimination, most of them based on sexual orientation and educational level, and 57 percent of them arising in public agencies.

The ombudsman’s office received 1,652 complaints between 2010 and October 2013. The cases included older adults, people with disabilities, peasant farmers, coca growers, prison inmates, migrants, young people, pregnant women and others.

One example quoted by the ombudsman’s office is a xenophobic statement made by Isaac Ávalos, a senator for the ruling Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS – Movement Toward Socialism), in 2012. “Out of every 10 Colombians who come to Bolivia, eight are involved in illicit activities,” he said, as a justification of public insecurity.

Later he apologised for his words.

“I would not like to see anyone sent to prison because of discrimination, that would be the worst thing that could happen to us” as a society, Jorge Medina, an Afro-Bolivian congressman and the principal promotor of the law, told IPS.

“The law is not necessarily punitive, and its spirit is not to fill the prisons with those who discriminate,” said the MAS lawmaker.

Medina is in favour of conciliation methods by means of an apology from the aggressor, but he is concerned about the lack of follow-up in cases that should be resolved in the ordinary courts.

APDHLP’s Sánchez supports education on values and respect for differences with programmes for students. “It’s an issue of mental structure” that must be changed by training and policies, she said.

The case with the greatest repercussions to date has been the opening of a lawsuit against the Fides news agency and the newspapers El Diario and Página Siete. The government is accusing them of incitement to racism for alleged distortion in their reports on a speech by Morales on Aug. 15, 2012.

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After Slowdown, Global Fight for Land Rights at Tipping Point http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/slowdown-global-fight-land-rights-tipping-point/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=slowdown-global-fight-land-rights-tipping-point http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/slowdown-global-fight-land-rights-tipping-point/#comments Wed, 05 Feb 2014 20:19:21 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131237 Global trends towards a strengthening of legal rights over land for local and indigenous communities appear to have slowed significantly in recent years, leading some analysts to warn that the fight for local control over forests has reached an inflection point with a new danger of backtracking on previous progress. The past five years have […]

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Indigenous children hold signs supporting a land rights struggle in Cherãn. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

Indigenous children hold signs supporting a land rights struggle in Cherãn. Credit: Daniela Pastrana/IPS

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Feb 5 2014 (IPS)

Global trends towards a strengthening of legal rights over land for local and indigenous communities appear to have slowed significantly in recent years, leading some analysts to warn that the fight for local control over forests has reached an inflection point with a new danger of backtracking on previous progress.

The past five years have seen less than 20 percent of global forestland put under community control compared to the previous half-dozen years, according to new research released Wednesday by the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI), a Washington-based coalition of 140 international organisations. Further, the group says that far fewer legal safeguards were put in place during this latter period, while those laws that have been passed have been weaker.“If private companies and governments from the developed countries don’t weigh in, all of this progress could be lost – this could be it.” -- Andy White

“If private companies and governments from the developed countries don’t weigh in, all of this progress could be lost – this could be it,” Andy White, RRI’s coordinator, told IPS.

“Even though there’s a lot of talk on this issue right now, no one is really investing – not the donors, not the big companies, not the developed country governments. No one is putting money behind the words to help developing countries to do the mapping, the registries, the consultations that will be required to get this done.”

The slowdown comes despite a significant uptick in the public discussion over land and indigenous rights, with multinational corporations, national courts and Western donors increasingly acknowledging the issue’s importance and pledging to strengthen safeguards for forest tenure. Development workers say this disconnect between words and actions highlights both a lack of prioritisation on land rights and, given the rising rhetoric, an opportunity for future action.

“[T]he overriding picture in 2013 remained one of continuing resource grabs by local elites and corporations, aided by governments eager to give away land to investors on almost any terms,” RRI states in its flagship annual report, released Wednesday at a London conference.

“This has to change, and it can. If domestic political pressure within developing countries aligns with new government commitments and enlightened forward-thinking companies, the prospects for clarifying and respecting land rights can be transformed in 2014.”

For now, however, RRI says recent global progress on land rights has been “dismal”.

60 percent government-owned

As of last year, indigenous and local communities had some kind of control over around 513 million hectares of forests. Yet particularly in lower- and middle-income countries, governments continue to administer or claim ownership over roughly 60 percent of that land.

While this figure has come down by around 10 percent since 2002, these gains are massively skewed towards certain regions and even just a handful of countries. In Latin America, for instance, communities now control around 39 percent of forests, compared to just six percent in sub-Saharan Africa – and less than one percent in the Congo Basin.

RRI says that from 2002 to 2013, 24 new legal provisions were put in place to strengthen some form of community control over forests. Yet just six of these have been passed since 2008, and those that have been put in place recently have been relatively weaker, with none considered strong enough to recognise ownership rights.

Advocates say recent global trends, coupled with a lack of substantive action from international players, have simply been too much for many developing countries to resist moving aggressively to exploit available natural resources.

“It is no coincidence the global slowdown in reform happened at the exact time that the financial value of land, water, and carbon skyrocketed,” Raul Silva Telles do Valle, policy and rights programme coordinator for Instituto Socioambiental, a Brazilian NGO, said Wednesday.

“As a result, ‘land grabbing’ has spiked and impoverished countries desperate for an economic boost see forests as a commodity, not as their citizens’ home. These governments need to see the forest as more than just land for exploitation and a collection of trees.”

In recent years, multinational companies (such as Nestle and Unilever) and multilateral institutions have made a series of important new commitments to honour and strengthen community and indigenous land rights. But these pledges don’t appear to have made much of a difference – at least not yet.

Indeed, the new data suggests that one of the most significant multilateral anti-deforestation programmes, the World Bank-run REDD+, has yet to impact significantly on this pattern, despite stated aims.

While these commitments have been in line with a rising international understanding on the importance of land tenure to a broad spectrum of development concerns, in 2007 food and land prices suddenly jumped. Analysts say this appears to have cut off a process towards land reforms that had been well underway.

“Latin America in 2002 was continuing to go through a series of democratic reforms that included the recognition of indigenous rights as human rights, but the tragedy is that this democratic bolt has not happened in Africa or Southeast Asia,” RRI’s White says.

“In a truly unfortunate coincidence, right when these regions were beginning to make pledges about reforms, that’s when land prices went through the roof. A number of governments that had been putting in place plans to advance reforms suddenly reconsidered, including Laos, Liberia, Cameroon.”

Tension vs investment

A half-decade later, the new data should worry development and anti-poverty experts. RRI now looks at the current situation surrounding land rights as being at a global tipping point, under strain between the strengthening global understanding of the importance of community tenure on the one hand and the stalled progress on legally and fully enshrining these rights on the other.

Yet undertaking the work to secure land tenure isn’t overly expensive, particularly compared to the costs of the violence that has been seen growing around land disputes in recent years. Indeed, this climbing tension could offer a potent point of economic motivation for governments in developing countries to re-prioritise reforms in favour of local control of forestlands.

“There’s a clear chance here to increase foreign investment and to strengthen incomes and poverty alleviation,” White says.

“We all know the investors with a conscience do not go into countries where land disputes are a problem, and we know there’s trillions of dollars sloshing around the world looking for a place to go, particularly with global demand for food expected to double by 2050. This conflict is starting us in the face and it’s not going to diminish, but you can attract good capital and good business models if you advance these reforms.”

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Prosecution of Forced Sterilisations in Peru Still Possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/prosecution-forced-sterilisations-case-peru-still-possible/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prosecution-forced-sterilisations-case-peru-still-possible http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/02/prosecution-forced-sterilisations-case-peru-still-possible/#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 22:27:23 +0000 Milagros Salazar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=131135 Shelving the case of the forced sterilisations of more than 2,000 women in Peru during the Alberto Fujimori regime was a surprise move by the prosecutor in charge. What happened? An IPS investigation found that legal avenues to pursue justice have not been exhausted. On Jan. 24, prosecutor Marco Guzmán announced an end to the […]

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Alfonso Ramos (left) shows a newspaper reporting the death of his sister Celia in Piura due to forced sterilisation. Micaela Flores (centre) and Sabina Huillca are sterilisation victims from Cusco. All three have been waiting for justice for 17 years. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

Alfonso Ramos (left) shows a newspaper reporting the death of his sister Celia in Piura due to forced sterilisation. Micaela Flores (centre) and Sabina Huillca are sterilisation victims from Cusco. All three have been waiting for justice for 17 years. Credit: Milagros Salazar/IPS

By Milagros Salazar
LIMA, Feb 3 2014 (IPS)

Shelving the case of the forced sterilisations of more than 2,000 women in Peru during the Alberto Fujimori regime was a surprise move by the prosecutor in charge. What happened? An IPS investigation found that legal avenues to pursue justice have not been exhausted.

On Jan. 24, prosecutor Marco Guzmán announced an end to the investigation of forced sterilisations carried out in Peru between 1996 and 2000. He said he would not pursue criminal charges against Fujimori (1990-2000), three former health ministers and other officials accused of being responsible for the crime."The doors were padlocked. They carried me off on a stretcher, tied my feet and cut me.” -- Micaela Flores

“They took us in trucks. We got in quite innocently and contentedly. But then we heard screams and I ran… The doors were padlocked. They carried me off on a stretcher, tied my feet and cut me,” Micaela Flores, then a mother of seven from Anta province in the southern region of Cusco, told IPS.

On that occasion about 30 women went to the health centre, duped by a campaign offering general check-ups, she said.

Guzmán has decided to prosecute only health personnel in the northern department of Cajamarca. The sterilisations were part of the Voluntary Surgical Contraception Programme (AQV – Anticoncepción Quirúrgica Voluntaria), created by Fujimori and his government to bring about a drastic reduction in the birth rate in the poorest parts of the country, especially among rural Quechua-speaking women.

Guzmán, as head of the second supraprovincial prosecutor’s office, took over the case in July 2013 after the investigation was reopened in November 2012.

There are currently 142 volumes of evidence in this longstanding case. In May 2009 the prosecution shelved the probe into the former ministers and other officials for the first time, in spite of repeated urging for its completion from the inter-American human rights system.

In 2003, the Peruvian state signed a friendly settlement agreement before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in the case of Mamérita Mestanza, who died in 1998 as a result of a poorly performed tubal ligation procedure done without her consent.

The government promised to pay an indemnity to her family and investigate and bring to trial the government officials who devised and implemented the forced sterilisation campaign.

After years of delays and foot-dragging, human rights organisations had their hopes raised when Guzmán showed interest in investigating Fujimori’s command responsibility for the generalised, systematic practice of sterilisations.

In late November the prosecutor said there were “indications of the alleged participation of Alberto Fujimori in the crimes,” and expanded the investigation into the cases of Mestanza and others.

Rossy Salazar, a lawyer with the women’s rights organisation DEMUS who is representing the victims, told IPS that this statement by the prosecutor appears on page 60277 of the file as part of a report on the case addressed to Víctor Cubas, the prosecutor who coordinates all human rights cases.

In an interview with IPS, Guzmán acknowledged having said “there were indications that Fujimori had participated.” At that point he had interviewed over 500 victims, mainly in the northwestern department of Piura and in Cusco, he said, although in his latest 131-page decision he states he only interviewed around one hundred.

Guzmán was also in possession of evidence that the programme had targets, incentives, and even sanctions for personnel who did not fulfill sterilisation quotas, according to documents obtained by government agencies that investigated the facts of the case.

DEMUS invoked these official documents in an appeal against the prosecutor’s decision to shelve the case, which it presented Jan. 28 before the Office of the Public Prosecutor.

The appeal refers to four letters from the former health minister, Marino Costa, to Fujimori in 1997. In one document the minister reports to the president on the increased numbers of AQV operations performed and says “by the end of 1997 our total production should be fairly close to the target.”

IPS asked Guzmán: “After determining in November that there were indications of Fujimori’s participation, why did you absolve him from responsibility so soon afterwards?”

“In order to examine him I had to interrogate him. I went to interrogate Fujimori and he answered some questions, but not others. For some he invoked the right to silence. Then his defence lawyer gave me a number of documents. This was important because Fujimori had never been questioned about this case before,” he said.

Fujimori’s interrogation on Jan. 15 in the Barbadillo prison, where he is serving a 25-year sentence for human rights abuses, lasted less than three hours. One week later, Guzmán closed the case against the ex-president.

“Was your interview with Fujimori decisive for determining whether he participated in the crimes?” persisted IPS.

“It was taken into consideration, but it was not decisive. The decisive thing is the legal package I have to apply… There is no legal support for imputing guilt,” Guzmán said.

The prosecutor argued that Peruvian law does not provide for the crime of forced sterilisation, and therefore there is no legal support. In his decision he said the victims’ complaints would not be classed as crimes against humanity, which refer to generalised or systematic attacks on a civilian population and have no statute of limitation.

In international terms, the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court, does recognise the crime of forced sterilisation. The statute entered into force in Peru in July 2002, after the sterilisations were carried out and denunciations were initiated, but “the international community has regarded forced sterilisation as a crime since the early 1990s,” Salazar said.

In its appeal, DEMUS argues that the prosecutor’s decision “should not halt the criminal investigation.” It is “only the first step in the search for truth” and does not end the evidence collection phase. DEMUS asks for a higher level prosecutor to bring charges so that the case can continue. Another means of re-opening the case would be for another victim to bring a new complaint.

DEMUS also plans to bring the case to the attention of the IACHR in March.

On Jan. 31, an article by Guzmán was published in the newspaper El Comercio, saying that “the only way Fujimori could be held responsible is by demonstrating command responsibility, and according to the Constitutional Court the requirements for this are not fulfilled, because there is no rigid vertical structure involved, and doctors cannot be obliged to operate against their will.”

“They are isolated cases,” he told IPS.

According to the Health ministry, 346,219 sterilisations were performed on females and 24,535 on males between 1993 and 2000, 55.2 percent of them in the period 1996-1997 alone. During that period an average of 262 tubal ligations were carried out a day.

More than 2,000 persons were documented to have been deceived or threatened into undergoing sterilisation. Women in Cusco were among the worst affected, because on average nearly five operations a day were performed there, according to Health ministry figures and the testimony of victims.

Sabina Hillca, from Huayapacha in the Cusco region, told IPS that she set out for the health centre in Anta when she was due to give birth to her daughter, Soledad, but the birth happened on the way.

The nurses told her she should stay to be “cleansed” and avoid infection. The next day she woke up crying, with sharp pain, an incision close to her navel, and tied to the bed. Afterwards she fled to her village, cleaned the wound with soap and water, removed the stitches as best as she could, and went to her mother for herbal treatments.

“Now I have cancer because dry blood collected in my ovaries,” she said, showing the dark scar on her abdomen.

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U.S. Tightens Development Safeguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/u-s-tightens-development-safeguards/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-tightens-development-safeguards http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/u-s-tightens-development-safeguards/#comments Tue, 28 Jan 2014 00:53:30 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130858 Development activists and rights watchdogs are applauding a surprise strengthening of environmental and human rights policies governing U.S. development funding and overseas financial assistance. Under the new provisions, the United States will be required to vote against multilateral funding for large-scale hydroelectric projects in developing countries, as well as push for redress of rights violations […]

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Washington will be barred from offering any bilateral assistance that could facilitate certain rights abuses, extractive industries or industrial logging in primary tropical forests. Credit: Bigstock

Washington will be barred from offering any bilateral assistance that could facilitate certain rights abuses, extractive industries or industrial logging in primary tropical forests. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Jan 28 2014 (IPS)

Development activists and rights watchdogs are applauding a surprise strengthening of environmental and human rights policies governing U.S. development funding and overseas financial assistance.

Under the new provisions, the United States will be required to vote against multilateral funding for large-scale hydroelectric projects in developing countries, as well as push for redress of rights violations resulting from development initiatives by international financial institutions.“We’ve watched donor agencies such as USAID turning a blind eye to blatant human rights allegations in these areas." -- Anuradha Mittal

In addition, Washington will be barred from offering any bilateral assistance that could facilitate certain rights abuses, extractive industries or industrial logging in primary tropical forests.

The new mandates constitute just a tiny part of a massive bill, signed into law on Jan. 17, that funds the federal government through the end of this financial year. But supporters say the provisions could have both direct implications for specific situations and pending projects as well as longer-lasting impacts on development funding and approaches.

“The U.S. Congress has taken an important step toward bridging the gap between U.S. government policy on development finance and its human rights policy in requiring the U.S. government to press international financial institutions to provide compensation or otherwise remedy human right violations linked to their projects,” Jessica Evans, a Washington-based researcher on international financial institutions at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

The new provisions, reportedly sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy, will impact both on bilateral U.S. funding through agencies such as USAID, as well as on the significant contributions that the United States provides to multilateral development institutions, particularly the World Bank.

U.S. representatives will now be required to vote against multilateral funding for the construction of major hydroelectric projects, likely defined as anything over 15 metres high. Large dams have been criticised by development experts for decades, given their often inevitable impact on local communities and environmental systems.

However, the World Bank recently unveiled a new institutional strategy that may include a prominent focus on big dams. Thus, the Leahy provisions could prove to be an impediment to the Washington-based development funder’s vision.

“I applaud the U.S. Congress for directing the U.S. Treasury to oppose the financing of large dam projects through the World Bank and other financial institutions,” Deborah Moore, a former commissioner on the World Commission on Dams and current chair of the board of International Rivers, a global watchdog group, said in a statement.

“I think the message now is clear: there are better options for meeting communities’ needs for electricity that are cheaper and sustainable.”

International Rivers says the new law will require the United States to oppose current and pending hydro projects on the Indus and Congo rivers, as well as in Guyana, Laos and Togo.

The appropriations bill also requires that the U.S. push multilateral funders, particularly the World Bank, to incorporate new external oversight and evaluation mechanisms for each project they undertake, to ensure that stipulated safeguards are being followed.

According to a statement released to the media and published over the weekend, the World Bank is currently analysing the scope of the new provisions. Yet future U.S. funding for the bank could now be contingent on this new requirement.

“The overall sentiment in provisions calling for stricter oversight and urging [World Bank President Jim Kim] to look outside the World Bank walls to better address the issues plaguing the institution is at the core of civil society advocacy,” Josh Lichtenstein, director of campaigns for the Bank Information Center (BIC), a watchdog group here, told IPS.

“We welcome the use of the legislative process to send strong messages to the [international financial institutions], particularly in pushing them to adopt policies and procedures that are better in line with highest international standards and in implementing stricter oversight to ensure those standards are upheld.”

Official acknowledgement

Other provisions within the new appropriations bill mandate actions regarding specific ongoing or pending projects that have garnered criticisms over rights abuses, particularly in Cambodia, Guatemala and Ethiopia.

In 2010 in Cambodia, families in northern Phnom Penh were illegally evicted from their lands for a major development project that included filling a large lake, Boeung Kak, with sand. Cambodia is a World Bank client, and the evictions directly contravened bank standards.

In Guatemala, the construction of a large hydroelectric dam on the ChixoyRiver during the early 1980s displaced 3,500 indigenous peoples, leading to tensions that resulted in the massacre or rights abuses of some 400 people. That project was partially funded by the World Bank.

Under the new legislation, the U.S. representative at the World Bank (and, in the case of the Chixoy dam, the Inter-American Development Bank) will now be required to offer regular updates on progress on reparations and redress surrounding both of these situations.

“We began to work for reparations in 1995 and today we heard the great news,” Carlos Chen Osorio, director for the Coordination of Affected Communities by the Chixoy Hydroelectric Plant, an advocacy group, said in a statement. “We feel that we are not alone and are very grateful to all those that have committed to work on this.”

In Ethiopia, meanwhile, the United States itself has come under criticism for helping to bankroll a major government development project that has included forcibly moving pastoralists from traditional lands in the Lower Omo and Gambella regions, to be settled in villages. The new law now disallows U.S. monies from either directly or indirectly funding forced displacement in these areas.

“We’ve watched donor agencies such as USAID turning a blind eye to blatant human rights allegations in these areas,” Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, a watchdog group that has carried out multiple investigations on forced displacements in Ethiopia, told IPS. (USAID did not respond to request for comment by deadline.)

“It’s a real relief now to see the U.S. Congress offering true acknowledgement that these reports of forced evictions are not mere allegations,” she continues. “Now that they’ve taken a stand, however, we need to ensure that this is not just language but rather is fully implemented.”

Indeed, civil society interest will now focus on how U.S. and international agencies implement these new provisions. While U.S. law offers a new opportunity to mitigate adverse impacts of development funding, it is unclear the extent to which that tool will be used.

“While we celebrate this achievement, we are cautious in our expectations,” BIC’s Lichtenstein says, “as unscripted and unfunded mandates, at their best, often indicate the start of serious discussion and better coordination, rather than systematic change.

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Kenya’s Scorched Earth Removal of Forest’s Indigenous http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/kenyas-scorched-earth-removal-forests-indigenous/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenyas-scorched-earth-removal-forests-indigenous http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/01/kenyas-scorched-earth-removal-forests-indigenous/#comments Fri, 24 Jan 2014 11:59:09 +0000 Matthew Newsome http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=130708 Kenyan government security forces are forcefully evicting thousands of people, including the indigenous Sengwer tribe, from the Embobut forest in western Kenya by burning homes and possessions in an effort to promote forest conservation, safeguard urban water access and “remove squatters”. “The Kenya Forest Guard is burning homes and belongings in the Embobut forest area. […]

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A torched Sengwer home in western Kenya’s Embobut forest. The indigenous Sengwer tribe are being forcibly removed from the area as part of the government’s attempt to preserve one of the country’s water towers. Courtesy: Justin Kenrick/Forest Peoples Programme

A torched Sengwer home in western Kenya’s Embobut forest. The indigenous Sengwer tribe are being forcibly removed from the area as part of the government’s attempt to preserve one of the country’s water towers. Courtesy: Justin Kenrick/Forest Peoples Programme

By Matthew Newsome
NAIROBI, Jan 24 2014 (IPS)

Kenyan government security forces are forcefully evicting thousands of people, including the indigenous Sengwer tribe, from the Embobut forest in western Kenya by burning homes and possessions in an effort to promote forest conservation, safeguard urban water access and “remove squatters”.

“The Kenya Forest Guard is burning homes and belongings in the Embobut forest area. They are threatening [people] with AK-47 guns. Gunfire has caused chaos as families run to hide in the mountain forest,” Yator Kiptum, a member of the Sengwer community, told IPS.

The Sengwer people, a traditional hunter-gatherer society estimated to have a population of only 15,000, have inhabited the forest area for hundreds of years and regard the Embobut forest area as their ancestral home."It is through such actions that whole cultures, languages and histories die." -- Tom Lomax, Forest Peoples Programme

International human rights organisations are condemning the Kenyan government for undermining the tribe’s constitutional entitlement to free, prior and informed consent to the evictions and for illegally breaking international agreements on conservation and human rights.

“Crucially, the constitution states that ancestral land and the land occupied by traditionally hunter-gatherer groups such as the Sengwer is ‘community land’ owned by that community. None of these legal provisions are being respected by the government of Kenya in the recent evictions of the Sengwer from Embobut forest,” Tom Lomax, a legal expert with the Forest Peoples Programme, an international NGO that promotes forest peoples’ rights, told IPS.

Despite the government declaring conservation as its reason for the community’s eviction, its actions break official commitments to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which require the state to protect and preserve traditional communities and their adaptive practices that have helped maintain the forest area.

Lomax maintains that the conservation of biodiversity or ecosystems in compliance with CBD commitments cannot justify evictions of indigenous communities by armed troops and the burning of houses.

“These evictions are unlawful under Kenya’s constitution and under its international legal commitments. The strong connection of the Sengwer to the Cherangany Hills forests [where the Embobut forest lies] means that their very physical and cultural survival as a people is at stake in these evictions,” Lomax said.

“It is through such actions that whole cultures, languages and histories die. Sengwer ancestors are buried in Embobut forest, and their sacred places and livelihoods are there. They have nowhere else to go,” he added.

However, despite protests from the Sengwer community about their forced removal, the principal secretary in the ministry of environment, water and natural resources, Richard Lesiyampe, said in a public statement on Jan. 7 that “people were moving out of the forest willingly.”

“The reason of telling people to move out of the forest was meant to conserve one of the Kenya’s water towers and no one is being forced out but are moving willingly,” he said in the statement.

Over the last 20 years regional landslides and election violence have created a large number of Internally Displaced Persons who have inundated the Embobut forest in the Cherangani Hills.

The Sengwer community have found themselves conflated with the settlers and labelled as “squatters” by the government despite an injunction secured at the High Court in Eldoret forbidding evictions until the issue of community rights to their land is settled.

The Kenyan government has pledged 400,000 shillings (about 4,600 dollars) as compensation to each evicted family. However, the Sengwer community have refused to take money in exchange for their land and burnt possessions.

The World Bank (WB) is being investigated by its own inspection panel after the Sengwer community complained in January 2013 that the WB-funded Natural Resource Management Project was responsible for redrawing the borders of the Cherangani forest reserves.

This redrawing of the borders led to the Kenyan government evicting, without consultation, community members found on the inside of the forest reserve. The government has invoked the WB redrawn boundaries to legitimise forced evictions from 2007 to 2011 and in 2013.

“While the main culprit here is the Kenyan government, the World Bank must also be held accountable. It financed a project that redrew the boundaries of the forest reserve without consulting the Sengwer,” Freddie Weyman, Africa campaigner at Survival International, told IPS.

“Some families therefore suddenly found themselves living inside the reserve and subject to eviction. This is now the seventh time authorities have torched houses in Embobut in the seven years since the project began. Can the World Bank guarantee that its loan did not facilitate these evictions?” Weyman asked.

International conservationists reject the Kenyan government’s stance that a traditional hunter-gatherer lifestyle is incompatible with the goals of conservation and forest protection.

Instead, they say, environmental conservation is best achieved by supporting indigenous communities who have experience of preserving their habitat and resources.

Liz Alden Wily, research fellow at the Rights and Resources Institute, told IPS that this is a “battle between conservation and particularly the colonial inherited mode of fortress conservation where everybody has to be removed for the forest to become pristine, to modern approaches which utilise occupying communities as the conservators.

“Around Africa and the world, the latter strategy is beginning to get a grip,” she said.

“These areas are the residue left of their ancient territories. [The] Ogiek, Aakuu, or Sengwer, are people who live essentially by forest hunting, honey gathering [some have 80 hives], and some small numbers of livestock and small farms. They have a different commitment to the forest. Consider, for example an Ogiek honey gatherer, dependent on his hives. Would he burn the forest or clear the forest and lose his livelihood?” Wily said.

Since the 1970s Kenyan authorities have made repeated efforts to forcibly evict the Sengwer from the forest for resettlement in other areas.

The “Fortress Conservation” approach that involves evicting indigenous communities rather than consulting and supporting them is increasingly discredited as counterproductive.

Instead, the ‘New Conservation Paradigm’ promotes an approach to conservation that supports ancestral communities to continue protecting their forests and biodiversity.

“Rather than returning the area to ‘pristine’ forest, it actually does just the opposite as profit-making plantations and agriculture replace the biodiversity of the indigenous forest. Far from protecting ‘pristine’ forest, this approach uses ‘conservation’ as its excuse to first evict the indigenous inhabitants before destroying the indigenous forest,” Justin Kenrick from Forest Peoples Programme told IPS.

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