Inter Press Service » Indigenous Rights http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Wed, 20 Aug 2014 08:41:48 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Can Land Rights and Education Save an Ancient Indian Tribe?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/can-land-rights-and-education-save-an-ancient-indian-tribe/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 12:28:03 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136207 Bonda women in the remote Tulagurum Village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha seldom allow themselves to be photographed. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

First land rights, then education

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

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

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

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

Upper and Lower Bondas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mainstreaming: helping or hurting the community?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Violence against environmentalists and indigenous activists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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IFC Warned of Systemic Safeguards Failures in Hondurashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/ifc-warned-of-systemic-safeguards-failures-in-honduras/#comments Wed, 13 Aug 2014 00:34:01 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136085 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Aug 13 2014 (IPS)

For the second time this year, an internal auditor has criticised the World Bank’s private sector investment agency over dealings in Honduras, and is warning that similar problems are likely being experienced elsewhere.

The investigation found that the bank’s private sector investment agency, the International Finance Corporation (IFC), took on a significant stake in a Honduran bank but undertook “insufficient measures” to assess that institution’s own investments. These included at least one company involved in a deadly land dispute.“The philosophy of the World Bank is to ‘end poverty’, but what has happened in this process has been the opposite.” -- La Plataforma Agraria de Honduras

The auditor, known as the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO), also levels a broader critique of the IFC’s investments in third-party groups such as the Honduran bank. When dealing with these “financial intermediaries”, the CAO warns, financial considerations appear to be receiving far more attention from officials than the environmental and social policies meant to safeguard local communities.

“IFC acquired an equity stake in a commercial bank with significant exposure to high risk sectors and clients, but which lacked capacity to implement IFC’s environmental and social requirements,” the CAO states in a report released Monday.

“The absence of an environmental and social review process that was commensurate to risk meant that key decision makers … were not presented with an adequate assessment of the risks that were attached to this investment.”

The report focuses on a 2011 IFC investment, worth 70 million dollars, in Banco Ficohsa, Honduras’s third-largest bank. CAO found that important information was withheld between IFC offices over the extent of business between Banco Ficohsa and Corporacion Dinant, an agribusiness company that for years has been accused of waging a violent campaign to expand its palm oil plantations in the country’s Aguan Valley.

In January, CAO issued critical findings on a separate IFC investment in Dinant, from 2009, worth 30 million dollars. Dinant is owned by Miguel Facusse Barjum, one of the wealthiest businessmen in the country and reportedly a backer of the 2009 military coup that ousted a pro-reform president.

Over the past half-decade, more than 100 people have reportedly been killed in the Aguan Valley in clashes between Dinant security personnel and local cooperatives.

IFC has put on hold the Dinant deal and enacted a plan aimed at ameliorating the situation. The new report does not find evidence that the Banco Ficohsa deal was aimed at funnelling additional funds to Dinant, but CAO researchers suggest that the effect was the same.

“[W]aiving a key financial covenant and then taking an equity position in Ficohsa … facilitated a significant ongoing flow of capital to Dinant, outside the framework of its environmental and social standards,” the report states.

Local civil society groups say the effect has been devastating.

“The philosophy of the World Bank is to ‘end poverty’, but what has happened in this process has been the opposite,” La Plataforma Agraria de Honduras, a Honduran network, told IPS in Spanish.

“Instead, we’ve seen greater wealth for corporations and transnational landowners and greater poverty for the poor, who have been driven from their lands. And although the previous CAO report was very critical, the World Bank has continued to finance Dinant through Ficohsa.”

Beneath the intermediaries

In a formal response also released Monday, the IFC does not dispute the CAO findings. But it does suggest that they are no longer relevant, following changes put in place in part in response to the January CAO report on Dinant.

New procedures, for instance, will now allow for additional oversight visits to “medium risk clients”. Multiple new processes will also aim to close information gaps of the type that led to the Ficohsa revelations, including the creation of a new vice-president-level position to focus on “risk and sustainability”.

“Under this new structure, [environmental and social] risk will receive the same weight and attention as financial and reputation risk,” two IFC vice-presidents wrote in a letter to CAO.

Yet the remarkably critical CAO report has already added momentum to an ongoing campaign to convince the World Bank Group to reform the IFC’s dealings with financial intermediaries such as Banco Ficohsa. Such deals have become increasingly important to the IFC’s portfolio over the past decade, but they have traditionally offered far less oversight for the agency.

In such projects, the IFC requires the intermediary to set up a system aimed at ensuring that stringent environmental and social safeguards are met. But analysis of the effects of this system on the ground is left to the intermediary.

“This issue has been questioned in many cases – where a financial intermediary is the one doing the disbursements and the IFC is completely separate and doesn’t know what’s going on,” Carla Garcia Zendejas, a programme director at the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), a Washington-based watchdog group, told IPS.

“That’s the case here. Even if you have a system in place to assess these risks, if you’re not doing that properly the whole system is worthless.”

Systemic reassessment

The CAO has repeatedly questioned the IFC’s policies on investments in financial intermediaries (a broad investigation can be found here). This time, the investigators are clear that the Honduras situation is likely not an isolated incident.

“[T]he shortcomings identified in this investigation … are indicative of a system of support to [financial intermediaries] which does not support IFC’s higher level environmental and social commitments,” CAO states.

“CAO’s findings raise concerns that IFC has, through its banking investments, an unanalyzed and unquantified exposure to projects with potential significant adverse environmental and social impacts.”

The auditor warns that, under current disclosure mechanisms, “this exposure is also effectively secret”, and calls for a “reassessment” of the agency’s management of social and environmental risk in its dealings with financial institutions.

Rights advocates note that similar concerns are cropping up in IFC investments in financial intermediaries elsewhere.

“One of this report’s main findings is that there is a breakdown in the IFC’s systems approach to [financial intermediaries], especially in risk categorization,” Jelson Garcia, of the Bank Information Center (BIC), a watchdog group here, told IPS in an e-mailed statement. “This … links to recent cases in Myanmar and India as yet another example of the IFC needing to take stringent and urgent reforms of its financial markets lending approach.”

Advocacy groups say a primary concern is the IFC’s institutional culture, which they say prioritises the volume of loans disbursed over their quality. BIC, CIEL and others are now calling on World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim to order the preparation of a reform plan in time for the next big World Bank Group meetings, in October.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Women Warriors Take Environmental Protection into Their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/women-warriors-take-environmental-protection-into-their-own-hands/#comments Fri, 08 Aug 2014 06:32:25 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135998 Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Indian activist Suryamani Bhagat has been fighting state officials in the eastern state of Jharkhand to protect tribal people’s forest rights. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
BALI, Aug 8 2014 (IPS)

Aleta Baun, an Indonesian environmental activist known in her community as Mama Aleta, has a penchant for wearing a colourful scarf on her head, but not for cosmetic reasons.

The colours of the cloth, she says, represent the hues of the forests that are the lifeblood of her Mollo people living in West Timor, part of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province.

“The forest is the life of my people, the trees are like the pores in our skin, the water is like the blood that flows through us…the forest is the mother of my tribe,” Aleta told IPS.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now. Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.” -- Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural centre
The winner of the 2013 Goldman Environmental Prize, she represents an expanding international movement against environmental destruction helmed by humble, often poor, rural and tribal women.

For many years, Aleta has been at the forefront of her tribe’s efforts to stop mining companies destroying the forests of the Mutis Mountains that hug the western part of the island of Timor.

The Mollo people have long existed in harmony with these sacred forests, living off the fertile land and harvesting from plants the dye they use for weaving – a skill that local women have cultivated over centuries.

Starting in the 1980s, corporations seeking to extract marble from the rich region acquired permits from local officials, and began a period of mining and deforestation that caused landslides and rampant pollution of West Timor’s rivers, which have their headwaters in the Mutis Mountains.

The villagers living downstream bore the brunt of these operations, which they said represented an assault on their way of life.

So Mama Aleta, along with three other indigenous Mollo women, started traveling by foot from one remote village to the next, educating people about the environmental impacts of mining.

During one of these trips in 2006, Aleta was assaulted and stabbed by a group of thugs who waylaid her. But the incident did not sway her commitment.

“I felt they were raping my land, I could not just stand aside and watch that happen,” she told IPS.

The movement culminated in a peaceful ‘occupation’ of the contested mountain, with Aleta leading some 150 women to sit silently on and around the mining site and weave traditional cloth in protest of the destruction.

“We wanted to tell the companies that what they were doing was like taking our clothes off, they were making the forest naked by [cutting down] its trees,” she said.

A year later, the mining groups were forced to cease their operations at four sites within Mollo territory, and finally give up on the enterprise altogether.

 

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Indigenous women from the Indonesian island of Lombok make traditional handicrafts using supplies from the forest. Amantha Perera/IPS

Increasingly, women like Aleta are taking a front seat in community action campaigns in Asia, Africa and Latin America aimed at safeguarding the environment.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimates that women comprise one of the most vulnerable populations to the fallout from extreme weather events.

In addition, small-scale female farmers (who number some 560 million worldwide) produce between 45 and 80 percent of the world’s food, while rural women, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, spend an estimated 200 million hours per day fetching water, according to UN Women. Any change in their climate, experts say, will be acutely felt.

According to Lorena Aguilar, senior gender advisor with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in some parts of rural India women spend 30 percent of their time looking for water. “Their role and the environment they live in have a symbiotic connection,” she said.

Ordinary mothers accomplish extraordinary feats

In the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand, Suryamani Bhagat, founder of the Torang tribal rights and cultural center, is working with women in her village of Kotari to protect the state’s precious forests.

Working under the umbrella of the Jharkhand Save the Forest Movement (known locally as Jharkhand Jangal Bachao Andolan), Bhagat initially brought together 15 adivasi women to protest attempts by a state-appointed forest official to plant commercially viable timber that had no biodiversity or consumption value for the villagers who live off the land.

The women then went to the local police station – accompanied by children, men and elders from the village – and began to pluck and eat the fruit from guava trees in the compound, announcing to the officers on duty that they wanted only trees that could provide for the villagers.

On another occasion, when police showed up to arrest women leaders in the community, including Bhagat, they announced they would go voluntarily – provided the police also arrested their children and livestock, who needed the women to care for them. Once again, the police retreated.

Now the women patrol the forest, ensuring that no one cuts more wood than is deemed necessary.

Bhagat believes that her gender works to her advantage in this rural community in Jharkhand’s Ranchi district.

“If I were a man, I would have been arrested and thrown in jail by now,” she told IPS. “Because we women stand together, police are reluctant to act like that.”

Over 7,000 km away, in the Pacific island state of Papua New Guinea, Ursula Rakova is adding strength to the women-led movement by working to protect her native Carteret Atoll from the devastating impacts of climate change.

The tiny islands that comprise this atoll have a collective land area of 0.6 square kilometers, with a maximum elevation of 1.5 metres above sea level.

For nearly 20 years, locals here have battled a rising sea that has contaminated ground water supplies, washed away homes and made agriculture virtually untenable.

The National Tidal Centre at the Australian government’s bureau of meteorology has been unwilling to provide long-term projections for the atoll’s future, but various media outlets report that the islands could be completely submerged as early as 2015.

In 2006, at the request of a local council of elders, Rakova left a paid job in the neighbouring Bougainville Island and returned to her native Carteret, where she helped found Tulele Peisa, an NGO dedicated to planning and implementing a voluntary relocation plan for residents in the face of government inaction.

The organisation advocates for the rights of indigenous islanders, and seeks economic alternatives and social protections for families and individuals forced to flee their sinking land.

“It is my island, my people, we will not give up on them,” Rakova told IPS. “It is our way of life that is going under the sea.”

All three women are ordinary mothers, who have taken extraordinary steps to make sure that their children have a better world to live in, and that outsiders, who have no sense of their culture or traditions, do not dictate their lives.

Of course this is nothing new. Michael Mazgaonkar, an India-based coordinator and advisor for the Global Greengrants Fund (GGF), told IPS that women have always played an integral role in environmental protection.

What is new is their increasing prominence on the global stage as fearless advocates, defenders and caretakers.

“The expanding role of women as climate leaders has been gradual,” Mazgaonkar stated. “In some cases they have been thrust forward, because they had no choice but to take action, and in others they have volunteered to play a leadership role.”

While the outcome of many of these campaigns hangs in the balance, one thing is for certain, he said: that the world “will continue to see their role becoming more pronounced.”

GFF Executive Director Terry Odendahl believes that “men are doing equally important work” but added: “historically women and their roles have been undervalued. We need to create the space for their voices to be heard.”

“If we raise women’s choices,” she said, “We can improve this dire environmental predicament we are faced with.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Will Climate Change Lead to Conflict or Cooperation?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-lead-to-conflict-or-cooperation/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 18:26:46 +0000 Joel Jaeger http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135923 In conflict-prone regions such as Darfur, violence is sometimes blamed on climate change. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

In conflict-prone regions such as Darfur, violence is sometimes blamed on climate change. Credit: UN Photo/Albert González Farran

By Joel Jaeger
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

The headline of every article about the relationship between climate change and conflict should be “It’s complicated,” according to Clionadh Raleigh.

Director of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Raleigh thinks that researchers and the media have put too simplistic a spin on the link between climate change and violence.“It’s just appalling that we’re at this stage 100 years after environmental determinism should have been rightly dismissed as any sort of framework for understanding the developing world,” -- Clionadh Raleigh

In recent years, scientists and the United Nations have been increasing their focus on climate conflict. The debate ranges from sensational reports that say the world will soon erupt into water wars to those who do not think the topic is worthy of discussion at all.

Much of the uncertainty over the connection between climate change and armed conflict exists because it is such a fledgling area of interest. According to David Jensen, head of the U.N. Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Environmental Cooperation for Peacebuilding programme, the relationship between climate change and conflict began receiving significant U.N. attention only in recent years.

“While the debate on this topic started in 2006-2007, there remains a large gulf between what is discussed at the global level and in the Security Council, and what is actually happening at the field level,” he told IPS.

A body of peer-reviewed literature on climate change and conflict has recently begun to emerge, but scientists have discovered that the link between climate change and conflict is more complex than they expected.

“A number of studies have found a statistical link between climate change and conflict, but they tend to focus on a specific area and cover a short time period,” Halvard Buhaug, director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo’s Conditions of Violence and Peace department, told IPS. “The challenge is to determine whether these studies are indicative of an overarching, more general trend, which hasn’t been documented yet.”

Much of the nuance behind the climate conflict correlations is lost when technical scientific reports are spread to a wider audience.

Buhaug told IPS that “parts of the public debate on climate change and violence are accurate, but there is an unfortunate tendency, whether by researchers or the media, to exaggerate the strength behind the scientific research and under-communicate scientific uncertainty.”

“In some media reports, phrases like ‘may’ are turned into ‘will’ and the future is portrayed in… gloomy shades.”

Following is a sampling of the back-and-forth debate taking place in the scientific community:

A prominent study by Burke etal. (2009) concluded that rising temperatures would lead to increased battle deaths in Africa. It predicted that if current trends held, increased temperatures would cause 393,000 extra battle deaths in Africa by 2030.

According to Buhaug (2010), the prevalence and severity of African civil wars has decreased since 2002 in spite of increased warming, defying Burke’s hypothesis. In his study, he found no evidence of a correlation between temperature and conflict.

Hendrix and Salehyan (2012) found that extreme deviations in rainfall, whether it was more rain or less rain than usual, are positively associated with all types of political conflict in Africa.

Benjaminsen et al. (2012) found little evidence for claims that rainfall variability is a substantial driver of conflict in Mali.

In 2013, Hsiang, Burke and Miguel published a meta-analysis of 60 studies on the subject in Science. They found that the majority of studies from all regions support the conclusion that climate change does and will lead to higher levels of armed conflict.

In a response in Nature Climate Change, Raleigh, Linke and O’Loughlin (2014) criticized the above study for using faulty statistics that ignored political and historical drivers of conflict and overemphasized climate change as a causal factor.

The debate over whether climate change exists and is human-caused has long been settled by scientists. The debate over whether it will impact armed conflict goes on.

A deeper understanding of the connection between climate change and conflict requires a careful examination of the drivers of violence and the role of the environment in individuals’ livelihoods.

Cullen Hendrix, assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, told IPS that the relationship between climate and conflict is mediated by levels of economic development.

Climate conflict is most likely to occur in rural, non-industrialised regions “where a large portion of the population is still dependent on the natural environment for their income and sustenance,” he said.

In most sub-Saharan African countries, more than two-thirds of the population is employed in agriculture. A change in climate conditions could have negative impacts on stability. However, researchers would emphasise that it is important not to jump to conclusions and assume that climate change will necessarily lead to conflict.

“Almost all of us would acknowledge that other factors such as political exclusion of persecuted minority groups or economic inequalities or weak central government institutions matter more [than climate]” Hendrix told IPS. “But that’s not the same as saying that climate doesn’t matter.”

When asked about the biggest lessons learned during his time with UNEP, Jensen had a similar take. “When you’re trying to rebuild communities and livelihoods, you can’t just focus on a single stress factor like climate change, you have to be looking at multiple factors and building resilience to all kinds of shocks and stresses…including climate change but not exclusively.”

Hendrix expects the next generation of scientific work to examine how drought, floods, desertification and other climate change phenomena could impact conflict “through indirect channels such as suppressing economic growth or causing large-scale migration from one country to another.”

In post-conflict situations and fragile states at risk of climate conflict, governance and land distribution have emerged as key considerations.

“Clarity on land and resource rights is one of the key prerequisites to reducing vulnerability and supporting livelihood recovery,” Jensen told IPS.

Clionadh Raleigh, who is also a professor of Human Geography at the University of Sussex, believes that government land distribution policies are often the real source of conflict, but their impact is obscured by the climate conflict debate.

“If you were to ask somebody in Africa ‘what are the conflicts about here?’ they might readily say something like land or water access,” she told IPS. “But land and water access are almost entirely determined by local and national government policy, so they don’t have almost anything to do with climate.”

Certain leaders have attempted to blame climate change for the consequences of their own disastrous policies, according to Raleigh. Robert Mugabe has blamed Zimbabwe’s famines on climate change, instead of his own corrupt land reallocation policies.

Omar al-Bashir blamed the Darfur conflict on drought instead of the government’s shocking political violence against a large chunk of its population.

While climate change itself is a topic of utmost importance, is it even worth it to talk about its connection to armed conflict? Raleigh doesn’t think so.

“It’s just a simplistic, nonsense narrative that the climate makes people violent,” Raleigh told IPS.

She believes the climate conflict debate falls into a trap called environmental determinism, a school of thought that asserts that climatic factors define human behaviour and culture. For example, it assumes that a society will act in a certain way depending on whether it is located in a tropical or temperate region.  Environmental determinism gained prominence in the late 19th century but soon declined in popularity amidst accusations of racism and imperialism.

“It’s just appalling that we’re at this stage 100 years after environmental determinism should have been rightly dismissed as any sort of framework for understanding the developing world,” Raleigh told IPS.

Buhaug believes the climate change and armed conflict debate does have merit, since most scientists are careful to not ascribe too much causal weight to one particular factor.

However, he does worry that “there is a tendency in research, but especially in the communication of research, to ignore the importance of political and socio-economic conditions and the motive and agency of actors.”

Raleigh, for her part, wishes the whole debate would just go away.

“People have an often mistaken interpretation of what’s going on at the sub-national level, on the local level within African states and developing countries,” she told IPS. “And they just assume that violence is one of the first reactions to societal change, when it is far more likely to be cooperation.”

Environmental cooperation occurs at both the inter-state and local levels, according to Jensen. At the local level, “in Darfur, we see different groups coming together to co-manage water resources.” At the trans-national level, “there’s a lot of talk about water wars between countries, but we often see the opposite in terms of much more cooperation between states over shared water resources.”

Following this line of thinking, the U.N. has tried to expand the climate conflict discussion from focusing on problems to exploring new solutions.

In November 2013, it launched a new website for experts and field practitioners to share best practices in addressing environmental conflicts and using natural resources to support peacebuilding, Jensen told IPS.

Climate change will most likely wreak havoc on the natural world and it may create the conditions for increased violence, but environmental scientists and practitioners agree: the future is not determined.

Edited by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at joelmjaeger@gmail.com

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The ‘Global’ Land Rushhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-global-land-rush/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-global-land-rush http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-global-land-rush/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 07:05:26 +0000 Anuradha Mittal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135890

In this column, Anuradha Mittal, Executive Director of the Oakland Institute, an independent policy think tank on today’s most pressing social, economic, and environmental issues, argues that the time has come for a more holistic discussion of land deals that places transfer of land in both the developed and developing worlds along the same continuous spectrum.

By Anuradha Mittal
OAKLAND, United States, Aug 4 2014 (IPS)

The first years of the twenty-first century will be remembered for a global land rush of nearly unprecedented scale.

An estimated 500 million acres, an area eight times the size of Britain, was reported bought or leased across the developing world between 2000 and 2011, often at the expense of local food security and land rights.

When the price of food spiked in 2008, pushing the number of hungry people in the world to over one billion, it spiked the interest of investors as well, and within a year foreign land deals in the developing world rose by a staggering 200 percent.

Anuradha Mittal

Anuradha Mittal

Today, enthusiasm for agriculture borders on speculative mania. Driven by everything from rising food prices to growing demand for biofuel, the financial sector is taking an interest in farmland as never before.

The Oakland Institute has reported since 2011 how a new generation of institutional investors – including hedge funds, private equity, pension funds, and university endowments – is eager to capitalise on global farmland as a new and highly desirable asset class.

But the thing most consistently missed about this global land rush is that it is precisely that – global. Although media coverage tends to focus on land grabs in low-income countries, the opposite side of the same coin is a new rush for U.S. farmland, manifesting itself in rising interest from investors and surging land prices, as giants like the pension fund TIAA-CREF commit billions to buy agricultural land.

One industry leader estimates that 10 billion dollars in institutional capital is looking for access to U.S. farmland, but that figure could easily rise as investors seek to ride out uncertain financial times by placing their money in the perceived safety of agriculture.

In the next 20 years, as the U.S. experiences an unprecedented crisis of retiring farmers, there will be ample opportunity for these actors to expand their holdings as an estimated 400 million acres changes generational hands. And yet, the domestic face of this still unfolding land rush remains largely unseen.

For all their size and ambition, virtually nothing is known about these new investors and their business practices. Who do they buy land from? What do they grow? How do they manage their properties? In an industry not known for its transparency, none of these questions have a satisfactory answer.

For more than six years the Oakland Institute has been at the forefront of exposing the murky nature of land deals in the developing world. The challenge today is to begin a more holistic discussion that places transfer of land in both the developed and developing worlds along the same continuous spectrum.

Driven by the same structural factors and perpetrated by many of the same investors, the corporate consolidation of agriculture is being felt just as strongly in Iowa and California as it is in the Philippines and Mozambique.

Down on the Farm, a new report from the Oakland Institute, aims to increase awareness of the overlapping global and national factors enabling the new American land rush, while at the same time introduces the motives and practices of some of the most powerful players involved in it: UBS Agrivest, a subsidiary of the biggest bank in Switzerland; the Hancock Agricultural Investment Group (HAIG), a subsidiary of the biggest insurance company in Canada; and the Teacher Annuity Insurance Association College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF), one of the largest pension funds in the world.

Only by studying the motives and practices of these actors today does it become possible to begin building policies and institutions that help ensure farmers, and not absentee investors, are the future of our food system.

Nothing is more crucial than beginning this discussion today. The issue may seem small for a variety of reasons – because institutional investors only own an apparently tiny one percent of all U.S. farmland, or because farmers are still the biggest buyers of farmland across the country.

But to take either of these views is to become dangerously blind to the long-term trends threatening our agricultural heritage.

Consider the fact that investors believe that there is roughly 1.8 trillion dollars’ worth of farmland across the United States. Of this, between 300 and 500 billion dollars is considered to be of “institutional quality,” a combination of factors relating to size, water access, soil quality, and location that determine the investment appeal of a property.

This makes domestic farmland a huge and largely untapped asset class. Some of the biggest actors in the financial sector have already sought to exploit this opportunity by making equity investments in farmland. Frequently, these buyers enter the market with so much capital that their funds are practically limitless compared with the resources of most farmers.

Although they have made an impressive foothold, this is the beginning, not the end, of a land rush that could literally change who owns the country and our food and agricultural systems. Not only is there space in the market for institutional investors to expand, but there are also major financial incentives for them to do so.

If action is not taken, then a perfect storm of global and national trends could converge to permanently shift farm ownership from family businesses to institutional investors and other consolidated corporate operations. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

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Indigenous Leaders in Costa Rica Tell Ban Ki-moon Their Problemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/indigenous-leaders-in-costa-rica-tell-ban-ki-moon-their-problems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-leaders-in-costa-rica-tell-ban-ki-moon-their-problems http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/indigenous-leaders-in-costa-rica-tell-ban-ki-moon-their-problems/#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 22:13:04 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135883 A Costa Rican indigenous family runs to take shelter in the community of Cedror in the indigenous territory of Salitre on Jul. 6, afraid of being attacked by landowners who occupied their land after setting fire to their homes and belongings the day before. Credit: David Bolaños/IPS

A Costa Rican indigenous family runs to take shelter in the community of Cedror in the indigenous territory of Salitre on Jul. 6, afraid of being attacked by landowners who occupied their land after setting fire to their homes and belongings the day before. Credit: David Bolaños/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Aug 1 2014 (IPS)

Indigenous people in Costa Rica, hemmed in by violent attacks from farmers and ranchers who invade their land and burn down their homes, have found a new ally: United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who met with 36 native leaders during a recent visit to this country.

The leaders, representing eight indigenous groups, described the violence faced by native people in Costa Rica, and the many struggles they face, even in simply getting identity cards.

But they underlined that their most pressing concern is the occupation of indigenous areas by “the white man”, which has led to an escalation of attacks from landowners, who invade their ancestral territory and try to drive them off the land, despite a law that guarantees their right to collective ownership of their territory.

The latest violent episode occurred in the community of Cedror, in the Salitre indigenous territory in the southeast of the country.

The Bribri people in Salitre had begun a process of recovering territory occupied by landowners or “finqueros”, who responded by burning down their modest homes and blocking access to their territory.

The violence, which continued from Jul. 5 to 8, prompted a visit to Cedror by the deputy minister of political affairs, Ana Gabriel Zúñiga, sent by President Luis Guillermo Solís, along with representatives of the Defensoría de los Habitantes – ombudsperson’s office – and the Ministry of Justice and Peace.“We don’t want to be beggars of the state. If they approve our law, we could develop ourselves according to our vision that we must protect the forests and water.” -- José Carlos Morales

A mob of around 80 thugs converged on the community on Jul. 5, armed with rocks and guns, chased the local indigenous people out of their homes, and then burned down the huts, with all of the families’ belongings inside.

Ligia Bejarano, one of the indigenous leaders who informed the U.N. secretary-general of the situation, told him that in 2010 native people were thrown out of the legislature when they went to lobby for approval of a new law on indigenous affairs.

According to Bejarano, Ban was very receptive and told them he was aware of the latest attack on native people in this Central American country, where members of indigenous groups represent 2.6 percent of the population of 4.5 million.

The secretary-general paid an official visit to Costa Rica on Jul. 30, and spent an additional four days in the country on vacation.

“I stress that dialogue is a very powerful tool and that we must continue to foment it, as long as there is grassroots community participation,” Magaly Lázaro, a member of the Brunca indigenous community who also participated in the meeting with Ban, told IPS.

“This is a group of marginalised populations who have long been discriminated against by societies,” Ban said shortly after the meeting, referring to indigenous people during a conference held in the San José-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

“I do take away the empty feeling that it was very short, for such an important meeting – five minutes weren’t enough for me to say what I feel; you can’t sum up so many things because the problem is bigger than what was discussed,” another of the three female participants, Justa Romero, told IPS.

The indigenous territory with the worst problems is Térraba, 150 km southeast of San José. Around 85 percent of the community’s land has been occupied by non-indigenous outsiders, according to the 2012 State of the Nation report drawn up by the National Provosts Council.

This is happening despite the fact that Costa Rica’s Indigenous Law, in force since 1977, declared native territories inalienable, indivisible, non-transferable and exclusive to the indigenous communities living there.

In other words, even if outsiders buy land in indigenous territories, the purchase and land title are invalid.

The native leaders told IPS that in the meeting with Ban they asked him to help them get the authorities to accelerate the adoption of measures to ensure respect for their rights and support for their autonomous development.

“Now we want to see how many non-indigenous people are in our territory,” Romero, a Bribri native who belongs to the Commission of Indigenous Women of Talamanca Association (ACOMUITA) in the country’s southern Caribbean region, told IPS. “But it’s not just a question of saying ‘we found this or that’ – I mean we should go and remove them and demonstrate that the land truly belongs to indigenous people.”

According to the 2011 national census, the roughly 100,000 members of the Brunca, Ngäbe, Bribri, Cabécar, Maleku, Chorotega, Térraba and Teribe communities live in 24 indigenous territories scattered around the country. Altogether, these areas cover 350,000 hectares of land – around seven percent of the national territory.

After visiting Salitre, Deputy Minister Zúñiga said the administration of Solis, who took office as president in May, recognises indigenous people’s right to their land and will support them in recovering their territory.

“We have started to carry out an analysis of all aspects related to the demarcation of Salitre and we are taking the first steps to see who [non-indigenous people] have farms in the territory and who has the right to be indemnified,” Geiner Blanco, a member of the Maleku indigenous community and a presidential adviser on native affairs, told IPS.

A bill aimed at overcoming the gaps and problems in the country’s institutions with respect to indigenous affairs has been stalled in the legislature for 19 years.

The proposed reforms include the governance of native territories by indigenous councils; the removal of all non-native people from the territories; and education for indigenous children designed in line with the native world vision and culture.

“We don’t want to be beggars of the state,” Brunca indigenous leader José Carlos Morales told IPS. “If they approve our law, we could develop ourselves according to our vision that we must protect the forests and water.

“But they don’t want to pass it. They want us to keep being beggars,” said Morales, who helped draft the 1977 Indigenous Law and worked for five years in the United Nations Human Rights Council’s indigenous rights body.

Lázaro, a 29-year-old member of the Brunca community, told IPS that she would be happy just to stop being plagued by the fear she started to feel in August last year, when she was visiting Salitre and preparing a meal with the women and children while the men went out to patrol the borders of the territory.

“We were about to eat when a bunch of people came up with sticks and clubs and surrounded us in a question of just a few seconds,” she said. “It was a mob of finqueros and white people; I had heard of that kind of violence, but I hadn’t experienced it, and the fear has stayed with me.”

Edited by: Estrella Gutiérrez / Translated by: Stephanie Wildes

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Laws that Kill Protesters in Mexicohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/laws-that-kill-protesters-in-mexico/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laws-that-kill-protesters-in-mexico http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/laws-that-kill-protesters-in-mexico/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 22:34:02 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135859 Students from the high school attended by José Luis Alberto Tehuatlie, during the boy’s Jul. 22 funeral in the town of San Bernardino Chalchihuapan, in the Mexican state of Puebla. Credit: Daniela Pastrana /IPS

Students from the high school attended by José Luis Alberto Tehuatlie, during the boy’s Jul. 22 funeral in the town of San Bernardino Chalchihuapan, in the Mexican state of Puebla. Credit: Daniela Pastrana /IPS

By Daniela Pastrana
SAN BERNARDINO CHALCHIHUAPAN, Mexico , Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

People in this town in the central Mexican state of Puebla found out the hard way that protesting can be deadly.

A new law passed in Puebla makes it possible for police to use firearms or deadly force to break up demonstrations.

Local inhabitants felt the impact of the measure during a harsh crackdown on a protest against another law that they say undermines their autonomy.

A dead 13-year-old boy, another who lost three fingers, a third with a broken jaw and teeth knocked out, a driver who lost an eye, and 37 others injured by beatings and tear gas were the price this Nahua indigenous town of 3,900 people paid for blocking a road to demand the repeal of a state law that transferred responsibility over civil registries from local community authorities to the municipalities.

“It’s not fair that they attack the people like this just because we are asking that our community life, our authorities, be respected,” Vianey Varela, a first year high school student, told IPS.

On Jul. 9, when local residents blocked the Puebla-Atlixco highway some 150 km from Mexico City, the state police first used the powers given to them by the Law to Protect Human Rights and Regulate the Legitimate Use of Force by the police, which the state legislature passed in May.

The “Ley Bala” or Bullet Law, as it was dubbed by journalists, allows Puebla state police to use firearms as well as “non-lethal weapons” to break up “violent” protests and during emergencies and natural disasters.

The roadblock was mounted to protest another state law approved in May, which took away from the local authorities the function of civil registry judges or clerks and put it in the hands of the municipal governments.Since May, in at least 190 villages and towns in the state, no one has been born, no one has died, and no one has been married – at least officially, because there are no records.

As a result, since May, in at least 190 villages and towns in the state, no one has been born, no one has died, and no one has been married – at least officially, because there are no records.

Javier Montes told IPS that he became “presidente auxiliar”- a post just under mayor – of San Bernardino Chalchihuapan in May, but added that “I still haven’t signed a thing. The archives are in our care, but we don’t have stamps or the necessary papers. And in the municipal presidency [mayor’s office] they don’t know what to do, so in the meantime nothing is being registered.”

“We sent letters to all the authorities,” said Montes, who has received anonymous threats for speaking out. “They never responded. When the ink and paper ran out, and our fingers were worn out from so much typing, we went out to protest and this is what happened.”

The town is in the municipality of Ocoyucan and the local inhabitants belong to the Nahua indigenous community. According to the latest estimates by the government’s National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, the native population of Puebla is one million people – one quarter of the state’s total population.

In Mexico’s municipalities there is a “presidente” or mayor, and “presidentes auxiliares”, who are the highest level authorities in the communities, many of which are remote and located far from the seat of the municipal government.

The presidentes auxiliares name the police chief and run the town. And up to May they were also the civil registry judges or clerks..

They are directly elected by local voters without participation by the political parties, and they tend to be highly respected local leaders who are close to the people.

In the Jul. 9 police crackdown, 13-year-old José Luis Alberto Tehuatlie was hit by a rubber bullet in the head and died after 10 days in coma.

The Puebla state government initially denied that rubber bullets had been used. But the public outrage over the boy’s death forced Governor Rafael Moreno to announce that he would repeal the law.

Puebla is not the only place in Mexico where there have been attempts to regulate public protests. In the last year, the legislatures of five states have discussed similar bills.

The first was, paradoxically, the Federal District, in Mexico City, which has been governed by the leftwing Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) since 1997.

In the capital street protests are a daily occurrence, but since the very day that Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as president, on Dec. 1, 2012, demonstrations and marches have frequently turned violent.

A Federal District bill on public demonstrations, introduced in December 2013 by lawmakers from the rightwing opposition National Action Party, failed to prosper.

In April, the southeastern state of Quintana Roo, ruled by the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), became the first part of Mexico to regulate protests.

A state law, the “Ley de Ordenamiento Cívico”, known as the “anti-protest law,” is a toned-down version of another initiative that would have required demonstrators to apply for a permit to protest at least 48 hours ahead of time.

But the law maintains the ban on roadblocks and allows the police “to take pertinent measures” against demonstrators.

Other initiatives to regulate and allow the “legitimate use of force” have been adopted in the states of San Luis Potosí and Chiapas.

Global rights groups like Article 19 and Amnesty International have spoken out strongly against these laws aimed at regulating demonstrations, pointing to a worrisome tendency towards the criminalisation of social protests in Mexico since 2012.

But the governmental National Human Rights Commission has failed to make use of its legal powers to promote legal action challenging the anti-protest initiatives as unconstitutional.

On the contrary, in October 2013 it recommended that the Senate amend article 9 of the constitution referring to the freedom to hold public demonstrations and to the use of public force.

The Jul. 9 protest was not the first time rubber bullets have been used in Puebla.

Just hours before Tehuatlie’s death was confirmed, the Puebla state secretary of public security, Facundo Rosas, showed a document from the secretariat of national defence which indicated that the government had not purchased rubber bullets under the current administration.

However, in December 2011 the state human rights commission rebuked the Puebla police chief for the use of rubber bullets to evict local residents of the community of Ciénega Larga, when 70-year-old Artemia León was injured, as reported by the Eje Central online news site.

It became clear in conversations that IPS held with people in San Bernardino Chalchihuapan that they are very angry. Hundreds of people attended the boy’s funeral, on Jul. 22, where many of them called for the governor’s resignation.

“Why doesn’t he try the rubber bullets on his own kids,” said one man after the funeral, which was attended by some 40 “presidentes auxiliares” from other communities.

So far no one has been held accountable for the boy’s death.

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World Bank Board Declines to Revise Controversial Draft Policieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/world-bank-board-declines-to-revise-controversial-draft-policies/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 01:11:09 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135842 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 31 2014 (IPS)

A key committee of the World Bank’s governing board Wednesday spurned appeals to revise a  draft policy statement that, according to nearly 100 civil-society groups, risks rolling back several decades of reforms designed to protect indigenous populations, the poor and sensitive ecosystems.

While the Committee on Development Effectiveness did not formally endorse the draft, it approved the document for further consultation with governments, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and other stakeholders over the coming months in what will constitute a second round a two-year review of the Bank’s social and environmental policies.“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law." -- Joji Carino

At issue is a draft safeguard framework that was designed to update and strengthen policies that have been put in place over the past 25 years to ensure that Bank-supported projects in developing countries would protect vulnerable populations, human rights, and the environment to the greatest possible extent.

“The policies we have in place now have served us well, but the issues our clients face have changed over the last 20 years,” said Kyle Peters, the Bank’s vice president for operations policy and country services.

He stressed that the draft provisions would also broaden the Bank’s safeguard policies to include promoting social inclusion, anti-discrimination, and labour rights, and addressing climate change.

But, according to a number of civil-society groups, the draft, which was leaked over the weekend, not only fails to tighten key safeguards, in some cases, it weakens them substantially.

“The World Bank has repeatedly committed to producing a new safeguard framework that results in no-dilution of the existing safeguards and which reflects prevailing international standards,” according to a statement sent to the Bank’s executive directors Monday by Bank on Human Rights (BHR), a coalition of two dozen human-rights, anti-poverty, and environmental groups that sponsored the letter.

“Instead, the draft safeguard framework represents a profound dilution of the existing safeguards and an undercutting of international human rights standards and best practice,” the coalition, which includes Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the NGO Forum of the Asia Development Bank, among other groups, said.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of that dilution is a provision that would permit borrowing governments to “opt out” of the Indigenous Peoples Standard that was developed by the Bank to ensure that Bank-funded projects protected essential land and natural-resource rights of affected indigenous communities.

“We have engaged with social and environmental safeguard development with the World Bank for over 20 years and have never seen a proposal with potential for such widespread negative impacts for indigenous peoples around the world,” said Joji Carino, director of the Forest Peoples Programme.

“The proposed ‘opt-out’ for protections for indigenous peoples, in particular, would undermine existing international human rights law and the significant advances seen in respect for indigenous peoples rights in national laws,” she added.

But Mark King, the Bank’s chief environmental and social standards officer, insisted that the draft’s provisions represented a “strengthening of existing policy” that, among other provisions, introduces “Free, Prior and Informed Consent of Indigenous Peoples” in all Bank-supported projects.

“In exceptional circumstances when there are risks of exacerbating ethnic tension or civil strife or where the identification of Indigenous Peoples is inconsistent with the constitution of the country, in consultation with people affected by a particular project, we are proposing an alternative approach to the protection of Indigenous Peoples,” he said, adding that any such exception would have to be approved by the Bank’s board.

The Bank, which disburses as much as 50 billion dollars a year in grants and loans, remains a key source of project funding for developing countries despite the rise of other major sources over the past 20 years, notably private capital and, more recently, China and other emerging economies, which have generally imposed substantially fewer conditions on their lending.

Faced with this competition, the Bank has been determining how to make itself more attractive to borrowers by, for example, streamlining operations and reducing waste and duplication. But some critics worry that it may also be willing to exercise greater flexibility in applying its social and environmental standards – a charge that Bank officials publicly reject, despite the disclosure of recent internal emails reflecting precisely that concern.

Under prodding by NGOs and some Western governments in the 1980’s and 1990’s, the Bank had established itself as a leader in setting progressive social and environmental policies.

More recently, however, “it has fallen behind the regional development banks and many other international development institutions in terms of safeguarding human rights and the environment,” according to Gretchen Gordon, BHR’s co-ordinator.

“The Bank has an opportunity to regain its position as a leader in the development arena, but unfortunately this draft backtracks on the last decade of progress,” she told IPS. “We hope that the [next round of] consultations will be robust and accessible to the people and communities who are most affected, and that at the end of the day, the Bank and its member states adopt a strong safeguard framework that respects human rights.”

While welcoming the Bank’s new interest in issues such as discrimination and labour rights, the BHR statement criticised what it called the framework’s movement from “one based on compliance with set processes and standards, to one of vague and open-ended guidance…”

According to the statement, the draft threatens long-standing protections for people who may be displaced from their homes by Bank-backed mega-projects and may permit borrower governments and even private “intermediary” banks to use their own standards for assessing, compensating and resettling affected communities “without clear criteria on when and how this would be acceptable.”

In addition, according to BHR, the draft fails to incorporate any serious protections to prevent Bank funds from supporting land grabs that have displaced indigenous communities, small farmers, fishing communities and pastoralists in some of the world’s poorest countries to make way for major agro-industrial projects.

“We had hoped that the new safeguards would include strong requirements to prevent governments like Ethiopia from abusing its people with Bank funds,” said Obang Metho, executive director of the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, a group that has brought international attention to Bank-backed land grabs in his home country. “But we are shocked to see the Bank instead opening the flood-gates for more abuses.”

The draft was based on a five-month-long consultation involving more than 2,000 people in more than 40 countries and a review of other multilateral development banks’ environmental and social standards, according to the Bank.

In a teleconference with reporters, King denied that the Bank was lowering its existing standards. In addition to broadening existing standards, he said, the Bank will “use as much as possible the borrower country’s own existing systems to deliver social and environmental outcomes that are consistent with our values.”

He and Peters also stressed that more attention will be paid to assessing and addressing the risks of social and environmental damage during project implementation, as opposed to the more “up-front approach” the Bank has taken in the past.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at ipsnoram@ips.org

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Land Grabbing – A New Political Strategy for Arab Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/land-grabbing-a-new-political-strategy-for-arab-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=land-grabbing-a-new-political-strategy-for-arab-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/land-grabbing-a-new-political-strategy-for-arab-countries/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 22:57:26 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135839 By Mona Alami
BEIRUT, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

Food price rises as far back as 2008 are believed to be the partial culprits behind the instability plaguing Arab countries and they have become increasingly aware of the importance of securing food needs through an international strategy of land grabs which are often detrimental to local populations.

Between 2007 and 2008, rises in food prices caused protest movements in Egypt and Morocco. “This has become an important concern for countries in the Arab region which want to meet the growing demands of their populations,” notes Devlin Kuyek, a researcher at GRAIN, a non-profit organisation supporting small farmers and social movements in their struggles for community-controlled and biodiversity-based food systems.Arab countries ... have become increasingly aware of the importance of securing food needs through an international strategy of land grabs which are often detrimental to local populations

Arab countries, which appear to have started losing confidence in normal food supply chains, are now relying on acquisitions of farmland around the world. Globally, land deals by foreign countries were estimated at about 80 million ha in 2011, according to figures provided by the World Bank.

The 2008 international food price crisis caused alarm among policy-makers and the public in general about the vulnerability of Arab countries to potential future food supply shocks (such as, for example, in the event of closure of the Straits of Hormuz) as well as the perceived continued sharp increase in international food prices in the long term, explains Sarwat Hussain, Senior Communications Officer at the World Bank.

Increasing food prices are caused by entrenched trends that include population growth combined with high urbanisation rates, depleting freshwater sources, increased demand for raw commodities and biofuels, as well as speculation over farmland.

To face such threats, Arab countries have worked on buying or leasing farm land in foreign countries. “Investment in land often takes the form of long-term leases, as opposed to outright purchases, of land. These leases often range between 25 and 99 years,” says Hussain.

Currently, the United Arab Emirates accounts for around 12 percent of all land deals, followed by Egypt (6 percent) and Saudi Arabia (4 percent), according to GRAIN.

“It is however very difficult to estimate the total value of land grabbed today because most deals remain in the negotiations phase and are, for the most, very obscure ,” adds Hussain.

Land acquisitions are becoming institutionalised as clear strategies are developed by governments, which also rely on the private sector and international organisations, explains Kuyek.

Some governments of member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – have adopted explicit policies to encourage their citizens to invest in food production overseas as part of their long-term national food security strategies.

Such policies cover a variety of instruments, including investment subsidies and guarantees, as well as the establishment of sovereign funds focusing exclusively on investments in agriculture overseas.

Countries falling victims of the land acquisition mania range from Western countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Romania to countries in Latin America, Asia or Africa.

Globally, the largest targeted countries are Brazil with 11 percent by land area; Sudan with 10 percent; Madagascar, the Philippines and Ethiopia with 8 percent each; Mozambique with 7 percent; and Indonesia with 6 percent, according to the World Bank.

“The main driving force seems to be biofuels expansion, with exceptions in Sudan and Ethiopia, which are seeing a trend towards growth of food from Middle Eastern and Indian investors,” Hussain points out.

Governments, often through sovereign wealth funds, are negotiating the acquisition or lease of farming land. According to GRAIN, the Ethiopian government has made deals with investors from Saudi Arabia, as well as India and China among others, giving foreign investors control of half of the arable land in its Gambela region.

Powerful Saudi businessmen are pursuing deals in Senegal, Mali and other countries that would give them control over several hundred thousand hectares of the most productive farmlands. -“The [Saudi Arabian] al-Amoudi company has acquired ten thousand hectares in south western Ethiopia to export rice,” notes Kuyek.

Besides food security concerns, it appears that such acquisitions are increasingly perceived by international companies as a useful investment tool allowing for diversification. A number of investment companies and private funds have been acquiring farmland around the globe.  These include Western heavyweights such Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, but also Arab players such as Citadel Capital, an Egyptian private equity fund.

Kuyek explains that large land acquisitions are triggering debates in developing countries and can become electoral issues.  Land grabs can have adverse repercussions on indigenous populations which find themselves evicted from the land they have used over generations for cultivation and irrigation.

“People are concerned by the sale of their local resources,” adds Kuyek.

This has translated into the creation of local groups that are challenging large land sale deals negotiated by their governments. As an example, farmers in Serbia have made formal complaints about the purchase of farmland by an Abu Dhabi company, Al Rawafed Agriculture, according to The National newspaper.

Small opposition groups will nonetheless face increasing difficulty in fighting-off governments and institutions, for which food security has become a matter of political survival.

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Forest Rights Offer Major Opportunity to Counter Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/forest-rights-offer-major-opportunity-to-counter-climate-change/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 00:14:31 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135713 Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and María Menjivar – with her young daughter – planning plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Credit: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

Salvadorans Elsy Álvarez and María Menjivar – with her young daughter – planning plantain seedlings in a clearing in the forest. Credit: Claudia Ávalos/IPS

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

The international community is failing to take advantage of a potent opportunity to counter climate change by strengthening local land tenure rights and laws worldwide, new data suggests.

In what researchers say is the most detailed study on the issue to date, new analysis suggests that in areas formally overseen by local communities, deforestation rates are dozens to hundreds of times lower than in areas overseen by governments or private entities. Anywhere from 10 to 20 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to deforestation each year."This model of government-owned and -managed forests usually doesn’t work. Instead, it often creates an open-access free-for-all.” -- Caleb Stevens

The findings were released Thursday by the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, and the Rights and Resources Initiative, a global network that focuses on forest tenure.

“This approach to mitigating climate change has long been undervalued,” a report detailing the analysis states. “[G]overnments, donors, and other climate change stakeholders tend to ignore or marginalize the enormous contribution to mitigating climate change that expanding and strengthening communities’ forest rights can make.”

Researchers were able to comb through high-definition satellite imagery and correlate findings on deforestation rates with data on differing tenure approaches in 14 developing countries considered heavily forested. Those areas with significant forest rights vested in local communities were found to be far more successful at slowing forest clearing, including the incursion of settlers and mining companies.

In Guatemala and Brazil, strong local tenure resulted in deforestation rates 11 to 20 times lower than outside of formally recognised community forests. In parts of the Mexican Yucatan the findings were even starker – 350 times lower.

Meanwhile, the climate implications of these forests are significant. Standing, mature forests not only hold massive amounts of carbon, but they also continually suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

“We know that at least 500 million hectares of forest in developing countries are already in the hands of local communities, translating to a bit less than 40 billion tonnes of carbon,” Andy White, the Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI)’s coordinator, told IPS.

“That’s a huge amount – 30 times the amount of total emissions from all passenger vehicles around the world. But much of the rights to protect those forests are weak, so there’s a real risk that we could lose those forests and that carbon.”

White notes that there’s been a “massive slowdown” in the recognition of indigenous and other community rights over the past half-decade, despite earlier global headway on the issue. But he now sees significant potential to link land rights with momentum on climate change in the minds of policymakers and the donor community.

“In developing country forests, you have this history of governments promoting deforestation for agriculture but also opening up forests through roads and the promotion of colonisation and mining,” White says.

“At the same time, these same governments are now trying to talk about climate change, saying they’re concerned about reducing emission. To date, these two hands haven’t been talking to each other.”

Lima link

The new findings come just ahead of two major global climate summits. In September, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will host international leaders in New York to discuss the issue, and in December the next round of global climate negotiations will take place in Peru, ahead of intended agreement next year.

The Lima talks are being referred to as the “forest” round. Some observers have suggested that forestry could offer the most significant potential for global emissions cuts, but few have directly connected this potential with local tenure.

“The international community hasn’t taken this link nearly as far as it can go, and it’s important that policymakers are made aware of this connection,” Caleb Stevens, a proper rights specialist at the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the new report’s principle author, told IPS.

“Developed country governments can commit to development assistance agencies to strengthen forest tenure as part of bilateral agreements. They can also commit to strengthen these rights through finance mechanisms like the new Green Climate Fund.”

Currently the most well-known, if contentious, international mechanism aimed at reducing deforestation is the U.N.’s REDD+ initiative, which since 2008 has dispersed nearly 200 million dollars to safeguard forest in developing countries. Yet critics say the programme has never fully embraced the potential of community forest management.

“REDD+ was established because it is well known that deforestation is a significant part of the climate change problem,” Tony LaVina, the lead forest and climate negotiator for the Philippines, said in a statement.

“What is not as widely understood is how effective forest communities are at protecting their forest from deforestation and increasing forest health. This is why REDD+ must be accompanied by community safeguards.”

Two-thirds remaining

Meanwhile, WRI’s Stevens says that current national-level prioritisation of local tenure is a “mixed bag”, varying significantly from country to country.

He points to progressive progress being made in Liberia and Kenya, where laws have started to be reformed to recognise community rights, as well as in Bolivia and Nepal, where some 40 percent of forests are legally under community control. Following a 2013 court ruling, Indonesia could now be on a similar path.

“Many governments are still quite reluctant to stop their attempts access minerals and other resources,” Stevens says. “But some governments realise the limitations of their capacity – that this model of government-owned and -managed forests usually doesn’t work. Instead, it often creates an open-access free-for-all.”

Not only are local communities often more effective at managing such resources than governments or private entities, but they can also become significant economic beneficiaries of those forests, eventually even contributing to national coffers through tax revenues.

Certainly there is scope for such an expansion. RRI estimates that the 500 million hectares currently under community control constitute just a third of what communities around the world are actively – and, the group says, legitimately – claiming.

“The world should rapidly scale up recognition of local forest rights even if they only care about the climate – even if they don’t care about the people, about water, women, biodiversity,” RRI’s White says.

“Actually, of course, people do care about all of these other issues. That’s why a strategy of strengthening local forest rights is so important and a no-brainer – it will deliver for the climate as well as reduce poverty.”

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Touaregs Seek Secular and Democratic Multi-Ethnic Statehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/touaregs-seek-secular-and-democratic-multi-ethnic-state/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=touaregs-seek-secular-and-democratic-multi-ethnic-state http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/touaregs-seek-secular-and-democratic-multi-ethnic-state/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 11:10:13 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135695 By Karlos Zurutuza
LEKORNE, France, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

The government of Mali and Touareg rebels representing Azawad, a territory in northern Mali which declared unilateral independence in 2012 after a Touareg rebellion drove out the Malian army, resumed peace talks in Algiers last week, intended to end decades of conflict.

The talks, being held behind closed doors, are expected to end on July 24.

Negotiations between Bamako and representatives of six northern Mali armed groups, among which the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) is the strongest, kicked off in Algiers on July 16. Diplomats from Mauritania, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and other international bodies are also attending the discussions.

Moussa Ag Assarid, MNLA spokesperson. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Moussa Ag Assarid, MNLA spokesperson. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

IPS spoke with writer and a journalist Moussa Ag Assarid, MNLA spokesperson in Europe.

You declared your independent state in April 2012 but no one has recognised it yet. Why is that?

We are not for a Touareg state but for a secular and democratic multi-ethnic model of country. We, Touaregs, may be a majority among Azawad population but there are also Arabs, Shongays and Peulas and we´re working in close coordination with them.

Since Mali´s independence in 1960, the people from Azawad have repeatedly stated that we don´t want to be part of that country. We do have the support of many people all around the globe but the states and the international organisations such as the United Nations prefer to tackle the issue without breaking the established order.

And this is why both the United Nations and Mali refer to “jihadism”, and not to the legitimate struggle for freedom of the Azawad people.

However, we are witnessing a reorganisation of the world order amid significant movements in northern Africa, the Middle East, and even Europe, as in the case of the Ukraine. It´s very much a clear proof of the failure of globalisation and the world´s management.“We [the people of Azawad] do have the support of many people all around the globe but the states and the international organisations such as the United Nations prefer to tackle the issue without breaking the established order” – Moussa Ag Assarid

The French intervention in the 2012 war was seemingly a key factor on your side. How do you asses the former colonial power´s role in the region?

The French have always been there, even after Mali´s independence, because they have huge strategic interests in the area as well as natural resources such as the uranium they rely on. In fact, you could say that our independence has been confiscated by both the international community and France.

The former Malian soldiers have been replaced by the U.N. ones but the Malian army keeps committing all sort of abuses against civilians, from arbitrary arrests to deportations or enforced disappearances, all of which take place without the French and the U.N. soldiers lifting a finger.

Meanwhile, Bamako calls on the French state to support them under the pretext they are fighting against Jihadism.

Another worrying issue is the media blackout imposed on us. Reporters are prevented from coming to Azawad so the information is filtered through Bamako-based reporters who talk about “Mali´s north”, who refuse to speak about our struggle and who become spokesmen and defenders of the Malian state.

So what is the real presence, if any, of the Malian state in Azawad?

Mali´s army and its administration fled in 2012 and the state is only present in the areas protected by the French army, in Gao and Tombouktou. Paris has around 1,000 soldiers deployed in the area, the United Nations has 8,000 blue helmets in the whole country, and there are between 12,000 and 15,000 fighters in the ranks of the MNLA.

We coordinate ourselves with the Arab Movement of Azawad and the High Council for the Unity of Azawad. Alongside these two groups we hold control of 90 percent of Azawad, but we are living under extremely difficult conditions.

We obviously don´t get any support from either Mali or Algeria and we have to cope with a terrible drought. We rely on the meat and the milk of our goats, like we´ve done from time immemorial and we fight with the weapons we confiscated from the Malian Army, the Jihadists, or those we once got from Libya.

You mention Libya. Many claim that the MNLA fighters fought on the side of Gaddafi during the Libyan war in 2011. Is that right?

Many media networks insist on distorting the facts. Gaddafi did grant Libyan citizenship to the Touaregs but he later used them to fight in Palestine, Lebanon or Chad. In 1990, they went back to Azawad to fight against the Malian army and, even if we had the chance, we did not make the mistake of fighting against the Libyan people in 2011.

Gaddafi gave Touaregs weapons to fight in Benghazi but the Touareg decided to go to Kidal and set up the MNLA. It´s completely false that the MNLA is formed by Touaregs who came from Libya. Many of our fighters have never been there, neither have I.

Do Islamic extremists still pose a major concern in Azawad?

In January 2013, AQMI (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb), MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa), a splinter group of AQMI and Ansar Dine attacked the Malian army on the border between Mali and Azawad.

Mali´s president asked for help from Paris to oust them but it´s us, the MNLA, who have been fighting the Jihadists since June 2012. The United States, the United Kingdom and France claim to fight against Al Qaeda but it´s us who do it on the ground. Ansar Dine has given no sign of life for over a year but AQMI and MUJAO are still active.

One of the most outrageous issues is that Bamako had had strong links with AQMI in the past, or even backed Ansar Dine, whose leader is a Touareg but the people under his command are just a criminal gang. Today, the Jihadists backed by Bamako have become stronger than the Malian army itself.

Are you optimistic about the ongoing talks with Bamako?

So far we have signed all sorts of agreements but none of them has ever been respected. Accordingly, we have already discarded the stage in which we would accept autonomy, or even a federal state. At this point, we have come to the conclusion that the only way to solve this conflict is to achieve our independence and live in freedom and peace in our land.

Mali has never fulfilled its word so that´s why we call on the international community, France and the United Nations.

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Indigenous Communities Say Education, Funding Key to Fighting HIV/AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indigenous-communities-say-education-funding-key-to-fighting-hivaids/#comments Mon, 21 Jul 2014 22:39:08 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135655 Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, was diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, Jul 21 2014 (IPS)

Marama Pala, hailing from Waikanae on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand, was diagnosed with HIV at 22. The news of her diagnosis spread like wildfire in her tight-knit Maori community.

That was in 1993 but even today, she says, there is a “shame and blame” attitude surrounding HIV, which disproportionately impacts the region’s indigenous population.

“If you are HIV positive, you are seen as ‘dirty’, as someone who must be a drug user or a prostitute. Our people are not seeking help because of this stigma, discrimination and criminalisation – the fear of being charged, hunted down, ostracised or put in jail,” says Pala, who, together with her Pacific Islander HIV-positive husband, runs the INA (Maori, Indigenous, South Pacific) HIV/AIDS Foundation.

“We can’t just pretend that HIV/AIDS exists in isolation. The problem of social justice is systemic. We have to encourage nation states to follow the recommendations from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People." -- Trevor Stratton, IIWGHA Coordinator for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN)
The Foundation takes a cultural approach to HIV/AIDS awareness, education, prevention and intervention.

“In the past five years the number of new infections has […] increased in the Pacific Island community living in New Zealand and especially among the Maoris because we are late testers. People who [engage] in risky behaviour [seldom] get tested until they are very, very sick,” Pala, a mother of two, tells IPS.

“Our women are dying because they are afraid to go on medication, partly because they are afraid of the stigma and discrimination. Antiretroviral drugs are widely available in our country and they should not be dying in this time and age,” says Pala, who is a member of the board of directors for the International Council of AIDS Service Organisations (ICASO).

With HIV and AIDS disproportionately affecting indigenous people across the world, there is a strong need for culturally appropriate programmes designed, championed and delivered by indigenous people, activists and experts say.

Many indigenous women are living in silence with even their immediate families not knowing that they have HIV.

“There are 130 aboriginal women who are living with HIV in Australia, but apart from myself there is only one other woman who speaks openly about living with HIV,” says Michelle Tobin, who contracted the disease at the age of 21.

She began dating a man who told her that he had HIV but “I was naïve and just believed that it wouldn’t happen to me,” she admits. “Within six months I was diagnosed with HIV. I had a baby so I focused all my attention on her.”

“In the early 1990s in Melbourne we weren’t offered treatments when we were first diagnosed. In those days we lost a lot of people in the early stage of the disease, including my late husband,” Tobin, who belongs to the Yorta Yorta Nation, tells IPS.

As a descendant of the Stolen Generation and an aboriginal woman living with HIV and now AIDS, she has experienced stigma and discrimination, especially from within her own family, who disowned her.

Some in her community still think she is contagious and don’t want to be near her, but her struggle has made Tobin a passionate and vocal advocate for indigenous women living with HIV/AIDS.

According to Tobin, chair of the Anwernekenhe National HIV Alliance and a committee member of PATSIN (Positive Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Network), “Aboriginal women are a minority within the minority of the HIV epidemic. We need more resources and funding [to] enable women to speak out about prevention, treatments, isolation, confidentiality, housing and the whole spectrum of issues that impact us.”

In addition to endorsing targets set out in the United Nations Political Declaration on HIV and AIDS, Australia has also adopted the Eora Action Plan on HIV 2014, which sets strategic targets to bring greater attention to HIV prevention, including best clinical care for aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples living with HIV.

The recent International Indigenous Pre-conference on HIV and AIDS hosted by the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV & AIDS (IIWGHA) in partnership with the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Organising Committee (AATSIOC), held in Sydney on Jul. 17-19, was themed ‘Our story, Our Time, Our Future.’

It highlighted the need for increased epidemiological data with a focus on indigenous ethnicity. Lack of data about the level of treatment take-up amongst indigenous people living with HIV is posing a challenge for Treatment as Prevention (TasP) strategies.

“We have evidence in Canada that aboriginal people are getting HIV three-and-a-half times faster than the rate of the general population,” Trevor Stratton, IIWGHA Coordinator for the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN), tells IPS.

“We believe those trends exist all over the world, but we don’t have the epidemiological data. We are advocating for epidemiological evidence as that is what we need for the dominant cultures to recognise us as a key population at greater risk of HIV and AIDS along with gay men and sex workers, so governments can free up the money for us and we can create our own solutions,” he asserts.

Forty-nine-year-old Stratton, a citizen of the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, Ontario, with mixed English and Ojibwe heritage, was diagnosed with HIV in 1990.

He believes that indigenous people are particularly vulnerable due to “colonisation, neo-colonialism, resource extraction, and assimilation amongst other similar issues” that push them down on social determinants of health and put them at higher risk of all poor health outcomes.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the rate of HIV diagnoses among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women was substantially greater than among Australian-born non-Indigenous women (1.5 compared with 0.4 per 100,000 population).

Between 2004 and 2014, 231 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were diagnosed with HIV. In 2013, the rate of newly diagnosed HIV infections was greater in the indigenous population (5.4 per 100,000) compared to the Australian-born non-indigenous population (3.9 per 100,000).

“We can’t just pretend that HIV/AIDS exists in isolation,” Stratton says. “The problem of social justice is systemic. We have to be able to leverage international human rights mechanisms so countries can be held accountable.

“We have to encourage nation states to follow the recommendations from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous People and the International Labour Organisation’s Convention 169, which talks of how to engage indigenous people,” he concludes.

IIWGHA has been working at increasing knowledge and addressing the entrenched stigma of HIV and AIDS within indigenous communities and supporting indigenous-directed research and awareness initiatives.

Its mandate and strategic plan are based on the 2006 ‘Toronto Charter: Indigenous People’s Action Plan’ that acknowledges the right of indigenous peoples to autonomy, social justice and human rights.

Doris Peltier, Aboriginal Women and Leadership Coordinator with CAAN, has been working with women living way below the poverty line, some of whom had their children taken away when they were diagnosed with HIV.

Diagnosed with AIDS at the age of 44 while actively using drugs in Toronto, Peltier believes systemic issues – such as the fear of losing one’s child to the authorities – act as barriers preventing people from discussing their condition.

“A social system that is supposed to be there to support women is actually the one that is putting barriers up for the women,” Peltier tells IPS.

When she decided to go home and reconnect with her family and her First Nations community in Wikwemikong, Ontario, some supported her but others remained reluctant to embrace her.

People wouldn’t let her use their dishes and asked her to clean the toilet after use.

“Soon rumours began to circulate and one of the words being used to talk about me was ‘Wiinaapineh’ (dirty disease). I stood my ground and became better with medication, and my family’s support and encouragement,” Peltier says.

“People have to know that there is help available, there is treatment and prevention and that they can have a good quality life,” concludes Peltier, who is today a great-grandmother.

For her, one of the key responses to high rates impacting indigenous women is to empower them to tap into their inner strength and resilience, and break the code of silence to speak up about HIV/AIDS

(END)

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Zimbabwe’s Unfolding Humanitarian Disaster – We Visit the 18,000 People Forcibly Relocated to Ruling Party Farmhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/zimbabwes-unfolding-humanitarian-disaster-we-visit-the-18000-forcibly-relocated-to-ruling-party-farm/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-unfolding-humanitarian-disaster-we-visit-the-18000-forcibly-relocated-to-ruling-party-farm http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/zimbabwes-unfolding-humanitarian-disaster-we-visit-the-18000-forcibly-relocated-to-ruling-party-farm/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 21:21:09 +0000 Davison Mudzingwa and Francis Hweshe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135171 More than 18,000 people live in the Chingwizi transit camp in Mwenezi district, about 150 kms from their former homes in Chivi basin as they wait to be allocated one-hectare plots of land by the government. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

More than 18,000 people live in the Chingwizi transit camp in Mwenezi district, about 150 kms from their former homes in Chivi basin as they wait to be allocated one-hectare plots of land by the government. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

By Davison Mudzingwa and Francis Hweshe
MASVINGO, Zimbabwe, Jun 25 2014 (IPS)

As the villagers sit around the flickering fire on a pitch-black night lit only by the blurry moon, they speak, recounting how it all began.

They take turns, sometimes talking over each other to have their own experiences heard. When the old man speaks, everyone listens. “It was my first time riding a helicopter,” John Moyo* remembers.

“The soldiers came, clutching guns, forcing everyone to move. I tried to resist, for my home was not affected but they wouldn’t hear any of it.”

So started the long, painful and disorienting journey for the 70-year-old Moyo and almost 18,000 other people who had lived in the 50-kilometre radius of Chivi basin in Zimbabwe’s Masvingo province.“We don’t want this life of getting fed like birds.” -- John Moyo, displaced villager from Chivi basin

When heavy rains pounded the area in early January, the 1.8 billion cubic metre Tokwe-Mukosi dam’s wall breached.

Flooding followed, destroying homes and livestock. The government, with the help of non-governmental organisations, embarked on a rescue mission. And even unaffected homes in high-lying areas were evacuated by soldiers.

According to Moyo, whose home was not affected, this was an opportunity for the government, which had been trying to relocate those living near Chivi basin for sometime.

“They always said they wanted to establish an irrigation system and a game park in the area that covered our ancestral homes,” he tells IPS.

For Itai Mazanhi*, a 33-year-old father of three, the government had the best excuse to remove them from the land that he had known since birth.

“The graves of my forefathers are in that place,” he tells IPS. Mazanhi is from Gororo village.

After being temporarily housed in the nearby safe areas of Gunikuni and Ngundu in Masvingo province, the over 18,000 people or 3,000 families were transferred to Nuanetsi Ranch in the Chingwizi area of Mwenezi district, about 150 kms from their former homes.


 Chingwizi is an arid terrain near Triangle Estates, an irrigation sugar plantation concern owned by sugar giant Tongaat Hulett. The land here is conspicuous for the mopane and giant baobab trees that are synonymous with hot, dry conditions.

The crop and livestock farmers from Chivi basin have been forced to adjust in a land that lacks the natural fertility of their former land, water and adequate pastures for their livestock.

The dust road to the Chingwizi camp is a laborious 40-minute drive littered with sharp bumps and lurking roadside trenches.

From the top of an anthill, a vantage point at the entrance of this settlement reveals a rolling pattern of tents and zinc makeshift structures that stretch beyond the sight of the naked eye. At night, fires flicker faintly in the distance, and a cacophony of voices mix with the music from solar- and battery-powered radio sets. It’s the image of a war refugee relief camp.

A concern for the displaced families is the fact that they were settled in an area earmarked for a proposed biofuel project. The project is set to be driven by the Zimbabwe Bio-Energy company, a partnership between the Zimbabwe Development Trust and private investors. The state-owned Herald newspaper quoted the project director Charles Madonko saying resettled families could become sugarcane out-growers for the ethanol project.

This plan was subject to scathing attack from rights watchdog Human Rights Watch. In a report released last month, the organisation viewed this as a cheap labour ploy.

“The Zimbabwean army relocated 3,000 families from the flooded Tokwe-Mukorsi dam basin to a camp on a sugar cane farm and ethanol project jointly owned by the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front [ZANU-PF] and Billy Rautenbach, a businessman and party supporter,” read part of the report.

Sugar cane fields like this one in Chisumbanje are planned to feed the ethanol project in Mwenezi district. The displaced villagers from Chivi basin fear they will be used as cheap labourers. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

Sugar cane fields like this one in Chisumbanje are planned to feed the ethanol project in Mwenezi district. The displaced villagers from Chivi basin fear they will be used as cheap labourers. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

The sugarcane plantations will be irrigated by the water from the Tokwe-Mukosi dam. Upon completion, the dam is set to become Zimbabwe’s largest inland dam, with a capacity to irrigate over 25,000 hectares.

Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development, COTRAD, a non-governmental organisation that operates in the Masvingo province sees the displacement of the 3,000 families as a brutal retrogression. The organisation says ordinary people are at the mercy of private companies and the government.

“The people feel like outcasts, they no longer feel like Zimbabweans,” Zivanai Muzorodzi, COTRAD programme manager, tells IPS.

Muzorodzi, whose organisation has been monitoring the land tussle before the floods, says the land surrounding the Tokwe-Mukosi dam basin was bought by individuals, mostly from the ruling ZANU-PF party.

“Villagers won’t own the land or the means of production. Only ZANU-PF bigwigs will benefit,” Muzorodzi says.

The scale of the habitats has posed serious challenges for the cash-strapped government of Zimbabwe. Humanitarian organisations such as Oxfam International and Care International have injected basic services such clean water through water bowsers and makeshift toilets.

“It’s not safe at all, it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” a Zimbabwe Ministry of Local Government official stationed at the camp and who preferred anonymity tells IPS. “The latrines you see here are only one metre deep. An outbreak of a contagious disease would spread fast.”

Tendai Zingwe fears her child might contract diarrhoea due to poor sanitation conditions in Chingwizi camp. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

Tendai Zingwe fears her child might contract diarrhoea due to poor sanitation conditions in Chingwizi camp. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

Similar fears stalk Spiwe Chando*, a mother of four. The 23-year-old speaks as she sorts her belongings scattered in small blue tent in which an adult cannot sleep fully stretched out. “I fear for my child because another family lost a child due to diarrhoea last week. This can happen to anyone,” she tells IPS, sweating from the heat inside the tent. “I hope we will move from this place soon and get proper land to restart our lives.”

This issue has posed tensions at this over-populated camp. Meetings, rumour and conjecture circulate each day. Across the camp, frustrations are progressively building up. As a result, a ministerial delegation got a hostile reception during a visit last month. The displaced farmers accuse the government of deception and reneging on its promises of land allocation and compensation.

Children stampede for reading material at the Chingwizi transit camp. Most of the kids had their schooling disrupted due to the displacement. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

Children stampede for reading material at the Chingwizi transit camp. Most of the kids had their schooling disrupted due to the displacement. Credit: Davison Mudzingwa/IPS

The government has promised to allocate one hectare of land per family, at a location about 17 kms from this transit camp. This falls far short of what these families own in Chivi basin. Some of them, like Mazanhi, owned about 10 hectares. The land was able to produce enough food for their sustenance and a surplus, which was sold to finance their children’s education and healthcare.

Mazanhi is one of the few people who has already received compensation from the government. Of the agreed compensation of 3,000 dollars, he has only received 900 dollars and is not certain if he will ever be paid the remainder of what he was promised. “There is a lot of corruption going on in that office,” he tells IPS.

COTRAD says the fact that ordinary villagers are secondary beneficiaries of the land and water that once belonged to them communally is an indication of a resource grabbing trend that further widens the gap of inequality.

“People no longer have land, access to water, healthcare and children are learning under trees.”

For Moyo, daily realities at the transit camp and a hazy future is both a painful reminder of a life gone by and a sign of “the next generation of dispossession.” However, he hopes for a better future.

“We don’t want this life of getting fed like birds,” says Moyo.

*Names altered for security reasons.

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Chile Vows to Dispel Lingering Shadow of Dictatorshiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/chile-vows-to-dispel-lingering-shadow-of-dictatorship/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chile-vows-to-dispel-lingering-shadow-of-dictatorship http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/chile-vows-to-dispel-lingering-shadow-of-dictatorship/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 21:55:44 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135165 Catalina Marileo and Luis Aillapán, a Mapuche husband and wife in front of their home in Puerto Saavedra, in the central Chilean region of La Araucanía. In 2002 they and other relatives protested against military personnel preparing to build a highway on their land. They were prosecuted and tried under the anti-terrorism law and ultimately acquitted. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Catalina Marileo and Luis Aillapán, a Mapuche husband and wife in front of their home in Puerto Saavedra, in the central Chilean region of La Araucanía. In 2002 they and other relatives protested against military personnel preparing to build a highway on their land. They were prosecuted and tried under the anti-terrorism law and ultimately acquitted. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jun 24 2014 (IPS)

Chile has made a commitment to the international community to improve human rights in the country and erase the lingering shadow of the dictatorship on civil liberties.Making progress on women’s sexual and reproductive rights, reforming the controversial anti-terrorism law, guaranteeing the human rights of indigenous peoples and universal access to education and health are among the promises Chile made to the United Nations in June.

“We see that Chile is constantly taking steps toward the fulfilment of its obligations,” Amerigo Incalcaterra, the regional representative for South America of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told IPS.

On Jun. 19 the country underwent its Universal Periodic Review, a mechanism overseen by the U.N. Human Rights Council, for the second time in 2014.

At its appearance before the Council in Geneva, Switzerland, the Chilean government formally accepted 180 of the 185 recommendations made by the 84 member states, and turned down five.

Chile is one of the most conservative countries in Latin America, and is one of just six nations in the world where abortion is banned under any circumstances. Divorce was only approved in 2004, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community is still fighting for legal recognition of same-sex couples.

Education and health are deeply stratified, generating a spiral of inequality that this country of over 17 million people is clamouring to see reversed.

Native peoples like the Mapuche lack constitutional recognition in Chile and have engaged in confrontation with the authorities and powers-that-be for decades, seeking restitution of ancestral lands that were taken from them.

The Human Rights Council’s recommendations were addressed earlier this year by the rightwing government of President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014), only weeks before he left office in March.

Piñera accepted 142 recommendations, rejected 13 and “took note of” another 30, which he said he could not commit to fulfilling because they depended on securing congressional approval.

“‘Taking note of’ these recommendations was a new departure in international law because recommendations must be accepted or rejected,” Paula Salvo, principal lawyer for the National Human Rights Institute (INDH) which took part in the session in Geneva, told IPS.

On May 30, the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet sent a written “correction” to the earlier report, in which she accepted 180 recommendations and rejected five.

Among the five not accepted were two from the Vatican, on the rights of the human person from conception and the protection of traditional family identity, and another on Bolivia’s right to an outlet to the Pacific ocean.

According to Incalcaterra, Bachelet viewed many of the recommendations rejected by her predecessor as a part of her government programme, including the decriminalisation of therapeutic abortions in the case of foetal inviability, danger to the life of the mother and rape.

A bill to allow termination of pregnancy in these cases will be debated in parliament in the second half of this year.

Incalcaterra, whose regional headquarters are in Santiago, said that the U.N. recognises that abortion is “a complex, health-related issue”, while the Human Rights Council asks states to legislate for “at least these three cases” of abortion.

As well as legalising therapeutic abortions, the government promised to reform other laws inherited from the 1973-1990 Augusto Pinochet dictatorship, like the anti-terrorism law, which is enforced virtually exclusively against alleged offences by Mapuche indigenous people in their struggle to reclaim their traditional lands.

This law imposes high penalties, dual trials by civilian and military courts and “faceless” witnesses, among other anomalies. The government promised not to use the law against Mapuche people and to respect their human rights.

Another remnant of the dictatorship that still endures 24 years after the return of democracy is that any case involving military personnel, whether as victims or accused, can be tried in military courts. Under the promised reform, military personnel accused of common crimes will be tried in civilian courts and in future no civilian will ever be tried in a military court.

Hernando Silva, a researcher for Observatorio Ciudadano (Citizen Observatory), told IPS that his organisation is pleased that the state has accepted these recommendations, and is hoping that “they are implemented once and for all, and not just recognised.”

“It is not the first time that Chile commits itself to legislate about military courts or the anti-terrorism law” without anything happening to bring it about, he said.

“Bachelet herself  promised to stop enforcing the anti-terrorism law against the Mapuche people during her first term (2006-2010), but did not deliver,” he added.

Silva stressed that “this time, she needs to fully live up to her human rights obligations.”

Incalcaterra said that there is no legal compulsion to fulfil the Human Rights Council’s recommendations, but he pointed out that “all work done at the international level is based on good faith.”

“When you undergo this exercise, in dialogue with other states, and you agree to recognise the recommendations as appropriate, obviously you have to go back in four years’ time and report on what you have done,” he said.

The goal of the Universal Periodic Review, he said, is to promote the human rights of all people living in a country.

“We should see it as additional support to help states to establish public policies, improve their legislation where necessary, create institutions if they are lacking, devote resources, collect statistics and analyse them, organise campaigns, etcetera,” he said.

Chile’s fulfilment of its commitments will be reviewed in four years’ time.

The INDH has a role as the state supervisory institution and in its view there are urgent needs, such as the ratification of certain international human rights treaties.

A government human rights agency, a national plan and more human rights education are also needed.

For the many victims of the dictatorship who have not received reparations, the INDH believes a permanent assessment agency should be established for pending cases, and legal and social advice should be made available to torture victims.

INDH lawyer Salvo told IPS that “the government must create a permanent review mechanism for the U.N. recommendations,” because from now on “the challenge is internal.”

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EU Aims to Scuttle Treaty on Human Rights Abuseshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/eu-aims-to-scuttle-treaty-on-human-rights-abuses/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-aims-to-scuttle-treaty-on-human-rights-abuses http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/eu-aims-to-scuttle-treaty-on-human-rights-abuses/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 19:31:21 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135162 A child labours at a sweatshop in India. Credit: photo stock

A child labours at a sweatshop in India. Credit: photo stock

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 24 2014 (IPS)

When the United Nations began negotiating a Code of Conduct for Transnational Corporations (TNCs) back in the 1970s, the proposal never got off the ground because of vigourous opposition both from the powerful business community and its Western allies.

But a move to resurrect this proposal – through the creation of a new international legally-binding treaty to hold TNCs accountable for human rights abuses – has been gathering momentum at the current session of the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, which concludes Friday."Corporate actors have been extremely successful in implementing public relations strategies that have helped to present business enterprises as good corporate citizens." -- Jens Martens

Still, it has triggered the same political replay of the 1970s: strong opposition from business interests and Western nations, this time specifically the 28-member European Union (EU).

Jens Martens, director of the Global Policy Forum Europe, told IPS there is a heated debate in the UNHRC about establishing an intergovernmental working group to negotiate the proposed legally binding instrument on TNCs.

“So, the current discussion is not about the substance of a code of conduct or treaty but on the process,” he added.

There are currently two draft resolutions tabled at the UNHRC session in Geneva: one sponsored by Ecuador and South Africa asking the UNHRC to establish an intergovernmental working group: a proposal supported by developing nations of the Group of 77 (G77) and a coalition of more than 500 non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

A second draft resolution, sponsored by Norway, Russia, Argentina and Ghana, supports the existing working group on business and human rights and asks for extending its mandate by another three years: a draft also supported, among others, by the United States and the EU.

Martens, who co-authored a recent study on “Corporate Influence on the Business and Human Rights Agenda of the United Nations,” said “corporate actors have been extremely successful in implementing public relations strategies that have helped to present business enterprises as good corporate citizens.”

He said they have also given the impression of “seeking dialogue with governments, the United Nations and decent concerned stakeholders, and able to implement environment, social and human rights standards through voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives.”

Martens said the U.N.’s much-ballyhooed Global Compact and the U.N.’s Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights became prime examples of an allegedly pragmatic approach based on consensus, dialogue and partnership with the corporate sector in contrast to regulatory approaches to hold corporations accountable.

Alberto Villarreal, trade and investment campaigner at Friends of the Earth Uruguay, told IPS that by recognising environmental activism in all its expressions as a legitimate defence of human rights, “we can contribute to the struggle of environmental rights defenders and keep them safe.”

The London-based Global Exchange, an international human rights organisation, has put out a list of the “top 10 corporate criminals”, accusing them of being complicit in violations of human rights and the environment.

The companies identified include Shell/Royal Dutch Petroleum, Nike, Blackwater International, Syngenta, Barrick Gold and Nestle.

The charges include unlivable working conditions for factory workers, lack of worker’s rights, pollution, child labour, toxic dumping, unfair labour practices, discrimination, and destruction of indigenous lands for mining and oil exploration.

Anne van Schaik, accountable finance campaigner at Friends of the Earth Europe, said many countries support tabling a resolution for a binding treaty, but the EU has warned that if it gets adopted it will refuse to discuss it.

“The EU is therefore effectively boycotting the UNHRC and standing up for corporate interests instead of human rights,” she added.

Asked if there would be a decision at the current UNHRC session, Schaik told IPS, “We are unsure if this issue will be resolved on Friday.”

She said the EU’s “very obstructive approach” means it will not participate in the intergovernmental process of creating a treaty if the resolution is in fact adopted, “thereby effectively undermining the democratic decision-making process at the United Nations.”

Schaik said the Norwegian resolution states there should be a discussion on the issue of access to remedy, judicial and non-judicial, for victims of business-related human rights abuses on the agenda of the Forum of Businesses and Human Rights.

Effectively that means that at this week’s session, there will be a discussion, but there are no consequences or follow-up plans for what happens after that, she added.

Schaik said Ecuador proposes to “establish an open-ended intergovernmental working group with the mandate to elaborate an international legally binding instrument on Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises with respect to human rights.”

This means there will be a new instrument which will state obligations for transnational companies, which is obviously much more far reaching than a discussion at a forum at the United Nations, she said.

The study on the human rights treaty, co-authored by Martens, focuses specifically on the responses by TNCs and their leading interest groups to the various U.N. initiatives, specifies the key actors and their objectives. It also highlights the interplay between business demands and the evolution of the regulatory debates at the United Nations.

The study provides an indication of the degree of influence that corporate actors exert and their ability, in cooperation with some powerful U.N. member states, to prevent international binding rules for TNCs at the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders has urged the UNHRC to promote the adoption of clear and binding rules on online surveillance and censorship.

“Businesses sell technology to authoritarian regimes that allows them to carry out large-scale online surveillance of their population,” the group said.

In a statement released this week, the Paris-based organisation said this technology has been, and still is, used in Libya, Egypt, Morocco and Ethiopia to arrest, imprison and torture.

The companies that provide this technology cannot claim to be unaware of this, it added.

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Nicaragua’s Mayagna People and Their Rainforest Could Vanishhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/nicaraguas-mayagna-people-and-their-rainforest-could-vanish/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-mayagna-people-and-their-rainforest-could-vanish http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/nicaraguas-mayagna-people-and-their-rainforest-could-vanish/#comments Thu, 19 Jun 2014 21:51:33 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135089 Troops from the special military battalion set up to protect Nicaragua’s forests confiscate an ilegal shipment of logs in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve. Credit: José Garth Medina/IPS

Troops from the special military battalion set up to protect Nicaragua’s forests confiscate an ilegal shipment of logs in the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve. Credit: José Garth Medina/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Jun 19 2014 (IPS)

More than 30,000 members of the Mayagna indigenous community are in danger of disappearing, along with the rainforest which is their home in Nicaragua, if the state fails to take immediate action to curb the destruction of the Bosawas Biosphere Reserve, the largest forest reserve in Central America and the third-largest in the world.

Arisio Genaro, president of the Mayagna nation, travelled over 300 km from his community on the outskirts of the reserve in May to protest in Managua that the area where his people have lived for centuries is being invaded and destroyed by settlers from the country’s Pacific coastal and central regions.

In early June, Genaro returned to the capital to participate in several academic activities aimed at raising awareness on the environment among university students in Managua and to protest to whoever would listen that their ancestral territory is being destroyed by farmers determined to expand the agricultural frontier by invading the protected area, which covers 21,000 sq km.

The Mayagna chief told Tierramérica that in 1987 the nucleus of what is now the biosphere reserve had a total area of 1,170,210 hectares of virgin forest and an estimated population of fewer than 7,000 indigenous people.

In 1997, when it was declared a Word Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the reserve covered more than two million hectares of tropical rainforest, including the buffer zone.

By 2010, when the indigenous people living in the reserve numbered around 25,000, the jungle area had been reduced to 832,237 hectares, according to figures cited by Genaro. The presence of non-indigenous settlers within the borders of the reserve had climbed from an estimated 5,000 in 1990 to over 40,000 in 2013.

“The y are burning everything, to plant crops. They cut down forests to raise cattle, they log the big trees to sell the wood, they shoot the animals and dry up riverbeds to put in roads,” Genaro told Tierramérica.

Antonia Gámez, a 66-year-old Mayagna chief, also made the trek from her community to speak out in towns and cities along the Pacific coast about the situation faced by her people in Bosawas, whose name comes from the first syllables of the main geographical features that delimit the reserve: the Bocay river, the Salaya mountain, and the Waspuk river.

“All of our families used to live on what nature provides; the forest is our home and our father, it has given us food, water and shelter,” she told Tierramérica in her native tongue, with the help of an interpreter. “Now the youngest ones are looking for work on the new farms created where there was once forest, and the oldest of us don’t have anywhere to go, because everything is disappearing.”

Gámez said that in the forest, her people planted grains and grew and harvested fruit, and hunted what they needed for food with bows and arrows. She added that there were abundant crabs and fish in the rivers and wild boars, tapirs and deer in the forests.

“Now the animals have gone. With each bang from a gun or mountain that is cleared, they either die or move deeper into the jungle. There aren’t many left to hunt,” she complained on her visit to Managua.

Part of the reserve is also inhabited by Miskitos, the largest indigenous group in this Central American country, where by law native people have the right to collectively own and use the lands where they live.

The complaints by the indigenous people were corroborated by Tierramérica in conversations with independent academics and activists as well as government officials.

Anthropologist Esther Melba McLean with the Atlantic Coast Centre for Research and Development at the Bluefields Indian and Caribbean University has led studies that warn that if the invasion by outsiders and destruction of the forest are not brought to a halt, both the Mayagna people and the native flora and fauna of Bosawas could disappear in two decades.

“The destruction of the forest would mean more than the end of an ethnic group; it would mean the end of the site where 10 percent of the world’s biodiversity is found,” she told Tierramérica.

The reserve is home to endemic species like the Nototriton saslaya salamander and the crested eagle, which are listed as endangered by local environmental organisations that point out that there are still many species that have not even been documented.

According to environmentalist Jaime Incer, an adviser on environmental affairs to the office of the president, if the destruction of the indigenous territory continues, “in less than 25 years the jungle will have completely disappeared.”

A study published in 2012 by the German development cooperation agency, GIZ, Nicaragua’s National Union of Agricultural and Livestock Producers (UNAG), the European Union and the international development organisation Oxfam warned that it would take 24 years to lose the forest in Bosawas and 13 years to lose the buffer zone around the reserve, at the current rate of deforestation.

Incer told Tierramérica that in response to the indigenous community’s complaints and the backing they have received from environmentalists, the administration of President Daniel Ortega, who has governed since 2007, has begun to take measures against the destruction of the forest. “But they have been insufficient,” he acknowledged.

Ortega ordered the creation of a military battalion of more than 700 troops to guard the country’s forests and nature reserves. The government also organised a committee of national authorities aimed at coordinating actions and applying a zero tolerance approach towards people and organisations accused of destroying the environment.

Alberto Mercado, the technical coordinator of Bosawas in the Ministry of the Environment and Natural Resources, said at the Central American University in Managua on Jun. 10 that the government has been carrying out actions to curb the destruction of the reserve.

He said the authorities had removed dozens of non-indigenous families from the nucleus of the reserve, and that they had brought people to trial who were dedicated to illegally selling land in Bosawas.

Mercado said dozens of lawyers have been investigated and suspended for allowing sales transactions involving indigenous property. In addition, he said, the authorities have been combating trafficking in local fauna and flora.

“But the struggle is huge…traffickers identify the ‘blind spots’ and that’s where they make their incursions into indigenous territory, fence it in, claim it is theirs, and that’s how the trafficking of land starts,” the official said, sounding discouraged.

The complaints of the indigenous community have gone beyond national borders, and have reached international human rights organisations. The non-governmental Nicaraguan Human Rights Centre also filed a complaint with the Organisation of American States (OAS).

Vilma Núñez, director of the Human Rights Centre, told Tierramérica that she had denounced the situation faced by the Mayagna people during the 44th OAS General Assembly, whose main theme was “development with social inclusion”, held Jun. 3-5 in Asunción, Paraguay.

“The state and the government should guarantee the right of the Mayagna and all indigenous people in this country to live on their own land, and defend them from extermination,” Núñez said.

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Quest for Self-Determination Continues in New Caledoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/quest-for-self-determination-continues-in-new-caledonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=quest-for-self-determination-continues-in-new-caledonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/quest-for-self-determination-continues-in-new-caledonia/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 12:45:45 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134874 By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Jun 9 2014 (IPS)

Since the French overseas territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific was reinstated on the United Nations Decolonisation List in 1986, the indigenous Kanak people have struggled not only against socio-economic disadvantages, but also for the right to determine their political future after more than a century of colonialism.

Housing, education, unemployment and indigenous inequality were dominant campaign issues for candidates in favour of self-determination during elections held last month.

Polling results showed a political gain for the increasingly united pro-independence movement. Still, the indigenous Kanak community faces serious challenges ahead, with a loyalist majority congress set to oversee a referendum on full self-governance within the next five years.

“The only chance for independence to succeed [...] is for moderate pro-independence leaders to consciously court other communities by effectively proposing an inclusive political project." -- Daryl Morini, head of the Centre for a Common Destiny
Victor Tutugoro, an indigenous leader and spokesperson for the Kanak and Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS), which joined four other political parties to campaign in the pro-French south of the country and saw their representation increase from four to seven seats, is positive about the outcome.

“We rose against an anti-independence right, which is divided,” Tutugoro told IPS. “New generations, less marked by the colonial era, are more open to Caledonian sovereignty.”

Polling on May 11 in territorial and provincial elections, which are held every five years, saw candidates in favour of self-determination secure 25 of a total of 54 seats in the territorial congress, two more than in the previous 2009 election.

The remaining 29 seats were taken by the French loyalist camp, dominated by the Caledonia Together Party led by Philippe Gomès, who migrated from Algeria as a youth. Concerns for those who do not want to sever ties with Europe include the potential impact on the economy, given that France’s funding of infrastructure and public services amounts to 15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP).

Daryl Morini, head of the West Caledonian think tank known as the Centre for a Common Destiny, told IPS, “The result was no surprise to anyone and only reaffirmed the demographic and political paradox which has characterised New Caledonian politics for a long time.”

Forty percent of the roughly 258,000 people who live here are indigenous and 29 percent are European, while other communities account for the remaining 31 percent of the population.

While “allegiance for or against independence cuts across ethnic lines … the overwhelming majority of New Caledonians, made up of all other [non-Kanak] ethnic groups, are opposed to independence,” Morini told IPS.

For years the Kanak people have struggled for better education and employment outcomes. A mere 10 percent of students in higher education are indigenous, while 60 percent are European.

The situation is exacerbated by rural-urban inequality. Infrastructure, services and economic opportunities are concentrated in the Southern province, which includes the capital, Noumea, while the rural Northern and Islands provinces, where the Kanak population is dominant, are less developed.

Indigenous activism, triggered by land dispossession and socioeconomic hardship, culminated in violent unrest in the late 1980s. In 1988, the Matignon Accord formalised an agreement to address issues of indigenous disparity. However, the first referendum on independence was widely boycotted by Kanaks, resulting in a 90 percent vote to retain French governance.

Moves toward greater autonomy in the Pacific Islands territory began with the 1998 Noumea Accord, which promoted the idea of shared sovereignty. It officially endorsed Kanak identity and the formation of a Customary Senate, an assembly of traditional leaders to be consulted on issues impacting indigenous people. The treaty also outlined plans for partial devolution of powers, such as taxation, health and foreign trade, and a provision for a further referendum on independence by 2018.

Despite gains in this year’s election, concerns about irregularities on the electoral roll remain. Last year a major dispute emerged over territorial elections, since only people living in New Caledonia prior to 1988, the year of the Matignon Peace Accord, were allowed to cast their ballot.

FLNKS claimed that 6,700 people who had moved to the territory after this date were incorrectly on the list, while 2,000 legitimate Kanaks were excluded.

Earlier this year the French government sent a legal delegation to investigate, as did the United Nations in March, but the issues were not resolved.

“Many Kanak and other citizens were unable to vote because they were removed from the special list, even parents were removed while their children were able to vote,” Tutugoro said. “This situation significantly impacted abstention and we are currently examining the possibility of an action for annulment of the provincial election in the Southern province given the … many irregularities.”

Regional support for independence

New Caledonia is a representative democracy and possesses 25 percent of the world’s nickel reserves. However, 21 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and unemployment stands at 14 percent. Ninety-five percent of those who are unemployed are Kanak.

During the past 15 years, the Melanesian Spearhead Group (MSG), an inter-governmental organisation of the southwest Pacific Island states of Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, represented by FLNKS, has demonstrated solidarity with Kanak aspirations. Last year, FLNKS, under Tutugoro’s leadership, was elected Chair of the MSG until 2015.

Tutugoro claims, “Registration of New Caledonia on the U.N. list of territories to be decolonised was due to their [MSG’s] support,” adding, “since 2010 several expert missions monitoring the implementation of the Noumea Accord were either initiated by the MSG, or led by the MSG on behalf of the U.N.”

Two major concerns for the pro-independence movement, ahead of the next referendum, are the impact of inward migration, which has contributed to an increasing Kanak minority, and the territory’s economic dependence on France.

But Tutugoro believes policies supporting greater equality under the Matignon and Noumea Accords “will help to reverse election results in the coming years.”

Morini acknowledged that “there was once a clear French policy of encouraging immigration to New Caledonia to populate the country,” but said the introduction of restricted voting rights had diminished the impact on election outcomes.

“The only chance for independence to succeed, in my view, is for moderate pro-independence leaders to consciously court other communities by effectively proposing an inclusive political project,” he suggested.

An inclusive vision, which for many in the Kanak community means recognising indigenous rights to shape and influence New Caledonia’s future, will be key to any new political arrangement.

(END)

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When Nature Gets a Price Taghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/when-nature-gets-a-price-tag/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-nature-gets-a-price-tag http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/when-nature-gets-a-price-tag/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 11:50:42 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134860 A carpenter organises a load of mahogany seized by authorities in the Ciénaga de Zapata wetlands. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A carpenter organises a load of mahogany seized by authorities in the Ciénaga de Zapata wetlands. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Jun 9 2014 (IPS)

How much does a forest cost? What’s the true economic value of an ocean? Can you pay for an alpine forest or a glacial meadow? And – more importantly – will such calculus save the planet, or subordinate a rapidly collapsing natural world to market forces?

On the last day of its World Summit of Legislators in Mexico City, the Global Legislators Organisation (or GLOBE International) released a landmark study Sunday on natural capital accounting, the first comprehensive report that compiles legal and policy efforts in 21 countries to calculate the monetary value of natural resources.

Defining ‘natural capital’ as encompassing everything from ecosystems and solar energy to mineral deposits and fossil fuels, the study recognises the highly degrading impact of human activity on the environment and underscores the “urgent need to develop effective methods and measures for natural capital accounting and to embed these within relevant legal and policy frameworks.”

“[T]he currency of life is life, not money.” – Vandana Shiva, director of the Research Foundation on Science, Technology, and Ecology
“The report was conceived very much as a North-South learning partnership,” said lead science author Ben Milligan, a research fellow at the Centre for Law and Environment at the University College London (UCL).

“Equal voice was given to all inputs,” he told IPS, whether they came from the GLOBE International Secretariat or any of the 21 national stakeholders of the featured countries, which include five Asian nations, three European countries, seven African states and six case studies from the Americas.

What the authors found, according to Milligan, was a groundswell of political support for attempts to “recognise the fact that, in addition to nature’s important cultural, spiritual and aesthetic values, it also provides essential goods and services for our well-being and economic existence.”

The purpose of the study, he added, was to “provide a document that supported efforts in these countries to effect positive change.”

Indeed, some of the findings from the report are staggering. In Peru, for instance, where the focus of natural capital accounts is linked to economic valuation, the Ministry of Environment (MINAM) found that “the total value of selected ecosystem services in 2009 amount to 15.3 billion dollars.”

Broken down, this worked out to some 2.5 billion dollars from water and energy, eight billion from agriculture, forestry and livestock and 864 million from fisheries, while natural capital-based exports brought in nine million dollars in 2009.

“The vulnerability of ecosystems is of particular concern as ecosystem services are the productive base for industries such as fisheries, agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and pharmaceuticals,” the report noted, adding that the government already utilises various tools to measure the health of the natural environment, including an annual State of the Environment report produced by the National System for Environmental Information.

Earth Democracy

According to the GLOBE study, India comprises just 2.4 percent of the planet’s land area but supports seven or eight percent of its animal and plant species. Additionally, it counts itself among the world’s 17 ‘mega-diverse’ countries, boasting three global biodiversity hotspots and a high rate of species endemism.

Referring to the work of Navdanya, an organisation meaning ‘nine seeds’ that grew out of the Research Foundation on Science, Technology and Ecology, Shiva pointed to the many efforts underway in India to conserve the natural world without resorting to the language of money.

Made up of seed savers and organic produces in over 17 states, Navdanya has established 111 community seed banks, trained some 500,000 Indian farmers in sustainable agriculture and created the country’s largest fair trade organic network.

“If the globalised system based on commodities and financialisation shrinks a community’s social and ecological base, Navdanya’s work increases and enhances it,” she told IPS.

Operating around the concept of Earth Democracy, Navdanya offers farmers an alternative to the cash crop system that has led to a wave of suicides unparalleled in human history.

“Earth Democracy means no system can be reduced to a simple function or a ‘good’ to be traded on the global market,” Shiva said.

“It’s like the people who are waking up to the fact that soils absorb carbon, and want to reduce that function to a carbon-trade equation, without realising that soil is not just carbon, it is phosphorous, it is magnesium, it is many other things that cannot be assigned a simple monetary value.”
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where the government is struggling to access standardised data on the economic value of natural capital, this much is known: that an extensive network of lakes and rivers covers 3.5 percent of the country’s total area; that forests cover 60 percent of DRC’s total land area (including over 700 identified species of trees); and that the forestry sector accounts for two percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).

The Central Bank estimates that extractive industries contributed 45 percent of GDP in 2010, with the mining sector alone accounting for nearly 34 percent.

Keeping these statistics in mind, the government is now in the process of strengthening the sector’s legal and regulatory framework, conducting geological and mining research to expand its knowledge repository of the soil and subsoil, and performing environmental assessments of the impact of mining.

“We can’t sell life”

While proponents of natural capital accounting argue that the system will inform government behaviour and encourage the sustainable use of resources, some say that calculating ‘natural wealth’ is one step away from the complete commodification of the planet’s bounty.

“Evaluation of nature’s ecological services and functions can cut both ways,” Vandana Shiva, author, environmentalists and founder of the Research Foundation on Science, Technology, and Ecology in India, told IPS.

Understanding the value of stable and healthy ecosystems for local communities is “necessary and good,” she said. “But the minute you take a complex system with multiple functions and reduce it to a single function that can be appropriated and traded, you are already doing it wrong. After all, the currency of life is life, not money.”

Shiva pointed to the People’s Summit that took place alongside high-level negotiations at the 2012 environmental conference in Brazil (dubbed ‘Rio+20’), during which activists, indigenous groups and scientists rejected the idea of a green economy based on the financialisation of ecological services, fearing that such a scheme would ignore the root causes of environmental destruction.

The northern Indian state of Uttarakhand provides a stark example of this debate, since it recently became the first state in India to begin calculating its gross environmental product (GNP).

With its lush valleys and alpine meadows, this Himalayan state is one of the greenest in the country, retaining nearly 60 percent forest cover despite determined efforts to clear the land for development.

According to the GLOBE study, various reports have valued the land here at roughly five to seven billion dollars per annum. In a bid to ease restrictions on development, the Central Government now offers Uttarakhand a ‘green bonus’ of 0.3 billion dollars a year in exchange for its rich land.

Shiva says such a ‘bonus’ simply serves to distract from the more pressing issues of deforestation and glacial melting in Uttarakhand, which led to deadly floods last year. Even the Supreme Court of India has admitted that dams and hydroelectric projects in the state, which is infamous for its destructive development, aggravated the tragic disaster.

What this clearly shows, according to Shiva, is that “valuation is good if it’s giving you a red light to destruction. When valuation turns into a price, however, it [simply] gives the green light to destroy in smarter and cleverer ways.”

Others fear that natural capital accounting will trample upon the rights of indigenous people, many of whom see themselves as the last remaining custodians of the land.

According to Hugo Blanco, leader of the Campesino Confederation of Peru (CCP), tabulating a country’s ‘natural wealth’ will do little to correct the lopsided pyramid of power that places transnational corporations at the top and indigenous people and the environment on the bottom.

“Take, as one example, the Conga Project,” Blanco told IPS, referring to the massive gold and copper mining initiative in the Cajamarca Region of northern Peru that threatens to poison the waters of 40 high-altitude lagoons, which feed some 600 aquifers and provide drinking and irrigation water to thousands of campesinos before passing into five major rivers that eventually empty into the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Even worse, Blanco says, is the impending threat of a dam that, if constructed, will flood the territories of hundreds of campesinos in order to provide electricity for the mine.

“This is an insane system,” he asserted, adding that such development projects highlight the Peruvian government’s true allegiance: not to the national laws protecting the rights of indigenous people or the environment, but to multinational corporations.

He believes Peru stands as a perfect example of the flaws inherent in a valuation system that attaches a price tag to nature.

It is one of the planet’s 10 ‘megadiverse‘ countries, according to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), and hosts the world’s highest number of fish species (over 2,000), the second highest number of bird fauna species (1,736) and  the third highest number of amphibians (322).

“It would be a great stupidity to sell this richness, no matter how many billions of dollars you get,” Blanco insisted “We can’t sell life.”

(END)

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Kiribati President Purchases ‘Worthless’ Resettlement Land as Precaution Against Rising Seahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/kiribati-president-purchases-worthless-resettlement-land-as-precaution-against-rising-sea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kiribati-president-purchases-worthless-resettlement-land-as-precaution-against-rising-sea http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/kiribati-president-purchases-worthless-resettlement-land-as-precaution-against-rising-sea/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 08:38:36 +0000 Christopher Pala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134867 Eparama Kelo, a retired teacher, said a Fiji newspaper had recently reported that the plan was to bring in 18,000 to 20,000 Kiribatis to Vanua Levu. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

Eparama Kelo, a retired teacher, said a Fiji newspaper had recently reported that the plan was to bring in 18,000 to 20,000 Kiribatis to Vanua Levu. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

By Christopher Pala
NAVIAVIA, Fiji, Jun 9 2014 (IPS)

You can count the inhabitants of this isolated, tidy village of multi-coloured houses and flower bushes among global warming’s first victims – but not in the usual sense.

They are descendants of labourers from the Solomon Islands who came to Fiji to work on the coconut plantations in the 19th century. In 1947, they were invited to move onto a large one called the Natoavatu Estate that the Anglican Church once inherited and were told they could stay there indefinitely as long as they practiced the Anglican faith.

In late May, the Church sold most of the 2331.3-hectare estate to the island nation of Kiribati, leaving the 270 villagers, who said they used 283 hectares to feed themselves, with only 125 hectares.

“We can’t live on just 300 acres [125 hectares],” said the village headman, Sade Marika.

Anote Tong, the president of Kiribati, said he bought land in Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second-largest island, so that his 103,000 people will have some high ground to go to when a rising sea makes his nation of 33 low-lying coral atolls unliveable. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

Anote Tong, the president of Kiribati, said he bought land in Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second-largest island, so that his 103,000 people will have some high ground to go to when a rising sea makes his nation of 33 low-lying coral atolls unliveable. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

Kiribati’s president, Anote Tong, said he bought the land so that his 103,000 people will have some high ground to go to when a rising sea makes his nation of 33 low-lying coral atolls unliveable.

“We would hope not to put everyone on [this] one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it,” he told the Associated Press.

For years, Tong has claimed in climate change conferences and in interviews that sea-level rise was already claiming a heavy toll on his people, eroding beaches, destroying buildings and crops, forcing the evacuation of a village and wiping out an entire island.

His views are echoed by Conservation International, a large NGO based near Washington, D.C., on whose board Tong sits. The residents of “Kiribati, where the effects of rising sea levels already are being felt, [are] on the front lines of climate change,” says its website.

In Tarawa, Kiribati’s overcrowded capital island where half the population of 103,000 lives, Tong often warns in speeches that climate change will destroy their homeland but that he is working hard to obtain compensation from the countries that caused it.

Kiribati, with a per-capita income of 1,600 dollars, receives more foreign aid per capita than any other Pacific nation.

This year, the government organised a competition for the best song on climate change. The refrain of the winning song, frequently played in English on the state radio, is “The angry sea will kill us all.”

But while Tong’s warnings of impending doom for atoll dwellers have brought him a measure of fame abroad and even a panel that nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize, in Kiribati they elicit confusion in some people and derision in others. “I don’t think he did a proper valuation. And it’s clear the government doesn’t have any idea of what it’s going to do with the property now.” -- former Kiribati president, Teburoro Tito

“A lot of people now worry about climate change,” said Tealoy Pupu, a 20-year-old student, as she lay pandanus leaves out to dry. “We just don’t know what to think.”

Tong’s predecessor as president, Teburoro Tito, had read the scientific studies on atoll dynamics. “The scientists tell us that our reefs are healthy and can grow and rise with the sea level, so there is absolutely no need to buy land in Fiji or anywhere else,” he said emphatically. “How can we ask for foreign aid when we spend our own money on such foolish things?”

“We know that the whole reef structure can grow at 10 to 15 mm a year, which is faster than the expected sea-level rise,” confirmed Paul Kench, an atoll geo-morphologist at the University of Auckland.

“As long as the reef is growing and you have an abundant supply of sand, there’s no reason reef growth can’t keep up with sea-level rise.”

Kench and others also say that sea-level rise has had no effect so far on any Pacific atoll. They say that common images of waves crashing into homes give a false impression of permanent flooding when in fact they are caused by inappropriate shoreline modifications like seawalls to protect land reclaimed from the sea or by building causeways between islands.

In Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second-largest island, where the property Tong bought is located, an examination of the sales deeds of comparable parcels revealed that Kiribati paid four times more per acre than other buyers in the last few years.

Tito, the former president, said he believed that the 8.7-million-dollar purchase had been done solely for publicity purposes to highlight Tong’s far-sightedness and how seriously he takes climate change. “I don’t think he did a proper valuation,” he said. “And it’s clear the government doesn’t have any idea of what it’s going to do with the property now.”

In his announcement of the completion of the sale, Tong said a committee would be appointed to study what should be done with the land. In a separate statement, the government said the purchase marked “a new milestone” in its “development plans, which include exploring options of commercial, industrial and agricultural undertakings such as fish canning, beef/poultry farming, fruit and vegetable farming.”

Tong, through his spokesman, Rimon Rimon, declined all comment.

Tetawa Tatai, a former health minister and a member of parliament, said he was shocked that the Church of England, which he called “one of the most trusted institutions in the world,” would “gouge one of the poorest and most isolated countries in the world.”

In an interview in Suva, Bishop Winston Hanapua, Archbishop of the Polynesian Diocese of the Anglican Church, denied that the church had taken advantage of an inexperienced buyer widely believed to be representing the world’s first climate refugees.

On the contrary, he said, “I felt good about the whole thing because Kiribati is part of my jurisdiction. We were open for any offer, and there was an offer.”

Back in Naviavia, the Solomon Islander Anglican minister, Koroi Salacieli, complained that the Church had given him no clear notion of how many Kiribatis would be coming into their midst.

He, other villagers and an outside expert agreed that the property, of which two thirds is covered by densely forested steep hills, could only support a few hundred more people.

These would need housing and lengthy training to learn how to practice Fiji’s agriculture, which involves using bullocks to plough the land. In Kiribati, there is no agriculture to speak of: rice, canned meat and fresh fish form the mainstay of the diet.

Eparama Kelo, a retired teacher, said a Fiji newspaper had recently reported that the plan was to bring in 18,000 to 20,000 Kiribatis. “What are we going to do if they come?” he asked disconsolately.

Christopher Pala is a Washington-based journalist whose trip to the Pacific was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.

 

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