Inter Press Service » Migration & Refugees http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 28 Apr 2015 01:33:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 Backlash Follows South Africa’s Xenophobic Attacks on Africanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/backlash-follows-south-africas-xenophobic-attacks-on-africans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=backlash-follows-south-africas-xenophobic-attacks-on-africans http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/backlash-follows-south-africas-xenophobic-attacks-on-africans/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 16:37:04 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140255 By Lisa Vives
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

Shocking images of South Africans beating foreign-born residents residing in Durban, Johannesburg and other parts stunned the continent which had taken a message of brotherhood from former president Nelson Mandela.

At least six people were killed, more than 5,000 displaced and shops were looted and razed in the attacks which have been building over weeks. Most of those affected were refugees and asylum seekers who were forced to leave their countries due to war and persecution, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees said.

The riots forced President Jacob Zuma to cancel a state visit to Indonesia and visit one of the camps in the Durban suburb of Chatsworth, where more than a thousand foreign nationals were sleeping in tents and relying on volunteers for food. Many were boarding buses to return to Malawi, Zimbabwe, and other home countries.

“It is not every South African who says go away, not at all. It is a very small number who say so,” Zuma said. “We want to live as sisters and brothers.”

The spark for the attacks was linked to comments by Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini at a traditional event north of KwaZulu Natal. At first he seemed to be criticising South Africans for being lazy and not wanting to plough their fields. “When foreigners look at (us), they say ‘let us exploit this nation of idiots. As I speak, you find their unsightly goods hanging all over our shops. They dirty our streets. We cannot even recognise which shop is which, there are foreigners everywhere.”

He later denied the statement until media replayed a recording of it.

Retaliation against the attacks was seen in Mozambique after a national was seen murdered on TV. South African vehicles were pelted with stones. In Nigeria, South African companies were reportedly threatened with closure. Protests were seen at various South African embassies across the continent, and several South African musicians were forced to cancel concerts abroad.

Sasol, an energy and chemical giant, evacuated 340 South Africans from Mozambique over fears for their safety. In Zambia, a privately owned radio station stopped playing South African music in protest.

An anti-xenophobic peace march organised by South African local officials took place on Apr. 16 and was well attended. Some 5,000 people including religious leaders and politicians marched in solidarity with foreign nationals. The atmosphere was mostly calm, with protesters singing solidarity songs.

Still, Jean-Pierre Lukamba, an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, feared for the worst. “They are using us as scapegoats,” he said.

“Every day, migrants are living in this fire. It’s not just attacks. It’s institutionalised xenophobia. The government must do something. Those people aren’t just mad for no reason. They want electricity, they want jobs, they want water.”

Lukamba said he’s part of an organisation trying to negotiate between the two sides. “They don’t understand the history of Africa; if they do, they would know each of us, we are one,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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In One Terrible Weekend, ISIL Beheads Christians and Hundreds Drown in a ‘Mass Grave’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-one-terrible-weekend-isil-beheads-christians-and-hundreds-drown-in-a-mass-grave/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-one-terrible-weekend-isil-beheads-christians-and-hundreds-drown-in-a-mass-grave http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-one-terrible-weekend-isil-beheads-christians-and-hundreds-drown-in-a-mass-grave/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 10:32:39 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140254 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

As Europeans debated their policies towards the leaky flotillas steaming out of Libya, carrying most to a certain death at sea, members of ISIL were streaming a video of captured Ethiopian Christians on a beach.

One group of Christians is on their knees and shot to death. Another group is beheaded. The video bore the official logo of the ISIL media arm Al-Furgan and resembled previous videos released by the group, Al Jazeera reported.

A masked fighter is seen delivering a long statement between pieces of footage of the slaughter. The victims were identified as “followers of the cross from the enemy Ethiopian Church”.

Earlier this year, fighters pledging allegiance to ISIL released a video purporting to show the killing of 20 Egyptian Coptic Christians and a Ghanaian abducted in Libya.

According to a release by the group Coptic Solidarity, the Christians were killed for refusing to pay a tax, imposed on non-Muslims in an Islamic state who refuse to convert.

Since the U.S.-assisted removal of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become a hotbed of Islamist violence with no central government.

With security denied in Libya, some 900 migrants made their way to the sea last week, hoping to reach Malta. When the boat capsized after a few days, many were trapped behind doors locked by their smugglers. Between 28 and 50 survivors have been found.

The Italian Coast Guard is collecting statements from other survivors, prosecutors said. Passengers were from Algeria, Egypt, Somalia, Niger, Senegal, Mali, Zambia, Bangladesh and Ghana.

The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said that the incident could be worse than an incident last week in which 400 refugees and migrants died in the Mediterranean.

Human Rights Watch urged the European Union to act quickly. “The EU is standing by with arms crossed while hundreds die off its shores,” said Judith Sunderland, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These deaths might well have been prevented if the EU had launched a genuine search-and-rescue effort.”

In a statement released Sunday, the U.N. said that it planned action down the road but didn’t detail any immediate plans to help with the search for the victims of this accident.

Doctors Without Borders also had strong words for the tragedy. “A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible,” said the group’s president, Loris De Filippi. He compared the high number of deaths to “figures from a war zone.”

“Faced with thousands of desperate people fleeing wars and crises, Europe has closed borders, forcing people in search of protection to risk their lives and die at sea,” he said. “This tragedy is only just beginning, but it can and should be stopped.”

Doctors Without Borders will begin its own rescue effort, he added, because “as a medical, humanitarian organization, we simply cannot wait any longer.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Helpless as Crises Rage in 10 Critical Hot Spotshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-helpless-as-crises-rage-in-10-critical-hot-spots/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-helpless-as-crises-rage-in-10-critical-hot-spots http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-helpless-as-crises-rage-in-10-critical-hot-spots/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 10:22:47 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140252 A U.N. peacekeeper from Niger is ready to begin a patrol at the Niger Battalion Base in Menaka, in eastern Mali, Feb. 25, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

A U.N. peacekeeper from Niger is ready to begin a patrol at the Niger Battalion Base in Menaka, in eastern Mali, Feb. 25, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Dormino

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations is fighting a losing battle against a rash of political and humanitarian crises in 10 of the world’s critical “hot spots.”

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says even the U.N.’s 193 member states cannot, by themselves, help resolve these widespread conflicts.“We need more support and more financial help. But, most importantly, we need political solutions.” -- U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric

“Not a single country, however powerful or resourceful as it may be, including the United States, can do it,” he warned last week.

The world’s current political hotspots include Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic – not forgetting West Africa which is battling the spread of the deadly disease Ebola.

Historically, the United Nations has grappled with one or two crises at any given time. But handling 10 such crises at one and the same time, said Ban, was rare and unprecedented in the 70-year history of the United Nations.

Although the international community looks to the world body to resolve these problems, “the United Nations cannot handle it alone. We need collective power and solidarity, otherwise, our world will get more and more troubles,” Ban said.

But that collective power is conspicuous by its absence.

Shannon Scribner, Oxfam America’s humanitarian policy manager, told IPS the situation is serious and Oxfam is very concerned. At the end of 2013, she said, violent conflict and human rights violations had displaced 51 million people, the highest number ever recorded.

In 2014, the U.N. appealed for assistance for 81 million people, including displaced persons and others affected by protracted situations of conflict and natural disaster.

Right now, the humanitarian system is responding to four emergencies – those the U.N. considers the most severe and large-scale – which are Central African Republic, Iraq, South Sudan, and Syria.

These crises alone have left 20 million people vulnerable to malnutrition, illness, violence, and death, and in need of aid and protection, she added.

Then you have the crises in Yemen, where two out of three people need humanitarian assistance; West Africa, with Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea asking for eight billion dollars to recover from Ebola; in Somalia, remittance flows that amount to 1.3 billion dollars annually, and are a lifeline to millions who are in need of humanitarian assistance, have been cut or driven underground due to banking restrictions; and then there is the migration and refugee crisis in the Mediterranean, where almost 1,000 people have died trying to escape horrible situations in their home countries, Scribner said.

The United Nations says it needs about 16 billion dollars to meet humanitarian needs, including food, shelter and medicine, for over 55 million refugees worldwide.

But U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Monday virtually all of the U.N.’s emergency operations are “underfunded”.

Last month, a U.N. pledging conference on humanitarian aid to Syria, hosted by the government of Kuwait, raised over 3.8 billion dollars.

But the United Nations is appealing for more funds to reach its eventual target of 8.4 billion dollars for aid to Syria by the end of 2015.

“We need more support and more financial help,” said Dujarric. “But, most importantly, we need political solutions.”

But most conflicts have remained unresolved or stalemated primarily due to sharp divisions in the Security Council, the U.N.’s only political body armed with powers to resolve military conflicts.

Asked if the international community is doing enough, Scribner told IPS there is no silver bullet for dealing with these crises around the world because there are so many problems causing them: poverty, bad governance, proxy wars, geopolitical interests playing out; war economies being strengthened through the shipment of arms and weapons; ethnic tensions, etc.

The humanitarian system is not built for responding to the crises in the 21st century.

She said Oxfam is calling for three things: 1) More effective humanitarian response by providing funding early on and investing more in local leadership; 2) More emphasis on working towards political solutions and diplomatic action; and 3) Oxfam encourages the international community to use the sustainable development goals to lift more people out of poverty and address inequality that exists around the globe today.

Scribner said the combined wealth of the world’s richest 1 percent will overtake that of everyone else by next year given the current trend of rising inequality.

The conflicts in the world’s hot spots have also resulted in two adverse consequences: people caught in the crossfire are fleeing war-torn countries to safe havens in Europe while, at the same time, there is an increase in the number of killings of aid workers and U.N. staffers engaged in humanitarian work.

Over the weekend, hundreds of refugees and migrant workers from war-devastated Libya died in the high seas as a result of a ship wreck in the Mediterranean Sea. The estimated death toll is over 900.

On Monday, four staff members of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF were reportedly killed in an attack on a vehicle in which they were riding in Somalia, while four others were injured and remain in serious condition.

Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “We’re appalled at the loss of our colleagues in Garowe, Somalia and are very concerned for those injured. They truly were heroes doing great work in one of the world’s most dangerous locations.”

He said the United Nations has been clear that it will continue to operate in Somalia and “our work is needed there.”

“We support the work of our colleagues in these difficult circumstances,” he said.

At the same time, Richards told IPS, “We should not lose sight of a context in which U.N. staff and, in the case of local staff, their families, are increasingly targeted for their work.”

It is therefore important, he said, that the secretary-eneral and the General Assembly fully review the protection the U.N. provides to staff in locations where their lives are at risk, so that they may continue to provide much-needed assistance in such locations.

Oxfam’s Scribner told IPS attacks on aid workers have steadily risen over the years – from 90 violent attacks in 2001 to 308 incidents in 2011 – with the majority of attacks aimed at local aid workers. They often face more danger because they can get closer to the crisis to help others.

Because local aid workers are familiar with the landscape, speak the local language, and understand the local culture, and this also puts them more at risk, she said.

“That is why it is not a surprise that local aid workers make up nearly 80 percent of fatalities, on average, since 2001,” Scribner added.

Last year on World Humanitarian Day, the New York Times reported that the number of attacks on aid workers in 2013 set an annual record at 460, the most since the group began compiling its database, which goes back to 1997.

“These courageous men and women aren’t pulling out because they live in the very countries where they are trying to make a difference. And as such, they should be supported much more by the international community,” Scribner declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Foreign Fighter Recruits: Why the U.S. Fares Better than Othershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/foreign-fighter-recruits-why-the-u-s-fares-better-than-others/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 20:13:37 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140205 Islamic State fighters pictured here in a 2014 propaganda video shot in Iraq's Anbar province.

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

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

More than 25,000 fighters seeking to wage “jihad” or an Islamic holy war have left home to join terrorist networks abroad.

The foreign fighters, mostly bound for Islamic extremist groups like the Syria-based al-Nusra Front and the self-titled Islamic State (also in Iraq), come from more than 100 countries worldwide, according to a United Nations report released earlier this month.“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated." -- analyst Emile Nakhleh

While the highest numbers are from Middle Eastern and North African countries, Western countries have also seen foreign recruits.

Out of the top 15 source-Western countries listed in February by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization (I.C.S.R.), France, as well as Germany and the United Kingdom have had the highest numbers (1,200 and 500-600 respectively). Only 100 foreign fighters have come from the United States.

Why has the U.S. seen such a lower number of recruits compared to its Western European allies?

Integration vs. alienation

“In this country, the law enforcement authorities have worked much more closely with Muslim communities so that now, some elements within the Muslim community follow the phrase ‘see something, say something,’” Emile Nakhleh, who founded the Central Intelligence Program’s (C.I.A.) Political Islam Strategic Analysis Program, told IPS.

“Here, for the most part, Muslims feel they are part of the system and part of the country…they don’t feel alienated,” said Nakhleh, a scholar and expert on the Middle East who retired from the C.I.A. in 2006.

While the majority of Muslims worldwide reject violent extremism and are worried about increasing rates in their home countries, American Muslims—an estimated 2-6 million who are mostly middle class and educated—reject extremism by larger margins than most Muslim publics.

A 2011 Pew Survey of Muslim Americans, the most current of its kind, found more than eight-in-10 American Muslims saw suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets as never justified (81 per cent) or rarely justified (5 per cent) to defend Islam from its enemies. That’s compared to a median of 72 per cent of Muslims worldwide saying such attacks are never justified and 10 per cent saying they are rarely justified.

Unlike their European counterparts, Muslim Americans come from more than 77 home countries, in contrast with Western European countries where Muslims are mainly from two or three countries.

Muslims in America—who make up a smaller percentage relative to the population than their counterparts in France and the U.K.— are also not dominated by a particular sect or ethnicity.

A 2007 Pew Survey also found that Muslim Americans were more assimilated into American culture than their Western European counterparts.

A majority of Muslim Americans expressed a generally positive view of the larger society and said their communities are excellent or good places to live. Seventy-two percent of them agreed with the widespread American opinion that hard work can help you succeed.

Western European Muslims are conversely generally less well off and frustrated with the lack of economic opportunities.

Ripe for recruitment

An estimated 1,200 fighters have left France to become jihadists in Syria and Iraq, according to the U.K.-based I.C.S.R., which has been tracking fighters in the Iraqi-Syrian conflicts since 2012. More British men have joined Islamic extremist groups abroad than have entered the British armed forces.

Ideologically centered recruitment—particularly online and through social media—and discontent with perceived domestic and foreign policies affecting Muslims, are the primary causes of Islamic radicalisation in Western countries, especially where Muslim communities are isolated from others.

The sense of alienation, especially among the youth of Muslim immigrants, mixed with antipathy toward their country’s foreign policy makes some Muslims prime targets for foreign recruiters.

“Algerian French-Muslim immigrants or South Asian Muslims in the U.K. feel excluded and constantly watched and tracked by the authorities,” said Nakhleh.

While surveillance programmes targeting Muslims are also in effect in the U.S.—more than half of the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 said government anti-terrorism policies singled them out for increased surveillance and monitoring—Muslim Americans have not expressed the same level of discontent with their lives as those in Western European countries such as France and the United Kingdom.

Indeed, the Muslim Americans surveyed by Pew in 2011 who reported discrimination still expressed a high level of satisfaction with their lives in the United States.

Conversely, French Muslims in particular complain of religious intolerance in the generally secular society.

The French law banning Islamic face coverings and burqas, which cover the entire body, resulted in a series of angry protests and clashes with police. Muslim groups have also complained of increasing rates of violent attacks since the ban became law in 2010.

A nine-month pregnant woman was beaten last month in southern France by two men who tore off her veil, saying “none of that here.” Another Islamophobic attack in 2013 resulted in a French Muslim woman in Paris suffering a miscarriage.

Obama embraces U.S. Muslims

But the U.S. government has been working to prevent its Muslim communities from feeling discriminated against and isolated.

Throughout his two terms in office, U.S. President Barack Obama has repeatedly distinguished between Islamic extremism and Islam as a religion.

“We are not at war with Islam, we are at war with those who have perverted Islam,” said Obama Feb. 18 at the White House-hosted Summit to Counter Violent Extremism.

He has also encouraged religious tolerance while calling for Muslim community leaders to work more closely with the government in rooting out homegrown extremism.

“Here in America, Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding,” said Obama.

“If we’re going to solve these issues, then the people who are most targeted and potentially most affected — Muslim Americans — have to have a seat at the table where they can help shape and strengthen these partnerships so that we’re all working together to help communities stay safe and strong and resilient,” he said.

The Jan. 7 terrorist attack in Paris, where two gunmen executed 11 staffers at the Charlie Hebdo magazine for what they considered deeply offensive portrayals of Islam, have put Western countries on heightened alert for so-called “lone-wolf” attacks, where individuals perpetuate violence to prove a point or for a cause.

The U.S. has not seen a similar major terror attack since April 2013, when two Chechnyan-American brothers deployed pressure-cooker bombs at the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds of others.

But with sophisticated foreign-terrorist recruitment efforts on the rise, Washington has increased its counter-terrorism measures at home and worldwide.

While the Islamic State and similar groups could plan attacks on U.S. soil if they see the U.S. as directly involved in their battles, according to Nakhleh, their primary goal at the moment is to recruit foreigners as combatants.

“The more Western Jihadists they can recruit, the more global they can present themselves as they seek allegiances in Asian countries, and in North Africa,” he said.

“This is how they present themselves as a Muslim global caliphate.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Struggles to Cope with New Humanitarian Crisis in Yemenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-struggles-to-cope-with-new-humanitarian-crisis-in-yemen/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 19:05:05 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140203 On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

On Apr. 14, 2015, the Security Council adopted resolution 2216 (2015), imposing sanctions on individuals it said were undermining the stability of Yemen. Khaled Hussein Mohamed Alyemany (centre), Permanent Representative of the Republic of Yemen to the UN, addresses the Council. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is providing humanitarian aid to over 50 million refugees worldwide, is struggling to cope with a new crisis in hand: death and destruction in Yemen.

In an urgent appeal for 274 million dollars in international aid to meet the needs of some 7.5 million people affected by the escalating conflict, the U.N.’s Humanitarian Coordinator Johannes Van Der Klaauw said Friday, “The devastating conflict in Yemen takes place against the backdrop of an existing humanitarian crisis that was already one of the largest and most complex in the world.”“Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence." -- U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric

“Thousands of families have now fled their homes as a result of the fighting and air strikes. Ordinary families are struggling to access health care, water, food and fuel – basic requirements for their survival,” he warned.

Asked about the severity of the crisis in relation to the humanitarian disaster in Syria where over 220,000 have been killed in a continuing civil war, Jens Laerke, the Geneva-based spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS, “We tend not to compare crises.”

“We have just launched the flash appeal [for 274 million dollars] and hope the response will be generous,” he said.

Responding to a question, he said: “There is, to my knowledge, no current plans for a humanitarian pledging conference for Yemen.”

Last month, a U.N. pledging conference on humanitarian aid to Syria, hosted by the government of Kuwait, raised over 3.8 billion dollars.

But the United Nations is appealing for more funds to reach its eventual target of 8.4 billion dollars by the end of 2015.

According to the United Nations, the conflict in Yemen escalated significantly last month, spreading to many parts of the country. Air strikes have now affected 18 of Yemen’s 22 governorates. And in the south, conflict has continued to intensify, particularly in Aden, where widespread fighting continues, including in residential neighbourhoods.

“Hospitals, schools, airports and mosques have been damaged and destroyed across the country and there are reports of serious violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law,” the U.N. statement said

The conflict is taking a significant toll on civilians: 731 people were killed and 2,754 injured, including a large number of civilians.

The number of food insecure people has increased from 10.6 million people to 12 million; at least 150,000 people have been displaced; food prices have risen by more than 40 percent in some locations; and fuel prices have quadrupled. Lack of fuel and electricity has triggered a breakdown in basic water and sanitation services, according to the latest figures from OCHA.

“The humanitarian community in Yemen continues to operate and deliver assistance, including through Yemeni national staff and national partners,” said Van Der Klaauw. “But to scale up assistance, we urgently need additional resources. I urge donors to act now to support the people of Yemen at this time of greatest need.”

The most urgent needs include medical supplies, safe drinking water, protection, food assistance as well as emergency shelter and logistical support, he said.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, “Obviously, in order for humanitarian aid to get in safely, we need a pause and we need an end to the violence.”

He said the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and others have managed to get planes in. Bit it’s very difficult in an active combat zone, he added.

“We will continue… we will continue to do what we can and bring aid in to alleviate the suffering of the people of Yemen.”

“What is obviously critical in order to enable our humanitarian colleagues and our humanitarian partners to do their work is for all the parties involved in this to halt the violence and to create an atmosphere, not only where they can go back to the political table, but also to allow humanitarian aid to go in,” he added.

A coalition of Arab nations, led by neighbouring Saudi Arabia, has continued with its air attacks on Yemen, where the country’s president has been ousted by rebel forces.

Early this week, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution by 14 votes in favour and one abstention (Russia), placing an embargo on arms and related materiel to rebel forces, primarily the Houthis.

The Council demanded that all warring parties, in particular the Houthis, immediately and unconditionally end the violence and refrain from further unilateral actions that threatened the political transition.

The 14 members of the Council also demanded that the Houthis withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate government of Yemen and fully implement previous Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid al Hussein, appealed to the warring parties to ensure that attacks resulting in civilian casualties are promptly investigated and that international human rights and international humanitarian law are scrupulously respected.

The High Commissioner said a heavy civilian death toll ought to be a clear indication to all parties to this conflict that there may be serious problems in the conduct of hostilities. The High Commissioner also warned that the intentional targeting of civilians not taking direct part in hostilities would amount to a war crime.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Sexual Violence in Conflict “The Contemporary Moral Issue” Says United Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/sexual-violence-in-conflict-the-contemporary-moral-issue-says-united-nations/#comments Fri, 17 Apr 2015 08:54:23 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140190 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 17 2015 (IPS)

Impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence in war must end, said Zainab Hawa Bangura, the Special representative of the United Nations Secretary-General on sexual violence in conflict, who presented to the U.N. Security Council the Secretary-General’s 2015 report on the issue on April 15.

Speaking to the Council, Bangura said, “The history of war zone rape has been a history of denial. It is time to bring these crimes, and those who commit them, into the spotlight of international scrutiny.”

Calling on Council member states, Bangura remarked that sexual abuse is used in war as a tool to terrorise, displace victims and establish power, by state and non-state actors, as well as militia rebel groups.

Hamsatu Allamin, from the “Working Group on Women, Peace and Security”, a Nigerian NGO, urged the Council to find concrete solutions.

“Women’s meaningful participation in peace and security processes must be a core component of any effort to effectively reduce and address incidents of conflict-related sexual violence,” she said.

The U.N. report acknowledges for the first time the impacts of the “use of sexual rape as a war tactic upon women, girls, but also men and boys, by extremist armed groups – providing a list of 45 suspected parties – in countries such as Iraq, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Syria.”

The study, which analysed the situation in 19 war torn countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, South America and Middle East, described sexual violence as a “truly global crime”, coming in the form of abuse, sexual slavery, forced marriage, and nudity.

Sexual violence is also used as an instrument of discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, the report noted. It highlighted the risks for LGBT individuals, which are targeted by armed groups which seek to impose social control and “morality”.

In a previous talk at the U.N. earlier in the week, Bangura told the press that including women into the peacebuilding and peacemaking framework would be a strong step forward in offering them the possibility to increase their power and role in conflict societies.

Progress is being made, Bangura explained, as in the past two years the international community has cooperated with the African Union, the International Conference of the Great Lakes Region, and will soon with the League of Arab States. Also a number of regional organizations have appointed envoys on women, peace and security.

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

 

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EU Inaction Accused of Costing Lives in the Mediterraneanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/eu-inaction-accused-of-costing-lives-in-the-mediterranean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-inaction-accused-of-costing-lives-in-the-mediterranean http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/eu-inaction-accused-of-costing-lives-in-the-mediterranean/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 19:08:23 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140159 Boat carrying asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo credit: UNHCR/L.Boldrini

Boat carrying asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo credit: UNHCR/L.Boldrini

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

“The unbearable number of lives lost at sea will only grow if the European Union does not act now to ensure search-and-rescue operations across the Mediterranean,” Human Rights Watch warned Apr. 15.

The international human rights organisation was reacting to reports that as many as 400 migrants may have died in the Mediterranean sea over the past weekend, according to witness accounts collected by the Save the Children charity among the more than 7,000 migrants and asylum seekers rescued by the Italian Coast Guard since Apr. 10.

Noting that 11 bodies have been recovered so far from one confirmed shipwreck over the past few days, Judith Sunderland, acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch said that “if the reports are confirmed, this past weekend would be among the deadliest few days in the world’s most dangerous stretch of water for migrants and asylum seekers.”

Many of those rescued over the weekend remain on Italian vessels as authorities scramble to find emergency accommodation, and Human Rights Watch said that the lack of preparation for arrivals was entirely preventable because many had predicted that 2015 would be a record year for boat migration.

“Other E.U. countries have shown a distinct lack of political will to help alleviate Italy’s unfair share of the responsibility,” according to the human rights organisation.

The European Union’s external border agency, Frontex, launched Operation Triton in the Mediterranean in November 2014, as Italy downsized its massive humanitarian naval operation, Mare Nostrum, which has been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives.

Triton’s geographic scope and budget is far more limited than Mare Nostrum, and the primary mandate of Frontex is border control, not search and rescue.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as many as 500 migrants and asylum seekers have died already in the Mediterranean in 2015, a 30-fold increase over recorded deaths in the same period in 2014.

However, said Human Rights Watch, if the reports of hundreds more dead over the past few days are confirmed, the death toll in just over three months would be nearly 1,000 people, and that number is likely to rise as more migrants take to the seas during the traditional crossing season in the spring and summer months. The death toll for all of 2014 was at least 3,200 people.

The European Commission is to present a “comprehensive migration agenda” to E.U. member states in May but some of the proposals, while cloaked in humanitarian rhetoric about preventing deaths at sea, raise serious human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said.

These include setting up offshore processing centres in North African countries, outsourcing border control and rescue operations in order to prevent departures, and increasing financial assistance to deeply repressive countries like Eritrea, one of the key countries of origin for asylum seekers attempting the sea crossing, “without evidence of human rights reforms.”

While some proposals contain elements that could potentially address root causes of irregular migration or provide safe alternatives for migrants, Human Rights Watch said that the proof of their success will rest on whether they respect the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, rather than simply stop the flow.

Early signs of intent suggest that rather than building the capacity to protect, the emphasis will be on enhancing and outsourcing containment mechanisms to prevent departures, and “it’s hard not to see these proposals as cynical bids to limit the numbers of migrants and asylum seekers making it to E.U. shores,” Sunderland said.

“Whatever longer term initiatives may come forth, the immediate humanitarian imperative for the European Union is to get out there and save lives.”

Meanwhile, the debate around immigration in Italy has taken on xenophobic tones in some quarters, with the leader of Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League, Matteo Salvini, calling on all local authorities to resist “by any means” requests to accommodate asylum seekers, and saying that his party is ready to occupy buildings to prevent arrivals.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Kenya Orders Somali Refugee Camp Sheltering Thousands to Movehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/kenya-orders-somali-refugee-camp-sheltering-thousands-to-move/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kenya-orders-somali-refugee-camp-sheltering-thousands-to-move http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/kenya-orders-somali-refugee-camp-sheltering-thousands-to-move/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 17:07:22 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140147 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 14 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations, which is sheltering over 600,000 refugees from war-torn Somalia, has been ordered by Kenyan authorities to relocate the camp in three months.

“We have asked the UNHCR (the U.N. Refugee Agency) to relocate the refugees in three months, failure to which we shall relocate them ourselves,” said Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto in a statement Saturday.

“The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa,” he said, referring to the university that was attacked by Somali militants on Apr. 2.

Dadaab, the camp near the border with Somalia, is the largest refugee camp in Africa.

Macharia Munene, professor of international relations at the United States International University-Africa, said the logistics of moving hundreds of thousands of refugees across the border would be “a tall order”.

But he said there were now safe areas within Somalia from where the al Shabab armed group had been chased out by African Union forces in recent years.

“Kenya is in an emergency situation… Each country has an obligation to look after its people first,” he told Reuters.

In an effort to reassure Kenyans that the government is concerned with their safety, Kenya has been building a 440-mile wall along the entire length of the border with Somalia to keep out al Shabab militants.

But according to security and policy analyst Abdulahi Boru Halakhe, the strategy is ill-conceived. “Building the wall assumes that all al-Shabab members come from Somalia and ignores the group’s cells in Kenya and easy routes through neighboring Uganda and Tanzania,” he wrote in an opinion for Al Jazeera news.

“In fact, the suspected mastermind of the Garissa attack was a Kenyan schoolteacher from the town, and one of his accomplices was a son of a Kenyan government official.”

Joshua Meservey of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center expressed his view that Kenya was scapegoating the mostly Muslim refugees for their own security failings.

Further, suggested Mohamed Abdi, a refugee at the camp, moving the camp inside Somalia would boost al-Shabab’s recruitment efforts among the camp’s impoverished men, whose livelihoods would be threatened if their homes are displaced.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR claims it has not received any official communication from Kenyan authorities but rejects the apparent effort to use the refugees as scapegoats.

“Blanket measures that target people based on nationality or membership of a group will only cause suffering to innocent people and are usually ineffective,” said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards. Three months, he added, is not realistic for such a relocation.

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U.N. Secretary-General Calls for International Unity on Yemen and Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-secretary-general-calls-for-international-unity-on-yemen-and-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-secretary-general-calls-for-international-unity-on-yemen-and-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-secretary-general-calls-for-international-unity-on-yemen-and-syria/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 21:49:34 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140102 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

“Political negotiations, not military intervention, are the solution” said United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, on the rapidly deteriorating conflict situation in Yemen and recent developments in Syria at the Yarmouk refugee camp.

Speaking from the U.N. Headquarters in New York, Ban expressed concern that countless civilians have been abandoned to misery in recent days as violence has escalated.

“Yemeni families are struggling for the very basics – water, food, fuel and medicines. Hundreds have been killed. Hospitals and schools are shutting down – some of which are direct targets of the fighting,” said Ban.

Before the current crisis, Yemen’s overall humanitarian needs were on a similar scale to all other nine countries of the Sahel region combined, but now the country has almost doubled the number of people classified as ‘severely food insecure’, he added.

The territorial advance by the Houthis and their allies, undermining the legitimate government, is a clear violation of the Security Council resolutions and a violation of the international humanitarian law, Ban said.

The crisis in Yemen has worsened since the Arab coalition military operation led by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia at the request of president Hadi.

Ban said, “The U.N.- brokered negotiations, endorsed by the Security Council, remain the best chance to help get the transition back on track and preserve the country’s unity and territorial integrity.”

On Syria, the Secretary-General addressed the situation in the Yarmouk refugee camp, in Damascus, where residents, including over 3,500 children, are being held hostage by Da’esh armed elements.

According to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), around 18,000 Palestinian and Syrian refugees are being held in the camp.

“Civilians must be spared. Civilians must be protected at all times,” remarked Ban, saying that he is urging world leaders, member states, governments and parties involved to end all forms of violence.

Also on Thursday, U.N. Special Advisers on both genocide and the Responsibility to Protect expressed concern about the situation in Yarmouk.

“The Special Advisers recalled the commitment by all Heads of State and government in 2005 to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity and to cooperate in fulfilling their collective responsibility to protect.”

Follow Valentina Ieri on Twitter @Valeieri

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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At Least 18 Already Killed in Yarmouk Attacks: Amnesty Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/at-least-18-already-killed-in-yarmouk-attacks-amnesty-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=at-least-18-already-killed-in-yarmouk-attacks-amnesty-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/at-least-18-already-killed-in-yarmouk-attacks-amnesty-international/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 03:16:05 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140092 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

At least 18 civilians have already been killed in the attack on the Syrian refugee camp of Yarmouk, according to Amnesty International.

The Palestinian refugee camp, on the outskirts of Damascus, was besieged by members of the so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra last week. By Apr. 4, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 90 percent of the camp was controlled by militants.

Amnesty reported Wednesday that those living in the camp have come under sniper fire and clashes between armed groups, as well as shelling and barrel bombing by Syrian government forces. Fighting in the camp, which houses around 18,000 refugees, has largely been between IS and members of Palestinian militia group Aknaf Beit al-Maqdis.

Residents told Amnesty 25 barrel bombs have been dropped on the camp, mostly during night hours.

Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, accused the Syrian government of committing a “war crime” in dropping barrel bombs on the camp.

“The use of barrel bombs against a besieged and starving civilian population is yet another demonstration of the Syrian government flouting international humanitarian law and its callousness towards civilians,” he said in a statement on Amnesty International’s website.

“Shelling and dropping barrel bombs on a populated civilian area is a war crime. All such attacks must end immediately.”

Amnesty reported a 12-year-old girl killed by a sniper, and a humanitarian worker shot in crossfire, were among at least 18 killed in Yarmouk in the last week, and warned many more deaths were on the way if fighting continued.

“Thousands more are at risk as Syrian government forces have intensified the shelling and aerial bombardment of the camp in response to the IS takeover of the area, including by dropping barrel bombs,” Amnesty said in a statement on its website.

Fighting may soon intensify, with reports the Syrian government has offered to arm Palestinian forces fighting IS militia. Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Official Anwar Abdul Hadi said Tuesday that “Syrian authorities are ready to support the Palestinian fighters in a number of ways, including militarily, to push IS out of the camp.”

Amnesty claimed no relief organisations remained in the camp, and that Syria government and IS forces have blocked medical and humanitarian assistance. One of Yarmouk’s two medical facilities was hit by a missile on the first day of the siege.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) wrote on social media Wednesday that food packages distributed to refugees in the camp have run out. On Twitter, UNRWA said it was assisting 94 civilians who had managed to escape Yarmouk overnight and take refuge in a school.

Amnesty’s Sahraoui said civilians faced “an agonising struggle for survival.”

“After enduring a crippling two-year-long government-imposed siege, now they are pinned down by sniper fire fearing for their lives as shelling and aerial attacks escalate,” he said.

“Immediate and unfettered access to Yarmouk by independent humanitarian agencies is desperately needed to alleviate this relentless suffering.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Impunity Fuels Abuse in Immigrant Detention Centres in Spainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/impunity-fuels-abuse-in-immigrant-detention-centres-in-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=impunity-fuels-abuse-in-immigrant-detention-centres-in-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/impunity-fuels-abuse-in-immigrant-detention-centres-in-spain/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 20:50:43 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139911 Trial of five police officers for alleged sexual abuse against immigrants held in the detention centre in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. This case is just one of many reported of mistreatment in these centres, whose closure is demanded by human rights groups. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Trial of five police officers for alleged sexual abuse against immigrants held in the detention centre in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. This case is just one of many reported of mistreatment in these centres, whose closure is demanded by human rights groups. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

“They mistreat you, they don’t respect you. I’ve seen beatings, suffering, and you can’t defend yourself. When you’re locked in there it’s as if you were in another world,” Salif Sy, a Senegalese man who in 2011 spent eight days in an immigrant detention centre (CIE) in Madrid, told IPS.

Behind the walls of Spain’s eight CIEs, immigrants are frequent victims of abuse and mistreatment by the national police, who are in charge of guarding them, national and international human rights organisations warn.

They also complain about hurdles thrown in the way of investigations of reports of abuse, and about the prevailing impunity.

In the southern city of Málaga, five police officers are on trial for alleged sexual abuse of women held in the local CIE, in 2006. The centre operated in an old military garrison and was shut down when the dilapidated building was condemned in June 2012. A hearing of the trial was held Mar. 5.“Those who torture still have guaranteed impunity when they abuse people who are in especially vulnerable situations – undocumented immigrants, isolated from their families and friends, without money to pay a lawyer, and without knowledge of Spain’s legal system, let alone international law.” -- Carlos Villán

“The police would hold parties, where they would take advantage of the inmates sexually. It’s disgusting,” Jaime Ernesto Rodríguez, the attorney for three women who are protected witnesses in the case, told IPS. The accused face possible sentences of 27 years. The verdict is expected in April.

“Two of the agents had access to the lists of women who were coming in and they would choose,” said the lawyer for the three women, from Brazil, Honduras and Venezuela, who were deported to their home countries in 2006, despite the opposition put up by their attorney and several organisations.

Spain’s immigration law states that the CIEs are “public establishments of a non-penitentiary nature…for the detention and custody of foreigners subject to deportation orders.” It stipulates that no one can be held for more than 60 days.

But non-governmental organisations say the CIEs are “prisons in disguise,” where human rights violations are rampant.

Their demand that the centres be shut down was bolstered by the position taken by the new government of Greece.

The deputy interior minister of Greece, Yannis Panousis, announced Feb. 14 that the five immigrant detention centres in his country would gradually be closed, after a 28-year-old Pakistani citizen committed suicide in one of the centres the day before.

The latest accusation in Spain was filed on Feb. 3 for the alleged torture of Mohamed Rezine Zohuir of Algeria and Ben Yunes Sabbar of Morocco, who were detained in January in the CIE of the southeastern city of Valencia, lawyer Andrés García Berrio of the legal team of the campaign Tanquem Els Cies (Close the CIEs, in the Valencian language), told IPS.

He said the case is under investigation and that there are photos documenting injuries on the two men’s heads and faces, which the CIE authorities claim were self-inflicted.

In 2014, immigrants held in the CIE filed 40 formal complaints of abuse by police.

“Any complaint of mistreatment should be promptly, exhaustively and impartially investigated,” Amnesty International Spain’s head of domestic policy, Virginia Álvarez, told IPS. “We are concerned about the lack of adequate oversight and accountability mechanisms.”

In November 2014 the United Nations Human Rights Committee asked the Spanish government for explanations in the cases of alleged mistreatment in the CIEs and excessive use of force by the immigration authorities.

Spain’s interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, denied in a Feb. 22 interview that there were cases of torture in the CIEs.

“How could torture happen in the CIEs?” he said. “I would bet my life on the fact that no torture is being committed. And if anyone did commit such a barbaric act, they would be committing a crime. False reports have been made.”

But according to García Berrio, “there is no willingness on the part of the Interior Ministry to resolve this situation.” He also complained about “hurdles being set in the way of the investigations,” citing as examples two cases in which security camera footage that served as evidence “went missing due to supposed technical problems.”

In the CIEs there have been “aberrations,” said Rodríguez, the lawyer. He mentioned the case of the Brazilian immigrant, who is one of the protected witnesses in the trial against the police officers in the Málaga CIE. When she was taken to the centre, she had a high-risk pregnancy, and suffered a miscarriage while awaiting deportation.

Rodríguez filed a complaint against the police for omission of duty to aid a person in distress, which was thrown out.

“Impunity surrounds abuses by police in the CIEs,” the president of the non-governmental Spanish Association for the Human Right to Peace, Carlos Villán, told IPS. He said the agents “have not received adequate training, and they are not warned that torture and mistreatment are prohibited by both Spanish and international law.”

People held in the CIEs have died due to “inadequate detention conditions and lack of medical care,” said Villán, who did not mention a precise number.

“There have been suicides, rapes,” activist Luís Pernía, president of the Platform of Solidarity with the Immigrants of Málaga, an umbrella group made up of some 20 organisations, told IPS. “Many people have suffered all kinds of abuse in Málaga’s CIE for decades, and there is a legal vacuum.”

On Mar. 14, 2014, Spain’s Council of Ministers approved the regulations for the operation of the CIEs. Until then the inmates were in a legal vacuum without specific regulations such as those used to guarantee the basic rights of inmates in prisons.

But Villán believes that despite the regulations, “those who torture still have guaranteed impunity when they abuse people who are in especially vulnerable situations – undocumented immigrants, isolated from their families and friends, without money to pay a lawyer, and without knowledge of Spain’s legal system, let alone international law.”

“There is racism and a lot of suffering in the CIE,” said Salif Sy, who reached Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, from Senegal, in a boat in 2006.

A few weeks before he was detained in 2011, Sy, who was heavily involved in different associations where he was living in the southeast Spanish city of Albacete, played King Balthazar in the city’s traditional Three Wise Men parade. Pressure from different organisations and his many friends blocked his deportation.

“We are all immigrants, we are all equals, I have to keep fighting for the people who will come after me,” said Sy, who is married to the Spanish woman who was his girlfriend when he was picked up by the authorities in their home in 2011.

Of the 49,406 foreign nationals detained in 2013 for breaking Spain’s immigration law, 9,002 were held in the CIEs and 4,726 were finally deported, according to the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture report published by the ombudsperson’s office in 2014.

Amnesty International’s Álvarez said people are detained in the CIEs “in the full knowledge that they cannot be deported if there is no repatriation agreement with their countries, along with people who are sick, possible victims of people trafficking, or potential asylum seekers; their human rights are being violated.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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CSW 59 Wraps up as Delegates Look Towards 2016http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/csw-59-wraps-up-as-delegates-look-toward-2016/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 15:50:34 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139824 UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka speaks at the Commission on the Status of Women, which ended its 59th session in New York last week. Credit: UN Women/Ryan Brown

By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 2015 (IPS)

The Commission on the Status of Women, one of the biggest events on the calendar for United Nations headquarters in New York City, is over for another year.

For two weeks, thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists flooded the city, with more than 650 events, talks, briefings, meetings, presentations and panels all striving for the same goal – “50:50 by 2030,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon of the CSW’s goal for gender equality within 15 years, at the official opening of the commission.

Soon-Young Yoon, U.N. Representative of the International Alliance of Women and Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women, estimated more than 11,000 people took part in CSW 59.

“This was the largest feminist movement at the U.N. in New York, ever,” she told IPS.

“It was more than double the number we usually get.”

Yoon attributed the huge attendance to well-documented attempts to scale back women’s rights worldwide in the last year, including fundamentalist activities in the Middle East and Africa, the kidnapping of 270 Nigerian schoolgirls by Boko Haram, and a growing culture of hostility and harassment of women online.

“Against all this, the women’s movement has stepped up. The CSW is a pilgrimage for the international women’s movement,” she said.

The 59th session of the CSW was about reaffirming the world’s commitment to, and marking the anniversaries of, the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the 2000 Security Council Resolution 1325.

Rather than lay out any new bold agenda or fighting for political reforms, it was important to take stock of progress and assess what further action was necessary, said Christine Brautigam, Director of the Intergovernmental Support Division of U.N. Women.

“We were tasked with a comprehensive review of the Beijing platform, of how implementation stands. We’ve come up with good indications of how to move forward,” Brautigam told IPS on the final day of the meeting.

She said the Commission had “benefited tremendously” from an “unprecedented” amount of reporting by member states, with 167 countries preparing reports on how gender equality reforms had been implemented. Brautigam said through the immense preparatory work, member states had agreed CSW 59 would produce a “short, succinct political declaration” reaffirming the commitment to fulfilling the vision of the Beijing platform and achieving gender equality by 2030."I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar." - Liesl Gerntholtz, Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch

There was not an expectation for lengthy negotiations, as we usually have, it was to pledge further action to accelerate gender equality, and ensure full implementation of the platform. The key outcome is that political outcome adopted on the first day,” she said.

The declaration features six points for action, calling for renewed focus on and faster progress toward the ideals set out in the Beijing platform. Member states called for strengthened laws and policies, greater support for institutional mechanisms striving for gender equality, transformation of discriminatory norms and gender stereotypes, greater investment to close resource gaps, strengthened accountability for the implementation of commitments; and enhanced capacity for data collection, monitoring and evaluation.

“This is a formidable basis for everyone, from governments to the U.N. system to civil society, to take action,” Brautigam said.

While reaffirming past commitments and analysing progress was the official aim of CSW, it was far from the only function of the fortnight of feminism. Liesl Gerntholtz, Executive Director of the Women’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch, said the annual CSW has become an important meeting place for the sharing of ideas, energy and inspiration for women around the globe.

“The value of the CSW has shifted from negotiations and outcome documents, to being a space for civil society to engage with member states and with each other. There are fewer and fewer spaces where civil society can come together, and in this one place hordes of women’s rights organisations can come together and talk,” she told IPS.

“Networking is critical, and it has become the most valuable part of the conference. It’s a chance for the movement to meet and strategise, to make stronger alliances, and have very rich and interesting discussions about what the issues are.”

Gerntholtz said the inclusive nature of the CSW – where activists can mingle with ambassadors, where politicians share panels with academics and celebrities – fostered cross-pollination of ideas, and the sharing of concerns between social strata.

“I’ve been fascinated to watch people talking about forms of harassment we haven’t talked about before, like cyber harassment, women threatened with sexual violence on social media,” she said.

Brautigam echoed the sentiments, saying one of CSW’s most formidable strengths was as a meeting place for sharing of ideas.

“I’ve always seen CSW as one of the most, if not the most, dynamic meetings on the U.N. calendar. It is a prime marketplace of ideas and lessons learnt, for solidarity, and drawing strength for the work for the coming year. People get together, brainstorm and energise each other,” she said.

However, for all the energy, enthusiasm and excitement during the mammoth program, there are also criticisms. Gerntholtz said recent years have seen some member states hoping to roll back progress already carved out, to undo achievements made, and to break pledges for future reform.

“There have been concerns for a while over the value of CSW. There have been some attempts in recent years to push back on language in the Beijing platform, particularly on violence against women and reproductive rights,” she said.

“That remains a huge concern for this forum – every year, it opens up the possibility member states might try to undermine and dilute and change some of these really important rights women have fought to establish.”

Gerntholtz said 2014 saw such a push by representatives from Iran, Egypt, Vatican City and several African nations – a group she called “the Unholy Alliance.”

“In any other circumstances, they wouldn’t be talking to each other, but they caucus to dilute important women’s rights,” she said.

The CSW was also criticised from civil society groups. Ahead of the CSW, the Women’s Rights Caucus labelled the proposed political declaration as “a bland reaffirmation of existing commitments,” saying it “threatens a major step backward” for rights and equality.

“Governments cannot pick and choose when to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of women and should not do so in this declaration,” it wrote in a statement.

On Friday, the CSW wrapped up after two weeks of meetings. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka called CSW 59 “a forceful, dynamic and forward-looking session.”

“We are all aware that there are no shortcuts to realising gender equality, the empowerment of women and the human rights of women and girls. Based on the road we have travelled, we know that there are more challenges ahead of us,” she said in remarks at the closing of CSW 59, where Brazil was elected Chair of the 60th session.

Already plans for action are being set out for next year’s session. Brautigam said gender equality through the lens of sustainable development would be the theme, with three major global conferences – the Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Abada, negotiations on the post-2015 development agenda and Sustainable Development Goals, and the Climate Change Conference in Paris – to shape, and be shaped by, the women’s rights movement.

“The priority next year is women’s empowerment and the link to sustainable development. Between now and then, many important milestones will be met. We’re trying to ensure gender equality will be at the core of those discussions,” she said.

Yoon also stressed how the outcomes of the three major conferences would influence the next CSW.

“The priority of sustainable development is very important, because gender equality is missing to some extent in the discussions around climate change and sustainability,” she said.

Yoon said CSW 60 would likely have much more substantive, concrete outcomes and action plans than this year’s conference, and hoped 2016 would tackle issues of violence against women.

“The CSW will decide its whole multi-year program of work, for the next four years. We need to stay focused on violence against women in its broader definition,” she said.

“Not just domestic violence, but things like sexual harassment, campus safety and sexual violence on campuses, and online safety. It is inexcusable we have not been able to put all our resources to fix this.”

“We are rescuing victims, chasing perpetrators, but not preventing these things from happening. We simply must do this, otherwise all that we want to accomplish will fall apart, because women are terrified to speak out.”

With the thousands of delegates, dignitaries, ambassadors, experts, and activists now heading home after an exhausting fortnight, the focus will be on implementing the ideas and actions inspired by the conference.

“I hope people can go home with renewed energy, that people can refine their strategies for holding governments accountable, and that they learnt a lot,” Gerntholtz said.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Guards at Australian-Managed Refugee Detention Centre on Nauru Traded Marijuana for Sexual Favourshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/guards-at-australian-managed-refugee-detention-centre-on-nauru-traded-marijuana-for-sexual-favours/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=guards-at-australian-managed-refugee-detention-centre-on-nauru-traded-marijuana-for-sexual-favours http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/guards-at-australian-managed-refugee-detention-centre-on-nauru-traded-marijuana-for-sexual-favours/#comments Sun, 22 Mar 2015 14:57:57 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139816 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 22 2015 (IPS)

Guards at a Nauru refugee detention centre managed by the Australian government traded marijuana for sexual favours from detainees, according to the latest damning report into the Australia’s beleaguered refugee policy.

The report into the Regional Processing Centre on tiny Micronesian island Nauru, found evidence of rape, sexual assault of minors, and numerous other transgressions both by detainees and centre staff.

Australia’s controversial policy of mandatory detention for arriving refugees, often in offshore facilities, has come under fire in recent weeks. The release of another report into refugee detention centres saw the Australian Human Rights Commission label the Nauru and Christmas Island facilities “dangerous” and “distressing.”

A further report by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Juan Méndez, stated Australia’s treatment of refugees in such centres breached the U.N.’s Convention Against Torture.

The Nauru report, released Friday, found evidence of sexual and physical assaults in the centre, but states figures for such crimes were likely much higher than stated due to under-reporting by victims.

Refugees told investigators they did not report particular incidents “because they had lost confidence that anything would be done about their complaints.”

The review said centre staff “in the most part, acted appropriately” in dealing with complaints and referrals to police, but that procedures to report, respond to or mitigate serious incidents “could be improved.”

The impetus for the report came in September 2014, after Senator Sarah Hanson-Young of the Greens party alleged women detained on Nauru were forced to “expose themselves to sexual exploitation” for access to showers, other amenities, and cigarettes.

Minors told the review of guards had offered marijuana and other items for sexual favours, and had “been on duty while under the influence of alcohol.”

The report, with numerous sections heavily redacted, details several claims of guards demanding detainees show their naked bodies in exchange for longer showers, making “lewd gestures” and “improper sexual proposition,” and numerous instances of physical assault.

Between October 2013 and October 2014, 17 minors were recorded as having self-harmed at the centre, including attempted hangings, “an 11-year-old who swallowed a metal bolt and a rock,” three cases of lip stitching – with one minor claiming they got needles from guards – and a 15-year-old who ingested detergent.

The Government and Immigration Department were criticised for releasing on a Friday afternoon, on a day when the death of former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, was dominating the news cycle.

“I didn’t think this government could get that lower, but I tell you what – it’s pretty shameless,” Hanson-Young said of the report’s timing.

The report recommends greater training be given to guards on Nauru, a review of guidelines around sexual harassment, greater investigation by the Australian government into such incidents reported in the review, the establishment of “a robust child protection framework,” and better frameworks for prevention of such incidents.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter @JoshButler

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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UNDP Unveils Blueprint for Swift, Unified Crisis Responsehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/undp-unveils-blueprint-for-swift-unified-crisis-response/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=undp-unveils-blueprint-for-swift-unified-crisis-response http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/undp-unveils-blueprint-for-swift-unified-crisis-response/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 20:54:12 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139777 Devastation from the Mar. 1, 2011 tsunami that swept through Yotukura fishing village. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS

Devastation from the Mar. 1, 2011 tsunami that swept through Yotukura fishing village. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS

By Ramesh Jaura
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has announced a new 10-year global plan to support country efforts to reduce the risk of disasters that kill people and destroy livelihoods. The plan was unveiled at the Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction which ended on Mar. 18.

“Called ‘5-10-50’, the programme will support countries and communities to deliver better risk-informed development, and targets 50 countries over 10 years, with a focus on five critical areas: risk awareness and early warning; risk-governance and mainstreaming; preparedness; resilient recovery; and local/urban risk reduction,” UNDP Administrator Helen Clark said at a special event on Mar. 17 in Sendai, in the centre of Japan’s Tohoku region, which bore the brunt of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that led to the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster."It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you can actually invest in DRR, you don’t actually have to spend so much money after the crisis to feed the population." -- Izumi Nakamitsu

The UNDP also launched a new report at Sendai, titled ‘Strengthening Disaster Risk Governance: UNDP Support during the HFA Implementation Period 2005 – 2015’.

The report is a review of UNDP support in 125 disaster-prone countries since 2005, and draws on detailed findings from a selection of 17 countries. The findings from the report are to be used in the development of the new programme.

Following are excerpts of an IPS interview in which the UNDP Assistant Administrator Izumi Nakamitsu, who heads the agency’s Crisis Response Unit, explains what this Unit in particular and the agency in general are doing to reduce disaster risk (Interview transcript by Josh Butler at IPS U.N. Bureau in New York):

IPS: What was the idea behind setting up the Crisis Response Unit, and what does it do?

Izumi Nakamitsu (IN): UNDP is obviously a development cooperation organisation. But if you look at the world, there are so many crises. We have to make sure we become, or are, a development cooperation organisation that can also respond to crises properly and fast. If you can respond quickly to crises, you can from the start put perspectives of early recovery and also resilience. We can actually become much more strategic in the way the international community can actually respond to crises.

You hear this terminology of ‘fit for purpose.’ U.N. organisations need to change with the changing environment and context. That was the reasoning behind this rather dramatic restructuring of UNDP (in October 2014). As one of the outcomes, it’s not the only one, is a new entity called the crisis response unit.

We make sure UNDP actually takes a whole of UNDP approach. The crisis response perspectives and early recovery perspectives are integrated into everything that we do in development work. Our role is to make sure that, by becoming a sort of crisis coordinator, different parts of UNDP will be responding collectively so that we actually take the whole of UNDP approach.

I should also emphasise it’s not just a natural disaster context. In fact, if you look at the number of victims of humanitarian crises, 70-80 percent are in a conflict setting. It’s much more complicated to respond to that sort of crisis.

IPS: So disaster risk reduction is one complement of your activities?

IN: Risk reduction perspective has to be integrated into everything we do. The whole development actions will have to be risk-informed. All parts of UNDP are integrating perspectives.

It’s not just my little unit that coordinates and manages a crisis response, but there’s a large team that is specifically looking at how to mainstream DRR (disaster risk reduction) perspectives into everything UNDP does. It’s not just the crisis context. It has to be part of normal development work.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you can actually invest in DRR, you don’t actually have to spend so much money after the crisis to feed the population. We think it makes sense to integrate and mainstream these DRR perspectives throughout the development process.

IPS: How does the cooperation function in this case?

IN: Obviously we have to work together. A lot of the risk reduction part is to create a national sort of legal framework on the ground in different countries. We still have very good disaster management law, for example. We have been working quite a lot; in 70-80 percent of our programme countries, UNDP has been part of preparing that legislative framework to properly invest in DRR.

But that’s only the beginning of the work. We have to then create the actual capacities at the country level, so that thIs legislation will actually have an impact in terms of DRR.

IPS: And that’s more difficult?

IN: I wouldn’t say it’s difficult. It takes time. It’s about capacity building. For that to happen, we need to have good partners on the ground that are engaged with those stakeholders.

I was meeting with the secretary general of the federation of Red Cross societies, they have huge strength, because they have national chapters, national committees, who will be implementing those things in terms of capacity building. We have been partnering with them also in terms of preparing legislation as well.

The next step is to create capacities on the ground. We’re doing a lot of that. We think it makes sense to invest in those types of activities. We can’t prevent disasters. That is not possible. But if we can minimise the risk, we can manage the impact, then probably much smaller humanitarian interventions would be required. The whole international support will probably become much more sustainable.

IPS: Disaster prone countries lack funds, they also lack technologies. These will have to come from rich and industrialised countries. Isn’t that a problem?

IN: Of course . . . Japan just pledged 4 billion USD during the conference (as a gesture of goodwill). But it’s not just about the amount of money . . .There will have to be an understanding on the part of all governments that they have to invest in building DRR frameworks. They have to invest in building resilience and ensuring that resilience. It’s not just the amount of money but how you spend it.

IPS: It’s the old debate, the effectiveness.

IN: 2015 is a critical year: especially on the eve of (the finance for development meeting in) Addis Ababa, many countries are looking at what it is that they will have to agree. Sendai is the first one.

IPS: What would you suggest developing countries should expect from Addis?

IN: Let’s hope these intergovernmental processes will produce a strong enough policy framework that will actually fully recognise that these are in fact DRR, development concerns, and will be treated as such. Also that the countries will understand, you need to actually make investments in resilience and risk reduction.

But also, for UNDP, it’s very important that policy frameworks will not just be policy frameworks working in abstract. They have to be something that can be implemented in a concrete way on the ground in a country.

We have invested 2 billion USD in the last 10 years in this area, DRR. In terms of implementation capacity, we are the one who will have to actually take those policy frameworks, look at them, and reflect them into our country programmes. Our work will probably be much more intense when these frameworks are ready.

We will have to take them and operationalise them. Those are the hopes. These are all intergovernmental processes. We’re here to support the governments and inform, in our view, what works and what doesn’t work that well. And feeding those perspectives into government delegations in the form of advice.

IPS: We are entering the minefield, where it’s a question of: what does international cooperation achieve?

IN: I think national governments also have a huge responsibility, but that’s why we work with them. We are the largest partner of those governments, especially in DRR areas. I talked about disaster management laws in different countries.

That’s a prime example of governments taking their responsibilities and then creating the capacities to make sure these legislative frameworks will actually have an impact and work with them also. (National) Governments’ responsibilities and our support, they are probably both sides of the same coin.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Watch the full interview below:

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In Thrall to the Mall Crawl and Urban Sprawlhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/in-thrall-to-the-mall-crawl-and-urban-sprawl/#comments Thu, 19 Mar 2015 13:02:02 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139762 A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg#/media/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg

A typical image of the kind of subdivisions that epitomise urban sprawl, Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Credit: "Rio Rancho Sprawl" by Riverrat303 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg#/media/File:Rio_Rancho_Sprawl.jpeg

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Mar 19 2015 (IPS)

There’s little argument about the basic facts: It’s ugly (think strip malls and big box stores). It’s not very convenient (hours spent behind the wheel to get to work). And it wreaks havoc on the natural environment (lost farmland and compromised watersheds).

So why is “urban sprawl”, the steady creep outward of cities to more rural areas and corresponding heavy reliance on cars to commute anywhere, just getting worse?"A growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities - often called a 'walkable' or 'new urban' neighbourhood - instead of sprawl." -- Todd Litman

Experts like Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute in British Columbia say it’s a matter of what planners call smart growth – or lack thereof.

“Much of the motivation for middle-class households to move from cities to suburbs was to distance themselves from lower-income households that cannot afford single-family homes and automobile transportation,” he told IPS.

“Over time, anybody who could, left, resulting in economically-disadvantaged households concentrated in urban neighbourhoods.”

The list of woes this segregation created is not short, and includes reduced agricultural and ecological productivity, increased public infrastructure and service costs, increased transport costs, traffic congestion, accidents, pollution emissions, reduced accessibility for non-drivers, and reduced public fitness and health.

In fact, a new analysis released Thursday by the New Climate Economy, the Victoria Institute, and LSE Cities finds that sprawl imposes more than 400 billion dollars in external costs and 625 billion in internal costs annually in the U.S. alone.

Poor communities get even poorer, and research shows that this concentration of poverty increases social problems like crime and drug addiction, stacking the odds against inner city children from the very start.

By contrast, says Litman, the study’s lead author, “smart growth consists of compact neighbourhoods with diverse housing and transportation options which accommodate diverse types of households – young, old, rich, poor, people with disabilities – and residents can choose the most efficient mode for each trip: walking and cycling for local errands, high quality public transit when traveling on busy urban corridors, and automobiles when they are truly optimal overall, considering all impacts.

smart growth

“This type of development tends to reduce per capita land consumption, reduces per capita vehicle ownership and travel, and increases the portion of trips made by walking, cycling and public transport, which provides numerous savings and benefits compared with the same people living and working in sprawled locations,” he said.

Once considered primarily a blight of developed countries, the problem has now gone global, according to UN Habitat.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, between 1970 and 2000, the surface area of the city grew 1.5 times faster than the population. The same is true for cities in China; Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar; Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest commercial hub; and the capitals of Egypt and Mexico, Cairo and Mexico City, respectively, the agency says.

In Latin America, sprawl has wreaked serious damage on environmentally sensitive areas. These include Panama City and its surrounding Canal Zone, Caracas and its adjacent coastline, San José de Costa Rica and its mountainous area, and São Paulo and its water basins.

“For more than half a century, most countries have experienced rapid urban growth and increased use of motor vehicles,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in the Global Report on Human Settlements 2013. “This has led to urban sprawl and even higher demand for motorized travel with a range of environmental, social and economic consequences.

“Urban transport is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions and a cause of ill-health due to air and noise pollution. The traffic congestion created by unsustainable transportation systems is responsible for significant economic and productivity costs for commuters and goods transporters.”

Reversing this trend now is critical, since projections show that between 1950 and 2050, the human population will quadruple and shift from 80 percent rural to nearly 80 percent urban.

Typical urban densities today range from 5-20 residents per hectare in North America, 20-100 residents per hectare in Europe, and more than 100 residents per hectare in many Asian cities.

One major challenge, Litman says, is the common perception that cities are inefficient and dangerous, when in fact “in many ways they are actually more efficient and safer than suburban communities, and they become more efficient and safer as more middle-class households move into urban neighbourhoods.”

In addition, zoning codes and development policies often discourage urban development and favour sprawl, and transportation policies excessively favour investments in car travel.

“For example, most jurisdictions devote far more road space and funding to automobile transportation than to walking, cycling and public transit, and impose minimum parking requirements on developers which result in massive subsidies for motorists, and it is difficult to shift those resources to alternative modes even if they are more cost effective overall. Resource efficient modes – walking, cycling and public transit – get little respect!”

The good news, he said, is that “a growing portion of middle-income households want to live in more compact, multimodal communities – often called a ‘walkable’ or ‘new urban’ neighbourhood – instead of sprawl. They are willing to accept a smaller house and they want to drive less and rely more on walking, cycling and pubic transit, but they can only do so if zoning codes and development policies change to support that.”

As a positive example, he said, many jurisdictions have ‘complete streets’ policies which recognise that public roads should be designed to service diverse users and uses, including walking, cycling, automobile, public transit, plus adjacent businesses and residents, so planning should account for the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and sidewalk café patron, not just motorists.

“Many cities are doing well on some [projects and policies] but not others. For example, Los Angeles is improving walking, cycling and public transit, but doing poorly in allowing compact infill development. Vancouver has great density near downtown but needs to allow more density in other areas. Portland and Seattle have great cycling facilities, but could have more bus lanes.

“Virtually no city is implementing all of the policy reforms that I think are justified based on economic efficiency and social equity principles,” Litman concluded.

“For example, even relatively progressive cities restrict development densities and require minimum parking for new development, few cities have programs to both increase affordable housing supply and improve livability – e.g., building more local parks – in accessible neighbourhoods, and only a few cities use efficient road tolls or parking fees to control congestion. There is more to be done!”

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Unseen and Unheard: Afghan Baloch People Speak Uphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/unseen-and-unheard-afghan-baloch-people-speak-up/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unseen-and-unheard-afghan-baloch-people-speak-up http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/unseen-and-unheard-afghan-baloch-people-speak-up/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 22:08:47 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139744 Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ZARANJ, Afghanistan, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

Balochistan, divided by the borders of Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan, is a vast swathe of land the size of France. It boasts enormous deposits of gas, gold and copper, untapped sources of oil and uranium, as well as a thousand kilometres of coastline near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz.

Despite the wealth under their sandals, the Baloch people inhabit the most underdeveloped regions of their respective countries; Afghanistan is no exception.

“Against all odds, our national identity is [growing]. We just need the rest of the world to know about us.” -- Baloch intellectual and historian Abdul Sattar Purdely
Often overlooked, the Afghan Baloch count as just one among the many groups that make up the colourful ethnic mosaic of Afghanistan. And like the Pashtuns, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks, they have also seen their land divided by the arbitrary boundaries in Central Asia.

Baloch historian and intellectual Abdul Sattar Purdely tells IPS there are “about two million of us in Afghanistan, but only those living in the southern provinces of Nimroz and Helmand speak Balochi.”

In his late sixties, this former MP during the rule of Mohammad Najibullah (1987-1992) is today a professor, writer, and a leading advocate for the preservation of the Baloch language and culture in Afghanistan.

In coordination with the Afghan Ministry of Education, Purdely has written textbooks in Balochi that go as far as the 8th grade, which are already being used in three schools.

The Baloch in Afghanistan make up just a tiny portion of a people scattered throughout the Iranian Plateau, but they are united by the experience of religious, linguistic and ethnic persecution in a region increasingly marked by Islamic extremism.

A shepherd and his family walk their cattle in Zaranj, capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. In the absence of comprehensive census data, the Baloch intellectual Abdul Sattar Purdely tells IPS that Afghan Balochs number about two million, though not all speak the Balochi language. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A shepherd and his family walk their sheep in Zaranj, capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. In the absence of comprehensive census data, the Baloch intellectual Abdul Sattar Purdely tells IPS that Afghan Balochs number about two million, though not all speak the Balochi language. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The Baloch people, who hail from the Iranian plateau, have settled for centuries alongside the banks of the Helmand River in Afghanistan. But severe droughts and the excessive use of the river’s water for opium cultivation in Nimroz have lead to the collapse of agriculture in the province, affecting scores of Baloch families. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The Baloch people, who hail from the Iranian plateau, have settled for centuries alongside the banks of the Helmand River in Afghanistan. But severe droughts and the excessive use of the river’s water for opium cultivation in Nimroz have lead to the collapse of agriculture in the province, affecting scores of Baloch families. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The majority of the Baloch people are Sunni Muslims but their moderate vision of Islam has turned them into victims of growing Islamic extremism in the region. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The majority of the Baloch people are Sunni Muslims but their moderate vision of Islam has turned them into victims of growing Islamic extremism in the region. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

The neglected village of Haji Abdurrahman, in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, is a hub for Afghan and Pakistani Baloch people, the latter seeking shelter in Afghanistan. Dozens of families struggle to survive in this cluster of mud houses without electricity or running water.

The neglected village of Haji Abdurrahman, in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province, is a hub for Afghan and Pakistani Baloch people, the latter seeking shelter in Afghanistan. Dozens of families struggle to survive in this cluster of mud houses without electricity or running water.

Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch youngsters ride their motorbikes along the dry bed of the Helmand River. The total lack of economic and social opportunities pushes them to illegally migrate to neighbouring Iran, seeking a better life. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A Baloch teenager poses next to his portrait inside his house in Nasirabad, another mud-hut village in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province. Like the majority of the local population, he is also illiterate. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A Baloch teenager poses next to his portrait inside his house in Nasirabad, another mud-hut village in Afghanistan’s Nimroz province. Like the majority of the local population, he is also illiterate. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

In Pakistan, for instance, the Baloch people have long weathered a crackdown against what the government calls an insurgency, while “Tehran is constantly trying to quell any Baloch initiative in Nimroz [a province in southwest Afghanistan] as they consider it a potential threat to their security,” according to Mir Mohamad Baloch, a political and cultural activist.

This Afghan-born Baloch tells IPS that an independent Balochistan is a “life dream” for him – but under current political conditions in the region, this dream is a long way from reality.

Currently, Zaranj hosts the only TV programme in Balochi in Afghanistan for one hour a day between five and six pm. Although the first TV channel in Balochi was set up in 1978 preceding the printing of the community’s first books and newspapers, the fall of the Communist government led to a sharp cultural decline in Afghanistan.

Historically a nomadic group, the Baloch people have endured years of brutal repression for their moderate vision of Islam. Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban, even issued a fatwa, an Islamic edict, against the people of Nimroz, calling for the ethnic cleansing of the Baloch and Shia population.

“Against all odds, our national identity is [growing] bigger despite the ongoing chaos in the country,” proclaims Abdul Sattar Purdely from his office in downtown Kabul. “We just need the rest of the world to know about us.”

A Baloch family from the Taliban-stronghold of Kandahar stand for a photograph. While millions of Afghans have fled to Pakistan over the past four decades, Pakistani Balochs are taking the opposite route, fleeing to Afghanistan to avoid repression by the Pakistani government. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A Baloch family from the Taliban-stronghold of Kandahar stand for a photograph. While millions of Afghans have fled to Pakistan over the past four decades, Pakistani Balochs are taking the opposite route, fleeing to Afghanistan to avoid repression by the Pakistani government. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

 

This Pakistani Baloch elder and his two sons are today hiding in Afghanistan. Rights groups have criticised the Pakistan government’s crackdown on the Baloch people. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

This Pakistani Baloch elder and his two sons are today hiding in Afghanistan. Rights groups have criticised the Pakistan government’s crackdown on the Baloch people. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch fighters from the Balochistan Liberation Army crouch at an undisclosed location along the Afghan-Pakistan border. There are several Baloch insurgent groups fighting for independence in Pakistan. Some of their fighters often cross the border to evacuate the wounded and treat them in Afghan hospitals. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Baloch fighters from the Balochistan Liberation Army crouch at an undisclosed location along the Afghan-Pakistan border. There are several Baloch insurgent groups fighting for independence in Pakistan. Some of their fighters often cross the border to evacuate the wounded and treat them in Afghan hospitals. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Karim and Sharif Baloch, both of them from Pakistan, show the portraits of their lost brother and father at their current residence in Zaranj. They tell IPS their relatives were killed in 2011 during a Pakistani military operation. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Karim and Sharif Baloch, both of them from Pakistan, show the portraits of their lost brother and father at their current residence in Zaranj. They tell IPS their relatives were killed in 2011 during a Pakistani military operation. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck travels down a lost road in Nimroz, the only Afghan province where the Baloch minority form a majority. In the country’s remote southwest, Nimroz shares a 500-kilometre border with both Iran and Pakistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck travels down a lost road in Nimroz, the only Afghan province where the Baloch minority form a majority. In the country’s remote southwest, Nimroz shares a 500-kilometre border with both Iran and Pakistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck pauses at the Afghan-Iranian border in Zaranj, the administrative capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. Pakistani writer Amhed Rashid tells IPS this province is a smuggling hub through which heroin goes out and weapons come in. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

A truck pauses at the Afghan-Iranian border in Zaranj, the administrative capital of Afghanistan’s Nimroz Province. Pakistani writer Amhed Rashid tells IPS this province is a smuggling hub through which heroin goes out and weapons come in. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Key to Preventing Disasters Lies in Understanding Themhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/key-to-preventing-disasters-lies-in-understanding-them/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=key-to-preventing-disasters-lies-in-understanding-them http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/key-to-preventing-disasters-lies-in-understanding-them/#comments Wed, 18 Mar 2015 20:56:30 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139742 Flooding is declared a natural disaster Jan. 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Credit: Bigstock

Flooding is declared a natural disaster Jan. 12, 2011 in Brisbane, Australia. Credit: Bigstock

By Ramesh Jaura
SENDAI, Japan, Mar 18 2015 (IPS)

The Third World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction concluded on Wednesday after a long drawn-out round of final negotiations, with representatives of 187 U.N. member states finally agreeing on what is being described as a far-reaching new framework for the next 15 years: 2015-2030.

But whether the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) heralds the dawn of a new era – fulfilling U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s expectation on the opening day of the conference on Mar. 14 that “sustainability starts in Sendai” – remains to be seen."I think we can all understand the disaster superficially, but that’s not really what will reduce the risk in future. What will reduce risk is if we understand the risks, and not just one risk, but several risks working together to really undermine society." -- Margareta Wahlström

Margareta Wahlström, the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Head of the U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), has emphasised that the new framework “opens a major new chapter in sustainable development as it outlines clear targets and priorities for action which will lead to a substantial reduction of disaster risk and losses in lives, livelihoods and health”.

But she warned on Wednesday that implementation of the new framework “will require strong commitment and political leadership and will be vital to the achievement of future agreements on sustainable development goals [in September] and climate later this year [in December in Paris]”.

The new framework outlines seven global targets and four priorities.

The global targets to be achieved over the next 15 years are: “a substantial reduction in global disaster mortality; a substantial reduction in numbers of affected people; a reduction in economic losses in relation to global GDP; substantial reduction in disaster damage to critical infrastructure and disruption of basic services, including health and education facilities; an increase in the number of countries with national and local disaster risk reduction strategies by 2020; enhanced international cooperation; and increased access to multi-hazard early warning systems and disaster risk information and assessments.”

The four priorities for action are focussed on a better understanding of risk, strengthened disaster risk governance and more investment. A final priority calls for more effective disaster preparedness and embedding the ‘build back better’ principle into recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Following are excerpts of an IPS interview with UNISDR head Margareta Wahlström on Mar. 16 during which she explained the nitty-gritty of DRR. (Interview transcript by Josh Butler at IPS U.N. Bureau in New York.):

IPS: Do you think this conference would come out with solutions to reduce disaster risk?

Margareta Wahlström (MW): The conference and the collective experience has got all the solutions. That’s not really our problem. Our problem is to make a convincing argument for applying the knowledge we already have. It has to do with individuals, with society, with business, et cetera. Not to make it an oversimplified agenda, because it’s quite complex.

If you really want to reduce risks sustainably, you have to look at many different sectors, and not individually, but they have to work together. I can see myself, I can hear, there has been a lot of progress over this 10 years.

One of the critical thresholds to cross is moving from the disaster to the risk understanding. I think we can all understand the disaster superficially, but that’s not really what will reduce the risk in future. What will reduce risk is if we understand the risks, and not just one risk, but several risks working together to really undermine society.

That’s what this conference is about. As much as it is about negotiating a document, now laying the ground for work in the coming decades, it is also about people learning very rapidly from each other, allowing themselves to be inspired.

IPS: An important issue is resilience. The poor and vulnerable have always shown resilience. But what we need to strengthen their resilience is money (finance for development) and technology. Do you see these two things happening as a result of this conference?

MW: Not only because of the conference. If anything, the conference will up the priorities, increase the understanding of the necessary integration of planning. In any case, historical experience shows the most critical foundation stone for resilience is social development and economic development. People need to be healthy, well educated, have choices, have jobs. With that follows, of course, in a way, new risks, as we know. Lifestyle risks.

I think the technology is there. The issue of technology is more its availability, that can be an issue of money but it can also an issue of capacity on how to use technology. Which, for many countries and individuals, is really an issue. We need to look at ourselves. The evolution of technology is faster than people’s ability to use it.

Financial resources to acquire it can definitely be a limitation, but an even bigger limitation in many cases is capacity. If you think of money in terms of government’s own investments, which is the most critical one, I think we will see that increasing, as the understanding of what it is you do when you build for resilience, that means risk sensitive infrastructure, risk sensitive agriculture, water management systems. It’s not a standalone issue.

I think we will see an increase in investment. Investment for individuals, for the social side of resilience, in particular the focus on the most poor people, will require a more clear cut decision of policy direction, which can very probably be helped by the agreement later in this year hopefully on the post-2015 universal development agenda. That will, at best, help to put the focus on what needs to be done to continue the very strong focus on poverty reduction.

IPS: Do you think the issue of ODA (official development assistance) has any relevance these days?

MW: In terms of its size and scale, probably not, compared to foreign direct investments, private sector growth. But of course it’s got an enormous important symbolic value, and political value, as a concrete expression of solidarity.

Nevertheless to be very, very fair, still there are a number of countries that depend a lot on ODA, 30-40 percent of their GDP is still based on ODA in one form or the other. Which is probably not that healthy in terms of their policy choices at the end of the day, but that is the current economic reality. Really the need for economic development, the type of investments that stimulate countries’ own economic growth, people’s growth, need to remain a very critical priority.

That’s why I think you see, both in the SDGs discussion and this discussion, such a strong emphasis on the national resource base as the foundation, including for international cooperation.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

Watch the full interview below:

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Women Turn Drought into a Lesson on Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/women-turn-drought-into-a-lesson-on-sustainability/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 19:35:16 +0000 Zofeen Ebrahim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139719 Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

Women in Pakistan fare worse than all their neighbours in terms of resilience to climate change. Credit: Ali Mansoor/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

When a group of women in the remote village of Sadhuraks in Pakistan’s Thar Desert, some 800 km from the port city of Karachi, were asked if they would want to be born a woman in their next life, the answer from each was a resounding ‘no’.

They have every reason to be unhappy with their gender, mostly because of the unequal division of labour between men and women in this vast and arid region that forms a natural boundary between India and Pakistan.

"South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters." -- David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit
“A woman’s work is never done,” one woman says.

“She works in the fields as well as the home, fetches water, eats less,” adds another.

Others say women are compelled to perform manual labour even while pregnant, and some lament they cannot take care of themselves, with so many others to look after.

While this mantra rings true for millions of impoverished women around the world, it takes on a whole new meaning in Tharparkar, one of 23 districts that comprise Pakistan’s Sindh Province, which has been ranked by the World Food Programme (WFP) as the most food insecure region of the country.

But a scheme to include women in adaptation and mitigation efforts is gaining ground in this drought-struck region, where the simple act of moving from one day to the next has become a life-and-death struggle for many.

Over 500 infant deaths were reported last year, the third consecutive drought year for the region. Malnutrition and hunger are rampant, while thousands of families cannot find water.

In its 2013 report, the State of Food Security, the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) listed Tharparkar as the region with the country’s highest caloric deficit, a by-product of what it labels a “chronic” food crisis, prompted by climate change.

Of the 1.5 million people spread out over 2,300 villages in an area spanning 22,000 square km, the women are bearing the brunt of this slow and recurring disaster.

Tanveer Arif who heads the NGO Society for Conservation and Protection of Environment (SCOPE) tells IPS that women not only have to look after the children, they are also forced to fill a labour gap caused by an exodus of men migrating to urban areas in search of jobs.

With their husbands gone, women must also tend to the livestock, fetch water from distant sources when their household wells run dry, care for the elderly, and keep up the tradition of subsistence farming – a near impossible task in a drought-prone region that is primed to become hotter and drier by 2030, according to the Pakistan Meteorological Department.

The promise of harder times ahead has been a wakeup call for local communities and policymakers alike that building resilience is the only defense against a rising death toll.

Women here are painfully aware that they need to learn how to store surplus food, identify drought-resilient crops and wean themselves off agriculture as a sole means of survival, thinking that has been borne out in recent studies on the region.

Conservation brings empowerment

The answer presented itself in the form of a small, thorny tree called the mukul myrrh, which produces a gum resin that is widely used for a range of cosmetic and medicinal purposes, known here as guggal.

Until recently, the plant was close to extinction, and sparked conservation efforts to keep the species alive in the face of ruthless extraction – 40 kg of the gum resin fetches anything from 196 to 392 dollars.

Today, those very efforts are doubling up as adaptation and resiliency strategies among the women of Tharparkar.

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women often bare the brunt of natural disasters since they are responsible for the upkeep of the household and the wellbeing of their families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

It began in 2013, when SCOPE launched a project with support from the Scottish government to involve women in conservation. Today, some 2,000 women across Tharparkar are growing guggal gum trees; it has brought nutrition, a better income and food security to all their families.

“For the first time in so many years, we did not migrate […] in search of a livelihood,” 35-year-old Resham Wirdho, a mother of seven, tells IPS over the phone from Sadhuraks.

She says her family gets 100 rupees (about 0.98 dollars) from the NGO for every plant she raises successfully. With 500 plants on her one-acre plot of land, she makes about 49 dollars each month. Combining this with her husband’s earnings of about 68 dollars a month as a farmhand, they no longer have to worry where the next meal will come from.

They used some of their excess income to plant crops in their backyard. “This year for the first time, instead of feeding my children dried vegetables, I fed them fresh ones,” she says enthusiastically.

For the past year, they have not had to buy groceries on credit from the village store. They are also able to send the eldest of their seven kids to college.

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Women in Pakistan’s drought-struck Tharparkar District are shouldering the burden of a long dry spell that is wreaking havoc across the desert region. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Wirdho says it is a gift that keeps on giving. In the next three years, each of the trees they planted will fetch at least five dollars, amounting to net earnings of 2,450 dollars – a princely sum for families in this area who typically earn between 78 and 98 dollars monthly.

And finally, the balance of power between Wirdho and her husband is shifting. “He is more respectful and not only helps me water and take care of the plants, but with the housework as well – something he never did before,” she confesses.

Lessons from Pakistan for South Asia

The success of a single scheme in a Pakistani desert holds seeds of knowledge for the entire region, where experts have long been pushing for a gendered approach to sustainable development.

With 2015 poised to be a watershed year – including several scheduled international conferences on climate change, many believe the time is ripe to reduce women’s vulnerability by including them in planning and policies.

Such a move is badly needed in South Asia, home to 1.6 billion people, where women comprise the majority of the roughly 660 million people living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. They also account for 50 percent of the agricultural labour force, thus are susceptible to changes in climate and ecosystems.

The region is highly prone to natural disasters, and with the population projected to hit 2.2 billion by 2050 experts fear the outcome of even minor natural disasters on the most vulnerable sectors of society, such as the women.

A recent report by The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (EIU), ‘The South Asia Women’s Resilience Index’, concluded, “South Asian countries largely fail to consider the rights of women to be included in their disaster risk reduction (DRR) and resilience-building efforts.”

Using Japan – with a per capita relief budget 200 times that of India, Pakistan or Bangladesh – as a benchmark, the index measured women’s vulnerability to natural calamities, economic shifts and conflict.

A bold indictment of women’s voices going unheard, the report put Pakistan last on the index, lower than Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

On all four categories considered by the EIU in measuring women’s resiliency – economic, infrastructural, institutional and social – Pakistan scored near the bottom. On indicators such as relief budgets and women’s access to employment and finance, it lagged behind all its neighbours.

According to David Line, managing editor of The Economist Intelligence Unit, “South Asian countries need to realise the tremendous capacity for leadership women have in planning for and responding to disasters. They are at the ‘front line’ and have intimate knowledge of their communities. Wider recognition of this could greatly reduce disaster risk and improve the resilience of these communities.”

And if further proof is needed, just talk to the women of Tharparkar.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Palestinian Grassroots Resistance to Occupation Growinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-grassroots-resistance-to-occupation-growing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=palestinian-grassroots-resistance-to-occupation-growing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/palestinian-grassroots-resistance-to-occupation-growing/#comments Tue, 17 Mar 2015 10:02:46 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139700 Unarmed Palestinian confronts Israeli soldiers during protest near Jelazon refugee camp, north of Ramallah, West Bank. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

Unarmed Palestinian confronts Israeli soldiers during protest near Jelazon refugee camp, north of Ramallah, West Bank. Credit: Mel Frykberg/IPS

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, Mar 17 2015 (IPS)

As soon as the truck carrying Israeli dairy products entered Ramallah’s city centre it was surrounded by Palestinian activists who proceeded to remove and trash almost 20,000 dollars’ worth of mainly milk and yoghurt.

The driver of the truck, a Palestinian from the nearby Qalandia refugee camp, and an Israeli employee fainted after watching helplessly.

The goods, already paid for by Palestinian shopkeepers, were smashed up and stomped on before they were spread all over the street in front of the Palestinian police stationed at the traffic circle.

Activists from the Palestinian Authority (PA)-affiliated Fatah movement are behind a boycott of Israeli goods throughout the West Bank.“The strength of the grassroots organisations’ action against Israel is not going to go away anytime soon and will only continue to grow in strength internationally” – Professor Samir Awad of Birzeit University

The boycott follows the withholding by Israel of millions of Palestinian tax dollars in retaliation for the PA advancing plans to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged Gaza war crimes and abuses in the West Bank.

We have entered the second phase of the campaign which is confiscating and damaging these goods,” said Abdullah Kamal, who is the leader of the campaign.

Several weeks earlier, the campaign had involved Kamal and his associates making the rounds of shops in Ramallah and ordering shopkeepers to rid their stores of Israeli produce and being warned not to purchase any more. Similar moves are under way in other cities of the occupied West Bank.

Although the Palestinian territories are not a huge part of Israel’s domestic market, the move is part of a number of grassroots campaigns of defiance by Palestinians against Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its siege of Gaza.

“The local boycott by Palestinians is peaceful and a way of exerting some pressure on Israel even if it not very strong,” Professor Samir Awad, a political scientist from Birzeit University near Ramallah, told IPS

“The least Palestinians can do is not finance the occupation.”

A more serious development, from Israel’s point of view, was a recent vote by the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s (PLO) executive committee in favour of discontinuing security coordination with Israel’s intelligence and security services.

Palestinians have long accused the PA of being Israel’s sub-contractor to the occupation and the Israelis rely on this security coordination to prevent another Palestinian uprising and control armed resistance.

A final decision on breaking off security coordination lies with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

“The situation on the ground is getting serious and it is possible that Abbas could make this decision before the end of the month,” Fatah member Murad Shitawi told IPS.

“We will not accept the continuing occupation with its economic and security implications,” said Shitawi, who is the coordinator of protests in the northern West Bank village of Kafr Qaddoum, and who was recently released from an Israeli jail.

Every Friday, dozens of villages throughout the West Bank and Gaza take part in protests against Israel’s expropriation of Palestinian land and the occupation despite the huge toll this has taken on Palestinians in terms of the number wounded and killed.

Shitawi pointed out that four or five years ago there were only a few villages taking part in regular protests on a weekly basis.

“Now there are many and the protests are not limited to Friday.”

Another act of Palestinian defiance has been the repeated building of protest tents and villages in Area C of the West Bank, 60 percent of the territory, in protest against Israel’s forced removal of Bedouins and other Palestinians who have lived there for centuries.

Israel has designated Area C off limits to Palestinians and exclusively for Israeli settlers, which is illegal under international law.

One of these protest camps near the village of Abu Dis, just outside Jerusalem, has been rebuilt 10 times after Israeli security forces rased it, confiscated equipment and arrested and assaulted activists who had encamped there.

Furthermore, Palestinian grassroots activists are also working in conjunction with their international supporters, and with Israeli peace groups, to up the pressure on Israel as the international Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign continues to strengthen.

A growing number of global businesses, church and university groups and artists are either refusing to visit Israel, do business with Israeli companies involved in the West Bank, or are boycotting Israeli institutions operating abroad.

Israel Apartheid Week, “an international series of events that seeks to raise awareness about Israel’s apartheid policies towards the Palestinians and to build support for the growing BDS campaign” was held in a number of capitals across the globe during March.

Israeli peaceniks and grassroots activists have been among some of the most vocal critics of their government’s policies towards the Palestinians, spawning a number of organisations which take part in the weekly protests.

Groups such as Ta’ayush, Breaking the Silence, Ir Amim and Rabbis for Human Rights seek to educate people about the realities of life under occupation.

Some of them also accompany Palestinian farmers trying to cultivate their land under continued settler harassment.

“The strength of the grassroots organisations’ action against Israel is not going to go away anytime soon and will only continue to grow in strength internationally,” Awad told IPS.

“The PA will also continue with its plans to take Israel to the ICC and should Israel continue to withhold Palestinian tax money indefinitely, the PA could collapse and the result would be chaos.” (END/2015)

Edited by Phil Harris

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Meet the 10 Women Who Will Stop at Nothinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/meet-the-10-women-who-will-stop-at-nothing/#comments Fri, 13 Mar 2015 22:07:30 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139652 Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Seven of the ten recipients of the 2015 U.S. Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award pose together with Richard Stengel, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 13 2015 (IPS)

On Apr. 6, 2013, Nadia Sharmeen, a crime reporter, was assigned to cover a rally organised by Hefazat-e-Islam, an association of fundamentalist Islamic groups in Bangladesh whose demands included a call to revoke the proposed National Women Development Policy.

When Sharmeen arrived, she directed her cameraman to get a shot of the crowd and proceeded to interview some of the attendees.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal.” – Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist attacked by a mob of 60 men while covering a rally by the fundamentalist group Hefazat-e-Islam in 2013
“Suddenly a man came up and asked why I was here as a woman,” she tells IPS. “I told him I was not here as a woman, I was here as a journalist. But he did not accept this and started shouting at me to leave.”

The man’s verbal aggressions quickly drew the attention of a large crowd, and before she knew what was happening, a group of 50 or 60 men were attacking her.

“They beat me, they took all my valuables. They threw me to the ground four or five times. They tried to tear off my dress. They wanted to kill me – that was their main goal,” Sharmeen recounts.

Eventually, her colleagues braved the angry mob and managed to get her to the safety of a hospital. But the damage was done; her injuries left her bed-ridden for five months, and in need of multiple surgeries.

Forsaken by her employer, who refused to pay for her medical treatment and finally forced her to resign, Sharmeen got through the ordeal with nothing but her own strength and the unwavering support of her family.

Today, she is one of 10 women recognised by the U.S. Secretary of State for outstanding courage in their pursuit of peace and equality, and is currently touring the country as a recipient of the 2015 International Women of Courage (IWOC) award.

Speaking to IPS on the sidelines of an event held at the New York City Foreign Press Center Friday, Sharmeen says she considers herself “lucky”. She had a family who stood by her, and did not suffer permanent brain damage despite being kicked repeatedly in the head by scores of angry men.

Given the realities on the ground in the country, her analysis is not far from the truth: thousands of Bangladeshi women live in the shadow of violence, which manifests itself in countless ways. In 2011, for instance, 330 women were killed in dowry-related violence. In total, some 66 percent of Bangladeshi girls are married before their 18th birthdays.

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Nadia Sharmeen, a Bangladeshi journalist. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

Other forms of discrimination – such as a 57-percent employment rate for women compared to 88 percent for men – also ensure that women systematically get the raw end of the deal.

According to some data, inequality of the sexes begins at birth, with a female child mortality rate of 20 deaths per 1,000 live births outstripping a male mortality rate of 16 deaths per 100 live births.

In a country where gender bias is finely woven into the social fabric, it is not easy for women to get back up after being beaten down. But that is exactly what Sharmeen did.

Sparking hope across Asia

This year, five of the 10 IWOC honorees hailed from Asia, where women comprise half of the region’s population of four billion.

Their struggles represent the diversity of challenges faced by women across Asia and the Pacific, where patriarchal laws and attitudes run deep.

Sayaka Osakabe, for instance, has spent the last several years fighting a form of discrimination that is perhaps more prominent in Japan than any other country in the region – ‘Matahara’ or maternal harassment, the practice of applying tremendous social on pressure on women to “choose” between having a child or having a career.

Quoting statistics from the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, Osakabe tells IPS that one out of four women are subject to maternal harassment, while 60 percent of all working women generally resign after the birth of their first child.

Osakabe herself faced harassment from her employers during two successive pregnancies, both of which ended in miscarriages because she was denied maternity leave.

On one occasion, her employer went so far as to turn up at her doorstep and inform her that she should not expect to renew her contract because she was causing “so much trouble” in her workplace.

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Sayaka Osakabe is the founder of Matahara Net, an organisation that fights against the practice of maternal harassment in Japan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

Determined not to accept such blatant discrimination, she has focused all her efforts on fighting Matahara, in the hopes that others will not suffer the same fate she did. She founded the organisation Matahara Net, which in less than a year has reached out to over 100 women facing maternal harassment.

Her struggle sparked government action, including the first-ever court ruling that demotions or dismissals due to pregnancy are, in principle, illegal.

It has been a hard-won victory. Osakabe tells IPS she faced “tremendous backlash” from many corners of society, including from women.

“Housewives and high-career women – two groups forced to choose between their jobs or having babies – are the ones who target me the most,” she says.

In a country where women account for one in three people living below the poverty line, and comprise 63 percent of those holding jobs that pay less than 38 percent of a full-time worker’s salary, ‘matahara’ threatens to widen an already gaping gender gap.

By 2060, Japan’s population is projected to shrink to two-thirds of its current 127 million people, and officials are worried about the future workforce – yet society continues to demonise women who want both a family and an income, Osakabe says.

Life or death choices

Other award winners, like Burmese activist May Sabe Phyu, face a different set of challenges. Phyu is active in the movement to bring justice and dignity to ethnic and religious minorities, specifically to the internally displaced people (IDPs) in her native Kachin State, where civil conflict has driven over 120,000 people from their homes since 2011 alone.

In a country that has is becoming increasingly intolerant of minorities, she works against a bloody backdrop: just two months ago, Burmese soldiers raped and killed two Kachin women working as volunteer schoolteachers in a remote village in the Shan state.

Phyu herself has received threats and faces constant harassment and legal charges, but she forges on.

As a co-founder of the Kachin Peace Network and the Kachin Women Peace Network, she advocates tirelessly for the rights of displaced women and children who are most vulnerable to violence in makeshift camps. She also heads Gender Equality Now, an umbrella group of over 90 organisations collectively advocating for women’s rights.

None of these accolades have corroded her humility.

“When I heard I had been selected for this award I asked myself, ‘Do I really deserve this?’” she tells IPS, adding that many other women have shown even greater courage than she in times of adversity.

She speaks of her friend, also a Kachin woman, who first enlightened her of the plight of the IDPs and gender discrimination.

“She is my symbol of courage and whenever I’m feeling down I just look at her, listen to her, and her voice and her anchorage brings me fresh strength,” Phyu says.

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

May Sabe Phyu, director of the Gender Equality Network in Burma, has been advocating for the rights of IDPs in Kachin State since 2011. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida

The remaining honorees from Asia include Niloofar Rahmani, the first female Air Force Pilot in Afghanistan’s history, and Tabassum Adnan, a resident of the formerly Taliban-controlled Swat Valley who survived 20 years of physical and mental abuse before going on to lead the first-ever women’s only Jirga (council) dedicated to issues such as acid attacks, honour killings and ‘swara’ – the practice of exchanging a woman to settle disputes or compensate for crimes.

Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are deadly places for women at the best of times, with the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reporting more than 3,000 cases of violence against women during a six-month period in 2012 and Pakistan police records stating that some 160 women suffered acid attacks in 2014, though NGOs say the number is much higher.

In both countries, choosing to fight back is often a matter of life or death, but such a calculation has not deterred these women from walking the path to freedom.

Other award winners include activists and journalists from Bolivia, the Central African Republic, Guinea, Kosovo and Syria.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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