Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 30 May 2015 01:43:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.5 Civil Society and Politics March for Negev Bedouin Recognitionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/civil-society-and-politics-march-for-negev-bedouin-recognition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-and-politics-march-for-negev-bedouin-recognition http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/civil-society-and-politics-march-for-negev-bedouin-recognition/#comments Sat, 04 Apr 2015 19:30:20 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140028 Participants in the march for recognition of Israel’s Bedouin villages, which began in the unrecognised village of Wadi Al Nam in the Negev desert in southern Israel and ended with delivery of ‘The Alternative Master Plan for Unrecognised Bedouin Villages’ to the Head of State’s office in Jerusalem, March 2015. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Participants in the march for recognition of Israel’s Bedouin villages, which began in the unrecognised village of Wadi Al Nam in the Negev desert in southern Israel and ended with delivery of ‘The Alternative Master Plan for Unrecognised Bedouin Villages’ to the Head of State’s office in Jerusalem, March 2015. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
JERUSALEM, Apr 4 2015 (IPS)

There was a symbolic dimension to a recent four-day march from the periphery of Israel to the corridors of power in Jerusalem to seek recognition for Bedouin villages.

The march, which began in the unrecognised Bedouin village of Wadi Al Nam in the Negev desert in southern Israel, ended on Mar. 29 with delivery of ‘The Alternative Master Plan for Unrecognised Bedouin Villages’ to the Head of State’s office in Jerusalem.

On this occasion, Negev Bedouin community leaders and hundreds of representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs) were joined by Arab and Israeli members of the Knesset from a political society actor, the Joint List, a political alliance of four Arab-dominated parties in Israel – Hadash, the United Arab List, Balad and Ta’al.

The Joint List, headed by Knesset member Ayman Odeh, was born out of Arab civil society’s need for unity and is now very much a player able and willing to gain power and mediate between its constituency and the state.“We are trying to present a different narrative [of Bedouin villages] to the people based on history, on facts, on legal rights and international human rights” – Professor Oren Yiftachel, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

A recent European Commission report mapping CSOs in Israel describes their space for dealing with human and civil rights as shrinking and their contribution to governance often misunderstood or perceived as a threat by state authorities.

In this context, although it may not change the state’s perception of CSOs, a strong partnership with a recognised political society actor such as the Joint List might at least mean that the mobilisation achieved by these organizations at the grassroots level can translate into change at legislative level.

“Because the Joint List is stronger now and we have a common goal, we think we can put more efficient pressure on the parliament and on the government to find a just solution for the people in the unrecognised villages,” Fadi Masamra of the Regional Council of Unrecognised Villages (RCUV) told IPS.

RCUV is an elected civil society body that seeks to advance the rights of Bedouins in unrecognised villages,.

The common goal is gaining recognition for some 46 unrecognised Bedouin villages in the Negev which do not exist on any map and do not receive any basic services such as running water or electricity.

In 2011, the Israeli government approved a unilateral plan, known as the Prawer Plan, to “regularise Bedouin settlement” within five years by demolishing these unrecognised villages and forcibly relocating Bedouins to new localities. The plan sparked mass outcry and was eventually shelved in 2013.

Activists take pride in recalling that the Prawer Plan was stopped by people in the streets who demonstrated against it and not by representatives in the Knesset. They say that it this disconnect that both CSOs and the Joint List hope to be able to bridge by working together.

“I am very proud that the Joint List called for this march,” Hanan al Sanah of womens’ empowerment NGO Sidre told IPS as she walked with the marchers. “It shows that their commitment is real and they haven’t forgotten their electoral promise. They are making the issue of recognition more visible and they can build on the mobilisation that has gone on for years within the community.”

CSOs have worked tirelessly in the Negev not only to mobilise Bedouins against the Prawer Plan but also to produce alternative literature, reports and campaigns that challenge the government’s classification of Bedouin presence in the Negev as “illegal”.

By re-framing the issue of recognition around land rights, human rights and equality, they have been able to reach Jewish and international audiences and further shape the public debate.

CSOs have also been using a powerful state tool, that of mapping, to propose a tangible and viable solution in the form of the ‘The Alternative Master Plan for Unrecognised Bedouin Villages’.

The plan was drawn up by a team led by Professor Oren Yiftachel, who teaches political geography, urban planning and public policy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in collaboration with the RCUV and Bimkom, an NGO promoting equality in planning practices.

“We are trying to present a different narrative to the people based on history, on facts, on legal rights and international human rights,” Yiftachel told IPS. “We worked for three years on the Alternative Plan and we have created a different scenario for the future.”

The Alternative Plan draws a different map of the Negev in which unrecognised villages are “legalised” and can access the same development opportunities as their Jewish neighbours.

“This is a very scientific and detailed solution that fits within state planning and comes from the community, it is not imposed on them. It can make the process easier,” explained RCUV’s Masamra.

Although Yiftachel admits that since it was first presented in 2012 the Alternative Plan has largely been ignored by Knesset commissions, he believes attitudes have shifted and CSOs must continue to push for change.

“After all, a solution is overdue since the future of the unrecognised villages, and of the 100,000 Bedouins living in them, remains uncertain,” he said, adding that “it is important to remember that the state is not a homogeneous body. There are people willing to consider recognition.”

For the CSOs and activists working day in day out in the field, mobilisation remains key. “I would say that the real challenge remains mobilising both the Jewish and the Bedouin community,” Michal Rotem of the Negev Coexistence Forum, a Jewish Arab NGO working in unrecognised villages, told IPS.

“Politicians come and go but it is the NGOs’ role to bring more communities and groups into the struggle and to maintain engagement.”

For Aziz Abu Madegham Al Turi, from the unrecognised village of Al Araqib, working closely with CSOs is important to bring new people to the Negev and come together in actions that reverberate beyond the Negev. “The worse it get gets the more united we become,” he told IPS.

“The state tries to break us up but we connect through different organisations and committees and we find new strength. We come together to support each other.”

Amir Abu Kweider, a prominent activist in the campaign against the Prawer Plan, sees the arrival of the Joint List as an occasion to form new alliances. “We need to intensify efforts to safeguard our rights against racist legislation and reach out to new Israeli audiences,” he told IPS.

In this sense, the march can certainly be judged a success. Tamam Nasra, for example, travelled from the north of Israel to join the march. “Arabs in the South are no different from me, their problems are my problems. Their oppression is my oppression. This is why I heeded (Knesset member) Ayman Odeh’s call,” she told IPS.

Omri Evron, a Joint List voter from Tel Aviv, also joined out of a sense of collective responsibility. “It is not possible that in 2015 in Israel there are people who are effectively not recognised by the state,” he told IPS. “This has to change.”

The positive atmosphere was not dampened even by the knowledge that a new Benjamin Netanyahu government will be sworn in shortly.

“It doesn’t matter if the right wing gets stronger,” stressed Masamra. “If you think that it is not worth struggling then nothing will be changed. We have a responsibility towards our people and this is about human rights, not about who is more powerful.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Global Civil Society to the Rescue of the Amazonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/global-civil-society-to-the-rescue-of-the-amazon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=global-civil-society-to-the-rescue-of-the-amazon http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/global-civil-society-to-the-rescue-of-the-amazon/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 22:02:35 +0000 Kwame Buist http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140007 The future of the Amazon rainforest is “dangling by a thread”. Photo credit: By lubasi (Catedral Verde - Floresta Amazonica)/CC BY-SA 2.0

The future of the Amazon rainforest is “dangling by a thread”. Photo credit: By lubasi (Catedral Verde - Floresta Amazonica)/CC BY-SA 2.0

By Kwame Buist
ROME, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

A global civil society petition to save the Amazon is circulating on the internet and its promoters say that once one million signatures have been collected indigenous leaders will deliver it directly to the governments of Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela.

Launched by ”Avaaz” (“voice” in Persian), a global civic organisation set up in January 2007 to promote activism on issues such as climate change and human rights, citizens around the world the petition invites citizens around the world to voice support for an ambitious project to create the largest environmental reserve in the world, protecting 135 million hectares of Amazon forest, an area more than twice of France.“The fate of the Amazon rainforest is dangling by a thread” – Avaaz

Avaaz says that the project will not happen “unless Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela’s leaders know the public wants it.” The organisation, which operates in 15 languages and claims over thirty million members in 194 countries, says that it works to “close the gap between the world we have and the world most people everywhere want.”

Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos announced Feb. 13 that Colombia proposes collaboration with Brazil and Venezuela to create the world’s largest ecological corridor to mitigate the effects of climate change and preserve biodiversity.

“This would become the world’s largest ecological (corridor) and would be a great contribution to (the) fight of all humanity to preserve our environment, and in Colombia’s case, to preserve our biodiversity,” Santos said.

The Colombian president added that his foreign minister, Maria Angela Holguin, had been asked to “establish all the mechanisms of communication with Brazil and Venezuela” in order to be able to present a joint “concrete, realistic proposal that conveys to the world the enormous contribution the corridor would make towards preserving humanity and mitigating climate change.”

According to Avaaz, “if we create a huge global push to save the Amazon and combine it with national polls in all three countries, we can give the Colombian president the support he needs to convince Brazil and Venezuela.”

“All three leaders are looking for opportunities to shine at the next U.N. climate summit [in Paris in December],” said Avaaz. “Let’s give it to them.”

The Amazon is widely recognised as being vital to life on earth – 10 percent of all known species live there, and its trees help slow down climate change by storing billions of tonnes of carbon that would otherwise be released into in the atmosphere.

Avaaz says that “the fate of the Amazon rainforest is dangling by a thread.” After declining for a few years, deforestation rates started rising again last year, and shot up in Brazil by 190 percent in August and September.

Current laws and enforcement strategies are failing to stop loggers, miners and ranchers, and according to Avaaz, “the best way to regenerate the forest is by creating large reserves, and this ecological corridor would go a long way to help save the fragile wilderness of the Amazon.”

Countering possible criticism of those who argue that reserves hold back economic development and others who say that they are often implemented without consulting the indigenous communities, Avaaz says that “those behind this proposal have committed to full engagement and collaboration with the indigenous tribes. Eighty percent of the territory in this plan is already protected – all that this ground-breaking proposal really requires is regional coordination and enforcement.”

According to the petition’s promoters, “this is an opportunity to win a tangible and vital project that could help guarantee all of our futures. If it works, this could be replicated in all the world’s most important forests. Together, this could plant a seed that helps look after the whole world.”

Edited by Phil Harris

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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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Kurdish Civil Society Against Use of Arms to Gain Autonomyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/kurdish-civil-society-against-use-of-arms-to-gain-autonomy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kurdish-civil-society-against-use-of-arms-to-gain-autonomy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/kurdish-civil-society-against-use-of-arms-to-gain-autonomy/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 17:21:29 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138898 Open market in the southeastern Turkish city of Dyarbakir, capital of the Kurds in Turkey. The city has been a focal point for conflicts between the government and Kurdish movements. December 2014. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz /IPS

Open market in the southeastern Turkish city of Dyarbakir, capital of the Kurds in Turkey. The city has been a focal point for conflicts between the government and Kurdish movements. December 2014. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz /IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

A rupture inside the movement for the creation of an independent state of Kurdistan has given new impetus to the voices of those condemning the use of weapons as the way to autonomy.

The 40 million Kurds represent the world’s largest ethnic group without a permanent nation state or rights guaranteed under a constitution.

“We are the only nationality with a great population without land,” Murat Aba, a member and one of the founders of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK), told IPS. “We’ve been split since after the First World War and we’ve never been allowed to rule ourselves. We are not a minority, we’re a huge number of people and we defend the independence of the four Kurdish groups living in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.”“The peace talks between the PKK and the [Turkish] government should take a different direction. They are being done in secrecy without any transparency at all. We are against the use of firearms in our struggle for independence” - Sabehattin Korkmaz Avukat, lawyer for human right causes involving Kurds.

PAK, which was formally launched towards the end of 2014, is the first legally recognised party in Turkey to include the word ‘Kurdistan’ in its name which, until recently, was forbidden for political parties in the country. According to its leader Mustafa Ozcelik, PAK will pursue independence for Kurds ”through political and legal means”.

This distinction is intended to differentiate it clearly from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – the armed group created in the 1970s to fight for self-determination for the Kurds in Turkey and considered illegal by the Turkish government. So far, the armed struggle for independence has killed over 40,000 people.

Today, around 20,000 PKK soldiers are being trained In the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq, 1,000 kilometres from Diyarbakir, the capital of the Kurds in Turkey. Many of them are now fighting against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

The financial resources to maintain PKK operations come illegally from Kurds living in Europe, Hatip Dicle of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) admitted to IPS. The DTK is a political party which also includes members who are sympathetic to PKK ideology.

The Turkish government “does not allow us to collect donations by legal means,” Dicle continued. “There are over two million Kurds in Europe and all donations are sent secretly.” Dicle said that even it is a pro-democracy movement PKK does not give up the armed solution.

However, in recent years, the PKK has been involved in secret “peace talks” with the Turkish government. Through senior members of his cabinet, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been negotiating with Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader in jail since 1999 on Imrali island in the Sea of Marmara.

The DTK gained strength when the peace process between Turkish authorities and  Öcalan began and, now, “we want this conflict to be over and we wish to achieve a common solution,” Dicle told IPS.

Nevertheless, the secrecy surrounding the peace talks with Öcalan and the PKK is being strongly criticised by those who call for an open process.

“The peace talks between PKK and government should take a different direction. They are being done in secrecy without any transparency at all. We are against the use of firearms in our struggle for independence”, said Sabehattin Korkmaz Avukat, a lawyer advocating for human right causes involving Kurds.

According to Avukat, deep-rooted reform of the Civil Constitution in Turkey is needed. “We want to follow the path of democracy and not violence. Our fight is totally addressed to achieving our own autonomy in a peaceful way. We wish to have our rights included in the Civil Constitution”, he argued.

For Mohammed Akar, the general secretary and founder of a new Kurd cultural entity called Komeleya Şêx Seîd, an organisation dedicated to cultural and educational activities for the Kurdish community and based in Diyarbakir, the road to autonomy in Turkey should not include armed violence.

“We don’t want to use violence to achieve our independence. It may even spoil our claim for democracy”, said Akar, the grandson of Şêx Seîd.  Also known as Sheikh Said,  Şêx Seîd was a former Kurdish sheikh of the Sunni order and leader of the Kurdish rebellion in 1925 during Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s nationalist regime (1923-38).

Şêx Seîd’s name and image had been banned since then until recently, and this is the first time that a civil society entity has been authorised to use his name.

Famous Kurdish writer and political scientist Îbrahîm Guçlu also criticises the way in which the PKK is promoting its political view. He denounces drug trafficking, forced recruitment and coercion of young Kurds by the outlawed group.

“The PKK is an illegal formation whose leader is in jail and tries to manage his entire community from inside prison. We are different and we promote open discussion within society”, says Guçlu.

Edited by Phil Harris

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Diversity and Inclusion for Empowering ‘People of Color’http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/diversity-and-inclusion-for-empowering-people-of-color/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=diversity-and-inclusion-for-empowering-people-of-color http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/diversity-and-inclusion-for-empowering-people-of-color/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 23:23:03 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138391 Young inclusion leaders participating in a workshop session to discuss the setting up of a diversity and inclusion network for future leaders from among Germany’s ‘people of color’, Berlin 2014. Credit: Ina Meling/Integration Commissioner Büro Tempelhof-Schöneberg

Young inclusion leaders participating in a workshop session to discuss the setting up of a diversity and inclusion network for future leaders from among Germany’s ‘people of color’, Berlin 2014. Credit: Ina Meling/Integration Commissioner Büro Tempelhof-Schöneberg

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Dec 23 2014 (IPS)

A unique initiative – the Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE) project – has just held its second workshop here to set up a diversity and inclusion network for future leaders from among Germany’s ‘people of color’, or persons from different ‘non-white’ cultural backgrounds.

The event was held from Dec. 9 to 13in Berlin’s Rathaus Schöneberg, where John F. Kennedy delivered his iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” freedom and solidarity speech to 400,000 West Berliners in 1963.

The workshop brought together 15 talented game changers aged between 18 and 28 from Afro-German, Turkish, Kurdish, Latin American and German-Asian backgrounds, selected from across the country to engage with illustrious key speakers from Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom in sessions designed to discuss instruments for promoting anti-racism, diversity and migrant-friendly agendas."Democracy needs strong, well-networked minorities. When you look around Germany, from parliament to media, public and private sectors, well it's still pretty white, there's a lot of work to be done" – Gabriele Gün Tank, Commissioner for Integration in Berlin Tempelhof-Schöneberg and co-founder of Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE)

The speakers  included Simon Woolley, Director of Operation Black Vote (UK), Mekonnen Mesghena, Director of Migration and Diversity at Berlin’s Heinrich-Böll Foundation, Kwesi Aikins, Policy Officer at the Centre for Migration and Social Affairs, Nuran Yigit, expert in anti-discrimination and board member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Migration Council, Terri Givens, Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Austin and a specialist in the politics of race, and Professor Kurt Barling, a BBC special correspondent.

NILE is the brainchild of two alumni of the 2013 German Marshall Fund’s (GMF) Transatlantic Inclusion Leaders Network (TILN) – 35-year-old Gabriele Gün Tank, Commissioner for Integration in Berlin Tempelhof-Schöneberg, and 28-year-old researcher and social activist Daniel Gyamerah, head of Each One Teach One (EATO), a black literature and media project in Berlin.

“Democracy needs strong, well-networked minorities. When you look around Germany, from parliament to media, public and private sectors, well it’s still pretty white, there’s a lot of work to be done,” Tank told a GMF alumni reception.

NILE was set up through collaboration with NGOs, top institutions including federal ministries and assistance from the influential Heinrich-Böll Foundation which is affiliated with the Green Party, the U.S. embassy and the Eberhard-Schultz-Stiftung (Foundation for Human Rights and Participation).  

“We are moving forward with inclusive governance, inclusion best practices and empowerment training,” said Tank.  “This is of critical importance if we are to bridge the migration gap for a fairer, social and political representation of minorities at all levels.”

Engaging young Muslims within a climate of hostility

Mersiha Hadziabdic, aged 25, said that she joined the NILE initiative confident that networking and coalition building plays a crucial role in steering change relevant to her generation.

Born in Sarajevo, Bosnia, she came to Berlin as a three-year-old refugee when her family fled the Prijedor massacre, one of the worse war crimes along with the Srebrenica genocide perpetrated by the Serbian political and military leadership’s ethnic-cleansing drive, which killed 14,000 civilians.

“My background means a lot to me, and for this reason I am involved with the Bosnian community in Berlin, my home town,” she told IPS.

Wearing a headscarf in Berlin, Mersiha is often mistaken for a Turkish woman, with its attendant stereotypes of submissiveness and low expectations.

But, like 25-year-old Soufeina Hamed, a Tunisian-born graduate in intercultural psychology from the University of Osnabrück, who is active in Zahnräder Netzwerker, an incubator for Muslim social entrepreneurship, Mersiha is an internet savvy and project team member of JUMA (Young Active and Muslim), which offers management, rhetoric and media skills training to young German Muslims.

”I see myself as part and process of this vibrant, committed and capable Muslim youth which has something important to contribute and wants to be involved in the conversation,” she said.

Just like Ozan Keskinkilic, an MA student in international relations from a Turkish-Arab background who is active in the Muslim-Jewish Conference (MJC) for peaceful inter-religious dialogue, she noted that this conversation involves engaging in a climate of anti-migrant and refugee hostility.

That hostility is currently finding expression in populist rallies, such as the Dresden march on Dec. 8, where 15,000 anti-immigrant protesters, mostly from PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West), marched to the former 1989 freedom rallying cry of “Wir Sind das Volk” (We are the People).

Young, talented and ambitious, Mersiha, Soufeina and Ozan are part of Germany’s four million Muslims residents and citizens, about five percent of the country’s population, of whom 45 percent have German citizenship.

According to the Verfassungsschutz, Germany’s intelligence agency, approximately 250,000 Muslims live in Berlin, 73 percent of whom are of Turkish background and one-third of whom have German citizenship. They belong to that population sector whose qualifications and skills are raising inclusion and access expectations which demand more level playing fields.

Creating a critical mass for change

The NILE initiative aims to channel personal issues relating to emotional damage inflicted by racism, discrimination or the traumas of fleeing from conflict zones into a process of empowerment towards common, personal and professional goals.

Empowerment and leadership tools are taught as means of engaging with the world as it is, gaining an understanding that ‘persons of color’ are neither powerless nor invisible.

Kurt Barling, who has carved a role of influence for himself by exposing stories which shape communities but too often remain hidden by a majority oblivious to the perspectives of others, had a clear mentoring message:

Group photo of participants in the Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE) 2014 workshop held in Berlin's Rathaus Schöneberg, where John F. Kennedy delivered his iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” freedom and solidarity speech to 400,000 West Berliners in 1963. Credit: Francesca Dziadek/IPS

Group photo of participants in the Network Inclusion Leaders (NILE) 2014 workshop held in Berlin’s Rathaus Schöneberg, where John F. Kennedy delivered his iconic “Ich bin ein Berliner” freedom and solidarity speech to 400,000 West Berliners in 1963. Credit: Ina Meling/Integration Commissioner Büro Tempelhof-Schöneberg

“Take control, shape your narratives with the new digital space available and build trust relationships with the authorities to change how the media frames and reflects our communities and our issues.”

Participants learned to be part of a critical mass for change, a “majority complex”, to build strategic coalitions to reduce marginalisation, reframe the migration debate as a socio-economic asset, and challenge discrimination and racism with the tools provided by human rights instruments such as the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), a monitoring body of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).

“Freedom of speech definitely stops at racial slander and incitement,” explained Kwesi Aikins, “and you can challenge that in the courts. Even human rights education is a human right.”

“Martin Luther King did not just have a dream, he had a plan,” said Simon Woolley of Operation Black Vote (UK). Woolley was invited by NILE to explain to the young participants how they can take advantage of the torch handed to them all the way back from the civil rights movement, including harnessing their own electoral muscle because the black vote counts. “The bottom line,” he said, “is that power talks to power”.

NILE workshop participants agreed that the challenge facing young leaders is to find their role within the constraints of conflicting choices on offer between blending, assertiveness and the tiring fight for a fair share.

Maria-Jose Munoz a native of Bolivia, whose research interests focus on the Madera river energy complex on the Bolivia-Brazil border, knows she has an uphill struggle ahead of her – emerging in a white, male-dominated energy policy field.

Wrapping up her experience at NILE, she said: “We are all just looking for belonging and a way to engage in a personal and public dialogue, building bridges between our often conflicting identities.”

“As minority communities, we often find a blocked path towards common goals. NILE helped me understand that I can be strong and that, by coalescing with others, I can tear down these walls.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Civil Society Support for Marshall Islands Against Nuclear Weaponshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 01:41:34 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138164 Mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands from Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the United States. Credit: United States Department of Energy [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands from Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the United States. Credit: United States Department of Energy [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

Ahead of the Dec. 8-9 Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, activists from all over the world came together in the Austrian capital to participate in a civil society forum organised by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) on Dec. 6 and 7.

One pressing issue discussed was the Marshall Islands’ lawsuit against the United States and eight other nuclear-weapon nations that was filed at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in April 2014, denouncing the over 60 nuclear tests that were conducted on the small island state’s territory between 1946 and 1958.“The Marshall Islands is a small, gutsy country. It is not a country that will be bullied, nor is it one that will give up. It knows what is at stake with nuclear weapons and is fighting in the courtroom for humanity’s survival” – David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF)

The location was chosen not only because it was an isolated part of the world but also because at the time it was also a Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands governed by the United States. Self-government was achieved in 1979, and full sovereignty in 1986.

The people of the Marshall Islands were neither informed nor asked for their consent and for a long period did not realise the harm that the testing would bring to the local communities.

The consequences were severe, ranging from displacement of people to islands that were strongly radiated and cannot be resettled for thousands of years, besides birth abnormalities and cancer. The states responsible denied the harm of the practice and refuse to provide for adequate amount of health care.

Castle Bravo was the code name given to the first United States‘ test of a nuclear bomb in 1954 and was 1000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.

Addressing the ICAN forum, Marshall Islands Foreign Minister Tony de Brum explained that his country had decided to approach the ICJ to take a stand for a world free of nuclear weapons.

De Brum said that the Marshall Islands was not seeking compensation, because the United States had already provided millions of dollars to the islands, but wants to hold states accountable for their actions in violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and international customary law.

The NPT, which entered into force in 1970, commits nuclear-weapon states to nuclear disarmament and the peaceful use of nuclear power. The nine countries currently holding nuclear arsenals are the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel.

Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, who talked about “stopping the madness and banning nuclear weapons once and for all”, with Daniela Varano, ICAN Campaign Communications Coordinator. Credit: ICAN

Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, who talked about “stopping the madness and banning nuclear weapons once and for all”, with Daniela Varano, ICAN Campaign Communications Coordinator. Credit: ICAN

Although a certain degree of disarmament has been taken place since the end of the Cold War, these nine nations together still possess some 17,000 nuclear weapons and globally spend 100 billion dollars a year on nuclear forces.

The Marshall Islands case, which has received worldwide attention and support from many different organisations, is often referred to as “David vs. Goliath”. One eminent supporter is the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (NAPF), whose president, David Krieger, said: “The Marshall Islands is a small, gutsy country. It is not a country that will be bullied, nor is it one that will give up.”

“It knows what is at stake with nuclear weapons,” he continued, “and is fighting in the courtroom for humanity’s survival. The people of the Marshall Islands deserve our support and appreciation for taking this fight into the U.S. Federal Court and to the International Court of Justice, the highest court in the world.”

Another strong supporter of the case is Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a Buddhist organisation that advocates for peace, culture and education and has a network of 12 million people all over the world. The youth movement of SGI even launched a “Nuclear Zero” petition and obtained five million signatures throughout Japan in its demand for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The campaign was encouraged by the upcoming 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 2015 as well as the holding of the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

Addressing the ICAN, de Brum urged participants to support the cause of the Marshall Islands. “For a long time,” he said, “the Marshallese people did not have a voice strong enough or loud enough for the world to hear what happened to them and they desperately don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”

He went on to say that when the opportunity arose to file a lawsuit in order to stop “the madness of nuclear weapons”, the Marshall Islands decided to take that step, declaring in its lawsuit: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”.

De Brum recognised that many had discouraged his country from taking that step because it would look ridiculous or did not make sense for a nation of 70.000 people to take on the most powerful nations in the world on such a highly debated issue.

However, he said, “there is not a single citizen on the Marshall Islands that has not had an encounter with one or another effect of the testing period … because we have experienced directly the effects of nuclear weapons we felt that we had the mandate to do what we have done.”

The Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons is the third in a series of such conferences – the first was held in Oslo, Norway, in March 2013 and the second in Nayarit, Mexico, in February 2014.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Laying the Foundations of a World Citizens Movementhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/laying-the-foundations-of-a-world-citizens-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=laying-the-foundations-of-a-world-citizens-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/laying-the-foundations-of-a-world-citizens-movement/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 00:25:17 +0000 Anthony George http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137958 In a spirit of inquiry and engagement, participants at the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference spent much of their time interacting with each other. Credit: Courtesy of DEEEP

In a spirit of inquiry and engagement, participants at the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference spent much of their time interacting with each other. Credit: Courtesy of DEEEP

By Anthony George
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Has organised civil society, bound up in internal bureaucracy, in slow, tired processes and donor accountability, become simply another layer of a global system that perpetuates injustice and inequality?

How can civil society organizations (CSOs) build a broad movement that draws in, represents and mobilises the citizenry, and how can they effect fundamental, systemic transformation, rather than trading in incremental change?

This kind of introspective reflection was at the heart of a process of engagement among CSOs from around the world that gathered in Johannesburg from Nov. 19 to 21 for the “Toward a World Citizens Movement: Learning from the Grassroots” conference.

Organised byDEEEP, a project within the European civil society umbrella organisation CONCORD which builds capacity among CSOs and carries out advocacy around global citizenship and global citizenship education, the conference brought together 200 participants.“It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens” – Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO Platform

Key partners were CIVICUS (the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, which is one of the largest and most diverse global civil society networks) and GCAP (Global Call to Action Against Poverty).

The three-day gathering was part of a larger series of conferences and activities that were arranged to coincide during the 2014 International Civil Society Week organised by CIVICUS, which closed Nov. 24.

Global citizenship is a concept that is gaining currency within the United Nations system, to the delight of people like Rilli Lappalainen, Secretary-General of the Finnish NGDO Platform and a key advocate for global citizenship education.

At the heart of this concept is people’s empowerment, explains Lappalainen. “It is important that people understand the inter-linkages at the global level; that they understand that they are part of the system and can act, based on their rights, to influence the system in order to bring about change and make life better – so it’s no longer someone else deciding things on behalf of the citizens.”

The process of introspection around building an effective civil society movement that can lead to such change began a year ago at the first Global Conference, also held in Johannesburg.

The discourse there highlighted the need for new ways of thinking and working – for the humility to linger in the uncomfortable spaces of not knowing, for processes of mutual learning, sharing and questioning.

This new spirit of inquiry and engagement, very much evident in the creative, interactive format of this year’s conference, is encapsulated in an aphorism introduced by thought-leader Bayo Akomolafe from Nigeria: “The time is very urgent – let us slow down”.

Akomolafe’s keynote address explored the need for a shift in process: “We are realising our theories of change need to change,” he said. “We must slow down today because running faster in a dark maze will not help us find our way out.”

“We must slow down today,” he continued, “because if we have to travel far, we must find comfort in each other – in all the glorious ambiguity that being in community brings … We must slow down because that is the only way we will see … the contours of new possibilities urgently seeking to open to us.”

A key opportunity for mutual learning and questioning was provided on the second day by a panel on ‘Challenging World Views’.

Prof Rob O’Donoghue from the Environmental Learning Research Centre at South Africa’s Rhodes University explored the philosophy of ubuntu, Brazilian activist and community organiser Eduardo Rombauer spoke about the principles of horizontal organising, and Hiro Sakurai, representative of the Buddhist network Soka Gakkai International (SGI) to the United Nations in New York, discussed the network’s core philosophy of soka, or value creation.

A female activist from Bhutan who was to join the panel was unable to do so because of difficulties in acquiring a visa – a situation that highlighted a troubling observation made by Danny Sriskandarajah, head of CIVICUS, about the ways in which the space for CSOs to work is being shrunk around the world.

The absence of women on the panel was noted as problematic. How is it possible to effectively question a global system that is so deeply patriarchal without the voices of women, asked a male participant. This prompted the spontaneous inclusion of a female member of the audience.

In the spirit of embracing not-knowing, the panellists were asked to pose the questions they think we should be asking. How do we understand and access our power? How do we foster people’s engagement and break out of our own particular interests to engage in more systems-based thinking? How can multiple worldviews meet and share a moral compass?

Ubuntu philosophy, explained O’Donoghue, can be defined by the statement: “A person is a person through other people.”

The implications of this perspective for the issues at hand are that answers to the problems affecting people on the margins cannot be pre-defined from the outside, but must be worked out through solidarity and through a process of struggle. You cannot come with answers; you can only come into the company of others and share the problems, so that solutions begin to emerge from the margins.

The core perspective of soka philosophy is that each person has the innate ability to create value – to create a positive change – in whatever circumstances they find themselves. Millions of people, Sakurai pointed out, are proving the validity of this idea in their own contexts. This is the essence of the Soka movement.

His point was echoed the following evening in the address of Graca Machel, wife of the late Nelson Mandela, at a CIVICUS reception, in which she spoke of the profound challenges confronting civil society as poverty and inequality deepen and global leaders seem increasingly dismissive of the voices of the people.

Then, toward the end of her speech, she softly recalled “my friend Madiba” (Mandela’s clan name) in the final years of his life, and his consistent message at that time that things are now in our hands.

What he showed us by his example, she said, is that each person has immense resources of good within them. Our task is to draw these out each day and exercise them in the world, wherever we are and in whatever ways we can.

Those listening to Machel saw Mandela’s message as a sign of encouragement in their efforts to create the World Citizens Movement of tomorrow.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Civil Society Freedoms Merit Role in Post-2015 Development Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/civil-society-freedoms-merit-role-in-post-2015-development-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-freedoms-merit-role-in-post-2015-development-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/civil-society-freedoms-merit-role-in-post-2015-development-agenda/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 17:45:58 +0000 Mandeep S.Tiwana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137944

In this column, Mandeep Tiwana, a lawyer specialising in human rights and civil society issues and Head of Policy and Research at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, reports that civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development. He calls on civil society around the world to remain vigilant and act collectively to ensure that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly are protected.

By Mandeep S.Tiwana
JOHANNESBURG, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Nabeel Rajab, president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights, an advocacy NGO, is facing criminal charges for sending a tweet that said: “many Bahrain men who joined terrorism and ISIS have come from the security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator”.

Yara Sallam, a young Egyptian woman activist, is in prison for protesting against a public assembly law declared by United Nations experts to be in breach of international law.

In Nigeria, it is illegal to support the formation of `gay clubs and institutions’.

Mandeep S. Tiwana

Mandeep S. Tiwana

In Bangladesh, civil society groups are subjected to rigorous scrutiny of their project objectives with a view to discourage documentation of serious human rights abuses.

In Honduras, activists exposing the nexus between big business owners and local officials to circumvent rules operate under serious threat to their lives.

In South Sudan, a draft law is in the making that requires civil society groups to align their work with the government-dictated national development plan.

With barely a year to go before finalisation of the next generation of global development goals, civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development.

Back in 2010, when the United Nations organised a major summit to take stock of progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a number of civil society groups lamented that“too little partnership and too little space” was marring the achievement of MDG targets.“With barely a year to go before finalisation of the next generation of global development goals, civil society groups are facing increasing challenges as they seek to assume their rightful role as partners in development”

They pointed out that, in a large number of countries, legal and practical limitations were preventing civil society groups from being set up, engaging in legitimate undertakings and accessing resources, impeding both the service delivery and watchdog functions of the sector, thereby negatively affecting development activities.

Since then, there has been greater recognition at multilateral levels about the challenges faced by civil society. In 2011, at a high-level forum on aid and development effectiveness, 159 national governments and the European Union resolved to create an “enabling environment” for civil society organisations to maximise their contributions to development.

In 2013, the U.N. Secretary General’s expert High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda recommended that a separate goal on good governance and effective institutions should be created. The experts suggested that this goal should include targets to measure freedoms of speech, association, peaceful protest and access to independent media and information, which are integral to a flourishing civil society.

The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has also emphasised the importance of ‘partnership with civil society’ in the post-2015 agenda. Even as restrictions on civil society activities have multiplied around the world, the U.N. Human Rights Council has passed resolutions calling for the protection of civic space.

Senior U.N. officials and experts, including the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, have spoken out against state-sanctioned reprisals against activists highlighting human rights abuses at home and abroad.

Yet, despite the progress, civic space appears to be shrinking. The State of Civil Society Report 2014 issued by CIVICUS points out that following the upheavals of the Arab Spring, many governments have felt threatened and targeted activists advocating for civil and political freedoms.

In Ethiopia, bloggers and journalists speaking out against restrictions on speech and assembly have been targeted under counter-terrorism legislation for “inciting” disaffection.

Additionally, the near total dominance of free market economic policies has created a tight overlap between the economic and political elite, putting at risk environmental and land rights activists challenging the rise of politically well-connected mining, construction and agricultural firms.

Global Witness has pointed out that there has been a surge in the killing of environmental activists over the last decade.

Notably, abundant political conflicts and cultural clashes are spurring religious fundamentalism and intolerant attitudes towards women’s equality and the rights of sexual minorities, putting progressive civil society groups at serious risk from both physical attacks as well as politically motivated prosecutions.

In Uganda, concerns have been expressed about the promotion of homophobia by right-wing religious groups.

In Pakistan, indiscriminate attacks on women’s rights activists are seriously impairing their work.

Countering these regressive developments will require greater efforts from the international community to entrench notions of civic space in both developmental as well as human rights forums.

A critical mass of leading civil society organisations has written to U.N. Secretary General Ban ki-Moon urging him to ensure that the post-2015 agenda focuses on the full spectrum of human rights, with clear targets on civil and political rights that sit alongside economic, social and cultural rights.

It is being argued that explicit inclusion of the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly which underpin a vibrant and able civil society should be goals in themselves in the new global development agenda.

It is equally vital to make parallel progress on the human rights front. Many governments that restrict civic freedoms are taking cover under the overbroad provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

They argue that the provisions of the ICCPR on freedom of association and assembly, which are short on detail, are open to multiple interpretations on issues such as the right to operate an organisation without formal registration or to spontaneously organise a public demonstration.

The global discourse on civil society rights would be greatly strengthened if the U.N. Human Rights Committee, the expert body of jurists responsible for interpreting the ICCPR, could comprehensively articulate the scope of these freedoms.

This would complement progress made at the U.N. Human Rights Council and support implementation of comprehensive best practice guidelines issued by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and association.

For now, the odds seem to be heavily stacked against civil society groups fighting for economic, social and political justice. Many powerful governments do not subscribe to democratic values and are fundamentally opposed to the notion of an independent sector. And many democracies have themselves encroached on civic space in the face of perceived security and strategic interests.

Civil society around the world must remain vigilant and act collectively to ensure that the fundamental rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly are protected. We have come too far to let those with vested interests encroach on the space for citizens and civil society to thrive. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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To Fight Inequality, Latin America Needs Transparency…and Morehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/to-fight-inequality-latin-america-needs-transparencyand-more/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-fight-inequality-latin-america-needs-transparencyand-more http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/to-fight-inequality-latin-america-needs-transparencyand-more/#comments Fri, 21 Nov 2014 12:39:38 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137869 Latin American experts on transparency and open data participate in a debate during the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting for the Americas, in the Costa Rican capital. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Latin American experts on transparency and open data participate in a debate during the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting for the Americas, in the Costa Rican capital. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Nov 21 2014 (IPS)

As public policy, political transparency and open data need an active ingredient to bring about social change that would reduce inequality in Latin America: citizen participation, said regional experts consulted by IPS.

That is the link that ties together open data and the transformation of society and that democratises access to rights and opportunities, said activists and government representatives working to democratise access to information and public records in the region.

During the Open Government Partnership Regional Meeting for the Americas, held Nov. 18-19 in San José, Costa Rica, experts in transparency referred over and over to a central idea: only empowered citizens can leverage information to create a better democracy.

“Simply opening up information never changed anyone’s reality, nor did it reduce the inequality gap,” Fabrizio Scrollini, lead researcher of the Open Data Initiative in Latin America, told IPS. “Just opening up access to information in and of itself doesn’t do that. Miracles don’t exist.”

What does happen, he said, “is that with a specific policy there is a set of parallel actions that can be major facilitators of these processes of empowerment of societies in the region.”

Scrollini said citizen participation makes it possible to turn a simple technological advance, such as a government platform or web site, into a tool for social change. Change is built from the grassroots level up, working with people, he said.

As an example, he cited the Uruguayan project Por mi Barrio (For My Neighbourhood), which enables the residents of the capital, Montevideo, to report problems in their community, from a pothole in the road or piles of garbage to a faulty street light, which are immediately received by the city government.

To that end, the municipal government allowed the developers of the project, a civil society group, access to its computer system for the first time.

“It brings the government closer to all segments of the population,” Fernando Uval told IPS. “We are holding workshops in different neighbourhoods, to inform people about how it works.”

“The emphasis is especially on those who have the least access to technology, so they can report problems in their neighbourhood and improve their living conditions,” said Uval, a Uruguayan who represents Open Data, Transparency and Access to Information (DATA), the organisation behind Por mi Barrio.

The key, experts say, lies in making open data and public policies on transparency a means to achieving social change, and not an end in themselves.

Moreover, if all information were open in real time, public policies and people’s response to social problems could be more effective.

“If government information were in a totally open format that would enable a political scientist to know where the inequality lies – through the GINI index, which measures it, for example – and to combine it with data related to economic or population growth, we could make better decisions,” Iris Palma told IPS.

Palma is the executive director of the non-governmental organisation DatosElSalvador, dedicated to securing the release of public information in that Central American country.

Open data is data that can be freely used, reused and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike – in easily managed formats.

For example, if an economist were to request information from a census, a digital version would be easier, to analyse the data using models and statistical programmes, instead of receiving them only in print.

The concept of open government stipulates that public administration should be transparent, provide easy access to information, be held accountable to the citizens, and integrate them in decision-making.

In the world’s most unequal region, governed by authoritarian regimes for decades, the concept of a participative government is relatively recent.

“We went from states and governments that operated on the basis of secrecy to a radical change, based on openness,” Scrollini said.

“That poses new challenges, because information should be used, and to be used, policies are needed to help people do so, and people need to be empowered,” he added.

Nevertheless, civil society in Latin America is forging ahead. For example, people in Mexico can find out how their tax money is used through the Open Budget programme.

In the region, the Latin American Network for Legislative Transparency brings together efforts to monitor the activities of the legislatures of nine countries in the region.

Meanwhile, in Costa Rica, a group of enterprising young people took public data from the Economy Ministry to create a smart phone app called “Ahorre Más”, which helps people make decisions when they’re shopping in the supermarket.

“With respect to the issue of open government, Latin America and the Caribbean are a step ahead, and are in the vanguard around the world,” said Alejandra Naser, an Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC) researcher who led a workshop on open government during this week’s regional meeting.

“It is precisely for that reason that we want to reinforce the movement with tools for decision-makers,” she added.

The challenge is how to get citizens involved in these processes.

Scrollini says technology cannot be the only route to achieve open data, and calls for a rethinking of traditional social input tools, such as community workshops or neighbourhood meetings, to figure out how people’s ideas can be incorporated into the design of these policies.

Other methods target key segments of the population, which could later foment greater use by other social sectors – from marathon sessions where the groups are invited to work with data to broader programmes with the users of the future.

“We actively work on ‘hackathons’ (an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development collaborate intensively on software projects), to get journalists involved, because these reporters then foment the involvement of society at large,” said Cristina Zubillaga, assistant executive director of the National Agency for e-Government and Information Society, a Uruguayan government agency.

At the same time, she said, “we work with academia to train students in data management.”

International development aid, meanwhile, the big source of financing for these programmes in the region, underlines that it is essential to support civil society groups that already have some experience and can serve as spearheads.

“We support organisations that can translate information into easily understood terms, showing people that they can get involved and that the availability of information affects and involves them,” Ana Sofía Ruiz, an official with the Dutch development organisation HIVOS’ Central America programme, told IPS.

“We are trying to draw people in, to get them involved in this,” said the representative of HIVOS, which has financed projects like Ojo al Voto, a Costa Rican initiative that provided independent information during this year’s presidential and legislative elections.

Ojo al Voto wants to help provide oversight of the work of the Costa Rican parliament.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Fighting the Islamic State On the Airhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fighting-the-islamic-state-on-the-air/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fighting-the-islamic-state-on-the-air http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/fighting-the-islamic-state-on-the-air/#comments Sun, 16 Nov 2014 11:57:53 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137771 Hani Subhi, the presenter for Mosul´s only TV station, currently broadcasting from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Hani Subhi, the presenter for Mosul´s only TV station, currently broadcasting from Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan, Nov 16 2014 (IPS)

There is daily news broadcasting at 9 in the evening and a live programme every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. For the time being, that is what Mosul´s only TV channel has to offer from its headquarters in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan.

“We are still on the air only because we managed to bring a camera and satellite dish when we escaped from Mosul,” Akram Taufiq, today the general manager of ‘Nineveh´s Future’ – the name of the channel – tells IPS

The life of this 56 year-old journalist has been closely linked to television. He spent eleven years with the Iraqi public channel during Saddam Hussein´s rule. After the former Iraqi leader was toppled, he became the general manager of Mosul´s public channel Sama al Mosul – ‘Mosul´s heaven’. He held his position until extremists of the Islamic State took over Iraq’s second city early in June."From the beginning I tried to convince everyone around that we had nothing to do with the IS. A week after their arrival, everyone in Mosul realised that we had fallen into a trap" – Atheel al Nujaifi, former governor of Nineveh province

Taufiq admits he had never thought “something like that” could ever happen. “It took them just three days to tighten their grip over the whole city,” recalls this Mosuli from his current office in a residential district in the outskirts of Erbil.

Like all other Tuesdays, the staff, all of them volunteers, struggle to go on the air with their limited resources. Taufiq invites us to watch the live programme on a flat TV screen hanging on the wall of his office.

From an adjacent room, Hani Subhi, presenter, reviews the last news dealing with Mosul, which include the newly-established training camp. According to Subhi, it will host the over 4,000 volunteers who have joined the ranks of the ‘Nineveh Police’. The presenter adds that these troops were exclusively recruited among refugees from Mosul.

“We cannot trust anyone coming from Mosul saying they want to join because they could be spies for the IS,” claims Taufiq, who calls the recently set up armed group “a major step forward”.

“In the future, they will join the Mosul Brigades, groups inside the city that are conducting sabotage operations against members and interests of the Islamic State,” Taufiq explains, without taking his eyes away from the TV screen.

According to the journalist, the most awaited moment is the one dedicated to the live phone calls from inside the city. Today there have been more than 1,700 requests. Unfortunately there is no time for all them.

The first one to go live is Abu Omar, a former policeman now in hiding because members of the previous security apparatus have become a priority target for the IS extremists.

“I´m aching to see the Nineveh Police enter the city. I´ll then be the first to join them and help them kill these bastards,” says Omar from an undisclosed location in Mosul.

Hassan follows from Tal Afar, a mainly Turkmen enclave west of Mosul, which hosts a significant Shiite community.

“We Turkmens have become the main target of these vandals because we are not Arabs, and many of us aren´t even Sunni,” says Hassan. He hopes to remain alive “to see how the occupiers are sent away” from his village.

There are also others who share first-hand information on the dire living conditions Mosulis are forced to face today.

“We have to rely on power generators because we have only two hours of electricity every four days,” Abu Younis explains over the phone.

“The water supply is also erratic, coming only every two or three days, so we have to store it in our bathtubs and drums,” he adds. The worst part, however, is the seemingly total lack of security.

Atheel al Nujaifi, governor of Nineveh province until the IS outbreak, struggles to keep his government in Kurdish exile. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Atheel al Nujaifi, governor of Nineveh province until the IS outbreak, struggles to keep his government in Kurdish exile. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“People simply disappear mysteriously, and that´s when they are not executed in broad daylight,” denounces Younis. His city, he adds, has become “a massive open-air prison”.

A stolen revolution

It is a stark testimony which is corroborated by Bashar Abdullah, a journalist from Mosul who is currently the news editor-in-chief of Nineveh´s Future. Abdullah says he managed to take his wife and two children to Turkey late last month but that he has chosen to stay in Erbil “to keep working”.

The veteran journalist has not ruled out returning home soon but he admits he knows nothing about the state in which his house is today.

“The jihadists have warned that anyone who leaves the city will lose their home. They want to avoid a mass flight of the local population,” explains Abdullah during a tea break.

A report released this month by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) points that almost three million Iraqis are internally displaced. Among those, over half a million have fled Mosul.

Atheel al Nujaifi is likely the best known displaced person from Iraq´s second city. He was the governor of Nineveh province until the IS outbreak. Today he is also one of the main drivers of the TV channel.

From his office in the same building, he admits to IPS that many Mosul residents welcomed the Islamic State fighters in open arms.

“From the beginning I tried to convince everyone around that we had nothing to do with the IS. A week after their arrival, everyone in Mosul realised that we had fallen into a trap,” recalls this son of a prominent local tribe.

In April 2013, Nujaifi received IPS at the Nineveh´s governorate building, in downtown Mosul. Just a few metres away, mass demonstrations against the government were conducted, denouncing alleged marginalisation of the Sunni population of Iraq at the hands of the Shiite government in Baghdad.

Nujaifi would regularly visit the square where the protests were held, openly showing support and giving incendiary speeches against Nuri al-Maliki, the then Prime Minister.

Today from Erbil, he insists that one of the main goals of the TV channel is “to convey the people of Mosul that they still have a government”, even if it´s in exile.

“The Islamic State stole our revolution from us,” laments Nujaifi late at night, just after the last member of the crew has left. They will resume work tomorrow.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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There’s CO2 Under Those Hillshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/theres-co2-under-those-hills/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=theres-co2-under-those-hills http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/theres-co2-under-those-hills/#comments Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:05:32 +0000 Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137486 Part of the area planned for extraction of CO2 in Val d’Elsa, Tuscany, Italy with a protest sign reading: EXTRACTION OF CO2 FROM THE GROUND – A NONSENSE!!! Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Part of the area planned for extraction of CO2 in Val d’Elsa, Tuscany, Italy with a protest sign reading: EXTRACTION OF CO2 FROM THE GROUND – A NONSENSE!!! Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

By Silvia Giannelli
LUCCA, Italy, Oct 30 2014 (IPS)

“If  they go ahead and dig those wells, all my work will be destroyed, all my life, everything,” says Franca Tognarelli, looking at the hills and vineyards around her house in Certaldo, Val d’Elsa, in the heart of Tuscany.

Now retired, Franca invested all her savings in restructuring her house in Certaldo, only to find that it sits on top of a deposit of CO2 that a private company – Lifenergy S.r.l. – is eager to extract and sell for industrial purposes, most likely in the production of sparkling beverages.

The irony is that the gas under Franca’s house is the same greenhouse gas held largely responsible for global warming.

While a growing awareness of the potential disastrous consequences of climate change is pushing nations to join efforts in curbing emissions of CO2, including considering highly disputed technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), the prospect of lucrative business is enough for private companies to want to extract more of it from under the ground.While a growing awareness of the potential disastrous consequences of climate change is pushing nations to join efforts in curbing emissions of CO2 … the prospect of lucrative business is enough for private companies to want to extract more of it from under the ground

According to a scientific source who wished to remain anonymous, the CO2 obtained from the area in question would offset most of the production of renewable energy in Tuscany, ultimately cancelling its Italian leadership in the production of geothermal energy.

In a preliminary phase, the CO2 project would involve drilling two test wells to a depth of between 400 and 700 metres inside a 45 hectare area that Lifenergy has already purchased. If the testing gives positive results, the company would then proceed to expand a network of wells necessary for extracting the CO2.

“They will simply have to compensate me for the part of ground they’ll be drilling,” explains Franca, “but they will be allowed to enter my property and dig all the holes they want.”

Under Italian law, a land owner’s permission is not required to enter the land for experimental excavation purposes once such experiments have been authorised by the public authorities.

Lifenergy is not the first company to have attempted to put its hands on the CO2 reserves of Val d’Elsa, but it is the first which has managed to obtain the permits to do so, after a last attempt made in the 60s ended up with the explosion of a well.

In May, a group of concerned citizens took the issue to the Tuscany Regional Administrative Court, but the court rejected their objections to the Lifenergy plan. “The law is on our side and we are open to dialogue, but we are determined to carry forward our activities,” Massimo Piazzini, managing director of Lifenergy, told local news website GoNews.

“But we need serious and responsible institutions that are willing to discuss and find solutions to give new opportunities to the territory, while respecting mankind and the environment,” he added.

Members of the Committee for the Safeguard and Defence of Val d’Elsa blame the previous town council for not having taken concrete action against the Lifenergy plan, but the newly elected mayor of Certaldo, Giacomo Cucini, said that “after receiving the company request to start testing, the former mayor simply followed the normal procedure without expressing a political opinion on the matter.”

Nevertheless, he added, “the current town council openly opposes the extraction project on our territory, because this is a territory that lives on agriculture and tourism and we want it to remain that way.”

Apart from the ‘visual impact’ that an extraction plant would have on the characteristic landscape of Certaldo, the risks of water and air pollution are a major concern among members of the Committee for the Safeguard and Defence of Val d’Elsa.

“There are plenty of farmers here who have been working all their lives, sweating blood to keep their business going, especially with the crisis,” says Caterina Concialdi, one of the committee members. “Now they have to face a private company that might leave them empty-handed, because the risks are real and nobody is telling us who’s going to pay for the damages if something happens.”

Ubaldo Malavolta is one of those farmers. His land is part of the area for which Lifenergy has requested a drilling permit after the testing phase.

“If they get the concession, they will be able to dig holes in my garden, and it’s not like a water well,” he said, adding that the company itself has declared that there will be emissions of hydrogen sulphide.”

“It’s called H2S and it’s not just about the smell, it’s poisoning and it leads to air pollution” insists Tiziano Traini, another committee member. “They are obviously supposed to keep the level of these emissions under the threshold established by law. But this will nevertheless mean a serious worsening of environmental conditions for the people who live here.”

Despite the widespread opposition shared by local citizens and the town council, the decision on the concession lies in different hands: “We have been asked to express a technical opinion,” Cucini explains, “but in no way can the municipality allow or deny the research phase of the project.”

The Tuscany Region, the authority that is responsible for the concession, is currently in the process of evaluating the environmental impact and is expected to take a decision by the beginning of December.

“The research permit is still on, but the Regional Council has stated that there will be no more concessions for underground extractions in the area, and this is quite reassuring for us,” the mayor told IPS.

Enrico Rossi, president of the Tuscany Region, explained in a public statement that the Regional Council’s stance is an act of responsibility towards the environment.

But the citizens seem to have lost their faith in the institutions and look with concern at their future: “I’m too old to go anywhere,” says Franca, “and this house will be of no value inside a mining area.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Anja Krieger and Elena Roda contributed to this report.

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Democracy is “Radical” in Northern Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/democracy-is-radical-in-northern-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=democracy-is-radical-in-northern-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/democracy-is-radical-in-northern-syria/#comments Tue, 28 Oct 2014 19:27:38 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137417 Garbage collection is among the many duties of the Democratic Self-Management in force in the three mainly Kurdish enclaves of northern Syria. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Garbage collection is among the many duties of the Democratic Self-Management in force in the three mainly Kurdish enclaves of northern Syria. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
AMUDA, Syria, Oct 28 2014 (IPS)

There was never anything particularly remarkable about this northern town of 25,000. However, today it has become the lab for one the most pioneering political experiments ever conducted in the entire Middle East region.

Located 700 kilometres northeast of Damascus, Amuda hosts the headquarters of the so-called “Democratic Self-Management of Jazeera Canton”. Along with Afrin and the besieged Kobani, Jazeera is one of the three enclaves under Kurdish rule, although such a statement is not entirely accurate.

At the entrance of the government building, vice-president Elizabeth Gawrie greets IPS with a shlomo, “peace” in her native Syriac language.

“We decided to move here in January this year for security reasons because [Bashar Hafez al] Assad is still present in Qamishli – the provincial capital, 25 km east of Amuda,” notes the former mathematics teacher before tea is served.The so-called "third way" attracted sectors among the other local communities such as Arabs and Syriacs, a collaboration that would eventually materialise into a Social Contract, a kind of ‘constitution’ that applies to the three enclaves in question – Jazeera, Afrin and Kobani

After the outbreak of civil war in Syria in March 2011, the Kurds in the north of the country opted for a neutrality that has forced them into clashes with both government and opposition forces.

This so-called “third way” attracted sectors among the other local communities such as Arabs and Syriacs, a collaboration that would eventually materialise into a Social Contract, a kind of ‘constitution’ that applies to the three enclaves in question – Jazeera, Afrin and Kobani

“Each canton has its own government with its own president, two vice-presidents and several ministries: Economy, Women, Trade, Human Rights … up to a total of 22,” explains Gawrie. Among the ministers in Jazeera, she adds, there are four Arabs, three Christians and a Chechen; Syria has hosted a significant Caucasian community since the late 19th century.

“We have lived together for centuries and there is no reason why this should be changed,” claims the canton´s vice-president, ensuring that the Democratic Self-Management is “a model of peaceful coexistence that would also work for the whole of Syria.”

While there was no religious persecution under the Assads – both father and son – those who defended a national identity other than the Arab identity, as in the case of the Syriacs and the Kurds, were harshly repressed. Gawrie says that many members of her coalition – the Syriac Union Party – have either disappeared or are still in prison.

Neither did Arab dissidents feel much more comfortable under the Assads. Hussein Taza Al Azam, an Arab from Qamishli, is the canton´s co-vice-president alongside Gawrie. From the meeting room where the 25 government officials conduct their meetings, he summarises the hardship political dissidents like him have faced in Syria over the last five decades.

“Since the arrival of the Baath Party to power in 1963, Syria has been a one-party state. There was no freedom of speech, human rights were systematically violated … It was a country fully under the control of the secret services,” explains Azam, who completed his doctorate in economics in Romania after spending several years in prison for his political dissent.

Wounds from the recent past have yet to heal but, for the time being, Article 3 of the Social Contract describes Jazeera as “ethnically and religiously diverse” while three official languages are recognised in the canton: ​​Kurdish, Arabic and Syriac. “All communities have the right to teach and be taught in their native language,” according to Article 9.

But it is not just language rights that Azam is proud of. “The three regions under democratic self-management are an integral part of Syria,” he says, “but also a model for a decentralised system of government.”

The members of government in Jazeera are either independent or belong to eleven political parties. Since local communities took over the three enclaves in July 2012, local opposition sectors backed by Masoud Barzani, president of the neighbouring Kurdistan Region of Iraq, have accused the Democratic Union Party (PYD) – the leading party among Syrian Kurds – of playing a dominant role.

PYD co-president Salih Muslim bluntly denies such claims. “From the PYD we advocate for direct self-determination, also called ‘radical democracy’,” he says.

“Basically we aim to decentralise power so that the people are able to take and execute their own decisions. It is a more sophisticated version of the concept of democracy, and that is in full harmony with many several social movements across Europe,” the political leader told IPS.

Spanish journalist and Middle East expert Manuel Martorell describes the concept of democratic self-management as an “innovative experiment in the region” which reconciles a high degree of self-government with the existence of the states.

“It may not be the concept of independence as we understand it, but the crux of the matter here is that they´re actually governing themselves,” Martorell told IPS.

Akram Hesso, president of Jazeera canton, is one the independent members in the local government. So far, the on-going war has posed a major hurdle for the holding of elections so Hesso feels compelled to explain how he gained his seat eight months ago.

“We had several meetings until a committee of 98 members representing the different communities was set up. They were responsible for electing the 25 of us that make up the government today,” this lawyer in his late thirties told IPS.

On Oct. 15, the parliament in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region approved a motion calling on the Federal Kurdistan Government to recognise and improve links with the administrations in Afrin, Kobani and Jazeera.

And while Hesso labels the move as a “major step forward”, he does not forget what is allowing the Democratic Self-Management to take root.

“Not far away there is an open front where our people are dying to protect us,” notes the senior official, referring to Kobani, but also to the other open fronts in Jazeera and Afrin.

However, he adds, “it´s not just about defending territory; it´s also about sticking to an idea of living together.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Istanbul’s Citizens Discover Green Solidarityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/istanbuls-citizens-discover-green-solidarity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=istanbuls-citizens-discover-green-solidarity http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/istanbuls-citizens-discover-green-solidarity/#comments Tue, 14 Oct 2014 08:18:54 +0000 Tessa Love http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137155 Police barricade in Gezi Park – one of the last green spaces in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district and an “oasis” in Taksim Square, a large stone plaza of mostly open space with a few statues, fountains and entrances to underground stations (May 2013). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Police barricade in Gezi Park – one of the last green spaces in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district and an “oasis” in Taksim Square, a large stone plaza of mostly open space with a few statues, fountains and entrances to underground stations (May 2013). Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Tessa Love
ISTANBUL, Oct 14 2014 (IPS)

A year after the Gezi Park uprising – a protest that began as an act to save trees – exploded into anti-government riots around the country, sparking cohesive community efforts to fight urban sprawl, the face of environmental activism and awareness in Turkey has changed.

“It’s no coincidence that the demonstrations were ignited by an ecological issue, by concerns of urban development,” said Morat Ozbank, an assistant professor of political theory at Bigli University and a board member of the Turkish Green Party. “And this later became an issue of human rights and democratisation.”

At 11 pm on May 27, 2013, bulldozers moved into Gezi Park – one of the last green spaces in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu district and an “oasis” in Taksim Square, a large stone plaza of mostly open space with a few statues, fountains and entrances to underground stations.  They were there to clear the trees for the controversial construction of an Ottoman-era style shopping mall.“The mega-projects are disastrous for Istanbul. All development is hurting something. Urban planning is a rational profession, but the government does not listen to this rationale. They take our public spaces and sell them for construction” – Akif Burak Atlar, secretary to the board at the Turkish Chamber of Urban Planners

Within 20 minutes, throngs of people filled the park to block the construction, and they stayed for 20 days before being forced out by police.

The proposed shopping mall was just one of a long list of mega-projects spearheaded by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Other projects include a third bridge across the Bosphorus, a tunnel for private vehicles beneath the same waterway, the world’s largest airport, and a second Bosphorus on the Asian side of the city.

Many of these projects are being carried forward despite opposition from bodies such as the Union of Chambers of Turkish Engineers and Architects (TMMOB), which is responsible for assessing the potential impact of proposed projects and advising against those that could be detrimental to the environment.

According to Akif Burak Atlar, secretary to the board at the Turkish Chamber of Urban Planners, all of these projects fit that description.

“The mega-projects are disastrous for Istanbul,” he says. “All development is hurting something. Urban planning is a rational profession, but the government does not listen to this rationale. They take our public spaces and sell them for construction.”

Atlar believes that every neighbourhood in Istanbul should legally have a certain amount of green space to uphold urban planning standards. Nevertheless, public parks are being destroyed and, beyond the city limits, miles of wild forests have been destroyed to make way for the third bridge and the second Bosphorus.

While all of these projects had elicited outcries from various small organisations and legal action from TMMOB before May 2013, nothing came close to the response at Gezi Park.

“Gezi was a unique moment is Turkish history,” says Atlar. “There was no leader, no formal organisation. It was an awakening.”

One year later, this movement is still alive and although policies regarding urban planning have not changed at governmental level, grassroots organisations have joined forces in the hope of making changes where they can.

One of these – Northern Forest Defence – is a movement organised by free volunteers to defend the last forests of northern Istanbul. Known as the “Child of Gezi,” it works to halt the development of mega projects like the third bridge, as well as working within small communities to stop the destruction of public parks for development.

While many of these efforts are small, Cigdem Cidamli, a founding member of the organisation, believes that they are essential to the progress of urban defence. “Small movements can’t change as much as big movements,” she says, “but we can’t have big movements without the small ones. So now we are trying to create more integrated channels of solidarity.”

Cidamli, Atlar and Ozbank all agree that the integration of organisations is the most recognisable accomplishment of Gezi so far. Many neighbourhoods now have an urban defence group to discuss a wide range of issues including urban development.

Many of these groups have come together to form larger organisations such as Taksim Solidarity, Istanbul Urban Defence and Northern Forest Defence.

One small group, Caferaga Dayanismasi, is a collective in the Kadikoy neighbourhood that conducts meetings and organises activist movements from a “squat” – an abandoned building that members have occupied and are renovating.

Bahadir, a member of the squat, says that the best thing they have done as a group is to have occupied and cultivated an empty lot that was going to be turned into a car park. Now it is a community vegetable garden where neighbours, both the young and the old, get their hands dirty.

Cidamli is thankful to Gezi for this development. “After Gezi, people are looking inward to create solidarity in small ways,” she says. “We can’t have Gezi every day. So, instead, we cultivate tomatoes.”

With this growth in community-minded activism, Bahadir says that the city cannot cut down a single tree without sparking a protest.

But so far, the only major development that has successfully been halted is the shopping mall at Gezi.

“The funny thing is, they can’t do anything in Taksim Square right now,” says Ozbank with a smile. “They can’t touch anything … not even to beautify the place.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Planet Racing Towards Catastrophe and Politics Just Looking Onhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-planet-racing-towards-catastrophe-and-politics-just-looking-on/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-planet-racing-towards-catastrophe-and-politics-just-looking-on http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/opinion-planet-racing-towards-catastrophe-and-politics-just-looking-on/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 16:08:34 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137020

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that once again – and despite the hundreds of thousands who took to the streets worldwide in September calling for measures to protect the environment – the world’s political leaders have squandered an opportunity to take meaningful action.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Oct 6 2014 (IPS)

If ever there was a need to prove that we are faced with a total lack of global governance, the U.N. Climate Summit, extraordinarily called by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Sep. 23, makes a very good case.

The convocation of the climate summit – albeit just for one day – appeared to indicate that it had finally dawned on political leaders that there is a problem, in fact an urgent problem, about the impact that climate change is having on our planet.

And yet, the array of leaders gathered together in New York, although full of general platitudes, gave another impressive display of failure to come up with a concrete answer. While acknowledging the problem, many leaders found a way to duck their responsibility, indicating domestic constraints.

Roberto Savio. Credit: IPS

Roberto Savio. Credit: IPS

Thus U.S. President Barack Obama made it clear that the U.S. Congress would not be ready to ratify an international climate treaty. Of course, this line of reasoning applies to the U.S. approach in general – Congress does not accept binding the United States to any international treaty because of its exceptional destiny, which cannot be brought under scrutiny or control by those who are not U.S. citizens.

Furthermore, the United States has become a dysfunctional country, where the judicial, legislative and executive powers cannot cooperate, even on crucial issues.“The array of leaders gathered together in New York [for the Sep. 23 Climate Summit], although full of general platitudes, gave another impressive display of failure to come up with a concrete answer. While acknowledging the problem, many leaders found a way to duck their responsibility”

Anant Geete, India’s new Ministry of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises, stated that growth in his country has priority over anything else, and therefore India will continue on its path towards industrialisation and energy fully based on coal, while other renewable energies will be brought in progressively, even if this will eventually make India the world’s biggest polluter.

The European Union could not make any commitment, because a new Commission was due to take over the following month (i.e. October) and the person earmarked for the post of Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy was Spanish Conservative Miguel Arias Canete,  who was a major shareholder in two Spanish oil companies – Petrolifera Ducal and Petrologis Canarias – until he sold his shares to garner support for his nomination

No problem, say his critics, Canete’s wife, son and brother-in-law did not follow suit and remain shareholders or even occupy positions on the boards of the companies.

In line with this same political sensibility, the new and more conservative European Commission has brought in a well-known City lobbyist, Lord Jonathan Hill, to the portfolio of Financial Services.

Such a system of political compromises is like bringing Count Dracula in to run a blood bank – hardly a system that is likely to appeal to blood donors!

What is sad is that there was no lack of background papers for the U.N. Climate Summit.

Beside one prepared by the Intergovernmental Council on Climate Change, bringing together 3.200 scientists from all over the world, there was, for example, a report prepared by the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture (clearly not part of a leftist government), based on a detailed study of Spanish coastal areas which found that by 2050 the level of the Mediterranean Sea will increase by a minimum of 30 centimetres (if climate control measures are taken now) up to a maximum of 60 centimetres (if no action is taken).

That means that the coastline will recede by between 20 to 40 metres, with an obvious impact on tourism, ports and costal settlements. One hundred years ago, only 12 percent of the coast was used, rising to 20 percent in 1950, 35 percent in 1988 and 75 percent in 2006. In Spain, 15 million people now live in area which will be affected by the climate change.

Obviously, France, Greece , Italy, Tunisia and all other Mediterranean countries  will share that same destiny.

Another more global study conducted by Climate Central, a U.S. research group, based on more detailed sea-level data than has previously been available, reports that about 1 person in every 40 in the world lives in an area which will be susceptible to flooding in the next 100 years – about 177 million people.

Even if immediate measures were taken for climate control, 1.9 percent of the population of coastal countries would be affected. At worst, the figure would be 3.1 percent. To give a concrete example, four percent of the Chinese population, 50 million people, would be affected. Eight of the 10 large countries most at risk are in Asia.

The voice of Abdulla Yameen, President of the Maldives, who reminded leaders at the Climate Summit that small island countries – which would be the first to suffer from any rise in sea levels – have formed a federation to defend their right to exist, went largely unheeded.

An entire new generation has been born since the debate over climate change started but there are no signs that the situation is improving.

In the decade up to 2012, global emissions of CO2 rose by an average of 2.7 percent. In 2013, emissions were the highest in the last 30 years. And yet, the energy sector is mounting a strong campaign to deny that there is any climate change.

If anything, say the deniers of climate change, what is happening is part of a normal historical cycle, not the result of human activity. All data demonstrating the contrary are being ignored, and the upshot of this campaign is that many people believe that debate on the issue is still open.

Perhaps what happened a few days ago between Google and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is symptomatic of this “normal historical cycle”?

On Sep. 22, Google chairman Eric Schmidt announced that the high-tech company was withdrawing from ALEC, saying: “Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people – they’re  just, they’re just literally lying.”

ALEC is a conservative organisation that has urged repeal of state renewable power standards and other pro-renewable policies. It drafts proposals for regulations that it submits to politicians, asking them to make just the effort of passing them into law.

Reacting to Google’s decision, Lisa B. Nelson, CEO of ALEC, said: “It is unfortunate to learn Google has ended its membership in the American Legislative Exchange Council as a result of public pressure from left-leaning individuals and organizations who intentionally confuse free market policy perspectives for climate change denial.”

So, if you are worried about climate change, you are left-wing and against the market!.

The fact is that executives from many large corporations are well ahead of political leaders. They can take decisions unencumbered by political constraint , and they have found out that working in the direction of climate controls makes sense not only in terms of public relations but also economically.

For example, forty major companies, including l’Oreal and Nestlè, issued a declaration on Sep. 23 pledging to help cut tropical deforestation in half by 2020, and stop it entirely by 2030. Some of these companies work with palm oil, profitable production which is at the expense of tropical forests, especially in Indonesia.

In fact, it was only corporations that made any concrete pledges at the New York Summit.

Apple CEO Timothy Cook said that his company was committing itself to focusing on the emissions of its main suppliers, which account for around 70 percent of the greenhouse gases that come from production and use of the company’s products.

Cook rejected the idea that society must choose between economic growth and environment protection, giving as an example a huge solar farm that his company built in North Carolina to help power a data centre there. ”People told us this couldn’t happen, it could not be done, but we did it. It is great for the environment, and by the way it is also good for economics.”

Not to be outdone, Cargill, the huge U.S. commodity processor, pledged to go even further with an existing no-deforestation commitment on palm oil and extend it to cover all its agricultural products. And, together with other companies processing Indonesian palm oil, Cargill called on the Indonesian government to get tougher on deforestation.

In the meantime, it is not that voices worldwide have been silent on the issue. Safeguarding the environment has long been a rallying banner for a large part of civil society worldwide, and a major cause for concern among the younger generations.

The hundreds of thousands of people who took to the streets throughout the world ahead of the New York Summit in solidarity with the need to do something about climate were no mere figment of the media’s imagination. So why were they clearly invisible to the planet’s decision-makers?

The next important date for the climate on their agenda is the U.N. Climate Change Conference (COP21) to be held in Paris in 2015. Will our political leaders again waste the chance to do something concrete – will they continue to stand by and watch as time runs out for the planet, and for humankind?

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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Sustaining the Future Through Culturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/sustaining-the-future-through-culture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustaining-the-future-through-culture http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/10/sustaining-the-future-through-culture/#comments Sat, 04 Oct 2014 21:18:14 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137005 Putting the spotlight on culture. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Putting the spotlight on culture. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
FLORENCE, Oct 4 2014 (IPS)

International experts working in the creative sector are calling for governments to recognise the integral role that culture plays in development and to ensure that culture is a part of the post-2015 United Nations development goals, to be discussed next year.

At UNESCO’s Third World Forum on Culture and Cultural Industries, which took place Oct. 2-4 in Florence, Italy, representatives from a range of countries discussed the contributions that culture can make to a “sustainable future” through stimulating employment, economic growth and innovation.

The United Nations cultural agency pointed out that the global trade in cultural goods and services has doubled over the past decade and is now valued at more than 620 billion dollars, although there is some disagreement on this figure.

But, apart from the financial aspects, culture also contributes to social inclusion and justice, according to UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who inaugurated the forum at Florence’s Palazzo Vecchio.“Countries must invest in culture with the same determination they bring to investing in energy resources, in new technologies … In a difficult economic environment, we must look for activities that reinforce social cohesion, and culture offers solutions in this regard” – UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova

“I believe countries must invest in culture with the same determination they bring to investing in energy resources, in new technologies,” she said. “In a difficult economic environment, we must look for activities that reinforce social cohesion, and culture offers solutions in this regard.”

Bokova told IPS that the forum wanted to show that culture contributes to the “attainment” of the various development goals, which include ending extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education and gender equality, and ensuring environmental sustainability.

Many governments, however, are not investing enough in the cultural or creative sectors even when these industries have proven their worth. Some states prefer to build sports stadiums that are rarely used rather than to support the arts, said Lloyd Stanbury, a Jamaican lawyer in the music business who participated in the forum.

“In the case of Jamaica, we’ve shown that we can compete and win globally at the highest levels in culture,” he told IPS. “Reggae and Rastafari have put Jamaica on the world map and the debate is happening right now about what the government can do to invest more in culture.”

Stanbury said that arts education should have the same status as traditional curricula. “Students are sometimes told, ‘oh, you can’t do maths? Go and draw something’ but their drawings aren’t considered valuable,” he said.

In some developing countries, the arts are seen as a peripheral sector, not a “real” industry and that must change, he argued.

In addition, Stanbury said in his presentation to the forum, in many developing countries, “segments of the music and entertainment community do not enjoy harmonious relationships with government and government institutions, particularly where there is evidence of government corruption that artists speak out against in the creation and presentations of their work.”

For many governments, meanwhile, investing in culture naturally comes a long way behind providing proper health, sanitation and electricity services and developing transportation infrastructure. Yet, culture can help in poverty alleviation, job creation and peace building, experts said.

Peter N. Ives, Mayor pro tem of the U.S. city of Santa Fe, New Mexico, detailed how the city had invested in the arts, through allocating one percent of hotel-bed taxes (or lodger taxes) for cultural activities, among other measures.

“Santa Fe now has more cultural assets per capita than any other city in the United States,” he said, adding that “inclusion” of all groups was a key element of the policy, in which “everyone brings their creative gifts to the table”.

The city has an Arts Commission, appointed by the mayor, that “recommends programmes and policies to develop and promote artistic excellence in the community” and it has followed a multi-cultural route.

The result is that Santa Fe has increasingly drawn writers and visual artists, as well as tourists, because of its growing number of museums, performances and outdoor sculptures – also one of the reasons behind its designation as a UNESCO Creative City.

Such “success stories” may seem far-fetched for many poor or middle-income countries, faced with a variety of crises including conflict. But experts at the conference described grassroots schemes where intra-community violence, for instance, decreased when community members were actively encouraged to produce art about their lives.

Other representatives examined how creating film and literary festivals had contributed to a sense of national pride and cohesion. In the Caribbean and in parts of Africa and Asia, for example, the growth of festivals and cultural prizes has given a general boost to the arts in some countries, reflecting what wealthy countries have known for some time.

The forum, jointly organized by UNESCO, the Italian government, the Tuscany region and the Municipality of Florence, also examined how culture can be preserved in war-affected regions, with a focus on recent UNESCO cultural heritage preservation projects (funded by Italy) in Afghanistan, Mali and other states.

Denmark and Belgium, meanwhile, provided a look at how overseas development aid to cultural activities can promote employment, training and youth involvement in society, especially within a human rights context.

“We’re living in a very hostile environment for development cooperation and also for culture and development, but I’m launching an appeal for more cooperation in this area,” said Frédéric Jacquemin, director of Africalia, a Belgian organisation that sees culture as “a motor for sustainable human development”.

Participants in the forum produced a ‘Florence Declaration’ calling for the “full integration of culture into sustainable development policies and strategies at the international, regional and local levels.”

The Declaration said that this should be based on standards that “recognise fundamental principles of human rights, freedom of expression, cultural diversity, gender equality, environmental sustainability, and openness and balance to other cultures and expressions of the world.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Only the Crazy and Economists Believe Growth is Endlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/only-the-crazy-and-economists-believe-growth-is-endless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=only-the-crazy-and-economists-believe-growth-is-endless http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/only-the-crazy-and-economists-believe-growth-is-endless/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 05:00:00 +0000 Justin Hyatt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136766 Degrowth demonstrators marching through the streets of Leipzig, September 2014. The placard reads: Exchange Share Give. Credit: Klimagerechtigkeit Leipzig (http://klimagerechtigkeit.blogsport.de/)

Degrowth demonstrators marching through the streets of Leipzig, September 2014. The placard reads: Exchange Share Give. Credit: Klimagerechtigkeit Leipzig (http://klimagerechtigkeit.blogsport.de/)

By Justin Hyatt
LEIPZIG, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

From the mid-20th century onwards, economic growth has come to count as a self-evident goal in economic policies and GDP to be seen as the most important index for measuring economic activities.

This was the premise underlying the recent Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equityheld in Leipzig to take stock of the “degrowth” movement’s progress in efforts to debunk the mantra of growth and call for a fundamental rethink of conventional economic concepts and practices.

Many followers of the movement, who argue that “anyone who thinks that growth can go on endlessly is either a crazy person or an economist”, base their philosophy on the findings of a 1972 book – The _Limits_to_Growth – which reports the results of a computer simulation of exponential economic and population growth with finite resource supplies.“In China, which is touted as a success story of economic growth, 75 percent of the results of this growth serves only 10 percent of the population, while the enormous Chinese urban centres have become so polluted that even the government would like to build eco-cities” – Alberto Acosta, economist and former President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador

After Paris (2008), Barcelona (2010) and Venice (2012), this was the fourth such conference but, with some 3,000 participants, the largest so far. Hundreds of workshops, roundtable discussions and films or presentations were organised for the scientists, researchers, activists and members of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) who gathered to discuss economic degrowth, sustainability and environmental initiatives, among others.

Internationally acclaimed Ecuadorian economist Alberto Acosta, who was President of the Constitutional Assembly of Ecuador in 2007-2008 told participants that in China, which is touted as a success story of economic growth, 75 percent of the results of this growth serves only 10 percent of the population, while the enormous Chinese urban centres have become so polluted that even the government would like to build eco-cities.

Acosta, who developed the Yasuní-ITT initiative, a scheme to forego oil exploitation in Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, is also an advocate of buen vivir, arguing that extractivism is one of the most damaging practices linked to latter day capitalism, as more and more non-renewable natural resources are taken from the earth and lost forever, while producing gigantic quantities of harmful emissions.

To counter extractivism, Acosta calls for the adoption of buen vivir, which is based on the Andean Quechua peoples’ sumak kawsay (full life) – a way of doing things that is community-centric, ecologically-balanced and culturally-sensitive – and loosely translates as “good living”.

For Giorgos Kallis, an environmental researcher and professor at the University of Barcelona, degrowth needs to provide a space for critical action and for reshaping development from below, in an attempt to divert more time away from a capitalist and towards a care economy.

When asked if the concept of degrowth was not too radical or uncomfortable a message, Kallis said: “Yes, perhaps degrowth doesn’t sit well, but that is precisely the point, to not sit well – it is time to make this message relevant.”

Canadian author and social activist Naomi Klein, known for her criticism of corporate globalisation and author of No Logo – which for many has become a manifesto of the anti-corporate globalisation movement – joined the conference by Skype to tell participants that radical change in the political and physical landscape is our only real possibility to escape greater disaster and that reformist approaches are not enough.

One of the main driving forces behind the degrowth movement is Francois Schneider, one of the first degrowth activists who promoted the concept through a year-long donkey tour in 2006 in France and founded the Research and Degrowth academic association.

“Systemic change involves whole segments of society,” Schneider told IPS. “It doesn’t involve just one little part and we don’t expect a new decision from the European Parliament that will change everything. Dialogue is the key. And putting forward many different proposals.”

Taking the example of transport and mobility, he explained that it is useless to tackle the transformation of transport alone because “transportation is linked to energy and advertising is linked to the car industry.”

Vijay Pratap, Indian activist from the Gandhi-inspired Socialist youth movement era and member of South Asian Dialogues on Ecological Democracy (SADED) pleaded for the inclusion of marginalised majorities in the degrowth movement. Pratap told IPS that “unless we initiate the processes so that they can become leaders of their own liberation, no real post-growth society can come into being.”

While he was satisfied with what he said as a very egalitarian and democratic approach to the organisation of the conference, Pratap said that inclusion should be guaranteed for those who do not speak English, those who do not know how to navigate social networking sites and those who do not have access to international philanthropic donor agencies.“

According to Pratap, who participated as an organiser in the World Social Forum (WSF) gathering in Mumbai in 2004, this was one major lesson of the WSF process.

On the final day, Lucia Ortiz, a programme director for Friends of the Earth International and active in Brazilian social movements, did not mince her words in the closing plenary when she proclaimed that “degrowth is the bullet to dismantle the ideology of growth.”

The movement to dismantle this ideology will now continue in preparation for the next degrowth conference in two years’ time.

And Kallis is convinced that it will be even more successful than this year’s event. Commenting on the increase in participation from a few hundred in Paris in 2008 to the 3,000 in Leipzig, he quipped: “At this pace, in twenty years, we’ll have the whole world at our conference.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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French Add Voice to Global Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/french-add-voice-to-global-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=french-add-voice-to-global-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/french-add-voice-to-global-climate-action/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 23:13:37 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136781 Calling for climate action at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Calling for climate action at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Sep 21 2014 (IPS)

As if to highlight the reality of climate change, the rain came pouring down here as demonstrators prepared to rally for political action to combat global warming.

But as the march got under way from Paris’ historic Place de la Republique, bright sunshine broke from behind the ominous clouds, giving a boost to the several thousand people who had heeded the call to send a message to world leaders.

“I’m here because we need to make governments realise that a new economic model that respects nature must be possible,” street artist Rémi Gautier told IPS. “We need to work for the future.”“It’s the poor who feel the greatest impact of global warming. Laws on the environment must do more for more people. We can’t continue with the status quo” – Monique Morellec, Front de Gauche (Left Front) activist

The Paris march was one of 2,500 events that took place around the world Sunday, involving 158 countries, according to Avaaz, the international civic organisation that coordinated the “People’s Climate March” in Paris.  French cities Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux also held marches.

The demonstrations came two days ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Summit scheduled for Tuesday, when world leaders will gather in New York to discuss the wide-ranging effects of global warming, including ocean acidification, extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels.

“The leaders can’t ignore this massive call for action,” said Marie Yared, an Avaaz global campaigner in Paris. “The message is much stronger now because we’re seeing people in all their diversity making their voices heard. It’s not just activists.

To reflect the global concern, the rallying cry at the march was: “To change everything, we need everyone (Pour tout changer, il faut tout le monde).” The diversity of those taking part was notable, with demonstrators including senior citizens, students, children, non-governmental organisations, union members and religious groups.

Citizen carrying a succinct CLIMATE IN DANGER warning at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

Citizen carrying a succinct CLIMATE IN DANGER warning at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

They chanted, beat drums, danced and carried large banners as well as self-made drawings and signs. Other demonstrators met the marchers as the rally moved to the square in front of the city’s town hall.

The largest French Protestant organization, the Fédération Protestante de France, had urged its members to participate in the movement, saying “it’s time to change the course of things”.

“From New York to Berlin, from Bogota to New Delhi, from Paris to Melbourne, thousands of people are marching together to make their voices heard and to remind heads of state that the climate issue is universal, urgent and affects ecosystems and the future of mankind,” the Federation stated.

Joining in were farmers organisations, Oxfam France, Action Contre la Faim (Action Against Hunger), Catholic groups and others who wanted to draw attention to the less obvious consequences of global warming, which also affects food security and has created “climate refugees”.

“It’s the poor who feel the greatest impact of global warming,” Monique Morellec, a Front de Gauche (Left Front) activist, told IPS. “Laws on the environment must do more for more people. We can’t continue with the status quo.”

The Left Front was one of the political parties, including Europe Ecologie Les Verts (Greens) and Jeunes Socialistes (Young Socialists), that was out in support as well, with members handing out leaflets bearing the slogan: “We must change the system, not the climate”.

Participating groups stressed that France has a crucial role to play because Paris will be the host city of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference (COP 21) where binding agreements are expected to be made on reducing carbon emissions.

“People need to stay alert and to keep the politicians awake until we see what happens next year in Paris,” Yared of Avaaz told IPS.

Some rights organisations that did not take part in the march are planning their own events to put pressure on politicians to act. Amnesty International is launching a campaign on Sep. 23 titled “Faites Pas l’Autruche (Don’t be an ostrich, don’t ignore what’s going on) to highlight the lack of laws governing multinational companies whose local subsidiaries may cause human rights violations.

The group wants French lawmakers to enact a law that will hold companies to account, an Amnesty spokesperson told IPS, citing incidents such as oil pollution in Nigeria and the dumping of toxic waste in Cote d’Ivoire.

The group said that victims of corporate malfeasance should have recourse to French law and courts, wherever they happen to live.  To raise public awareness, Amnesty will hold demonstrations at political landmarks in Paris, such as at the Assemblée Nationale, the seat of parliament, on the day that leaders meet in New York.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Promoting Human Rights Through Global Citizenship Educationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/promoting-human-rights-through-global-citizenship-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=promoting-human-rights-through-global-citizenship-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/promoting-human-rights-through-global-citizenship-education/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:28:52 +0000 Ravi Kanth Devarakonda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136725 By Ravi Kanth Devarakonda
GENEVA, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

Amid escalating conflicts and rampant violations of human rights all over the world, spreading “human rights education” is not an easy task. But a non-governmental organisation from Japan is beginning to make an impact through its “global citizenship education” approach.

At the current annual meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which began on Sep. 8, two side events marked the beginning of what promises to be a sustained campaign to spread human rights education (HRE).

Alongside the first, the launch of the web resource “The Right to Human Rights Education” by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, a special workshop was also convened on HRE for media professionals and journalists.

The workshop was an initiative of the NGO Working Group on HRE chaired by Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a prominent NGO from Japan fighting for the abolition of nuclear weapons, sustainable development and human rights education.“It is important to raise awareness of human rights education among media professionals and journalists who are invariably caught in the crossfire of conflicts” – Kazunari Fujii, Soka Gakkai International

“This is the first time that the NGO Working Group on Human Rights Education and Learning and a group of seven countries representing the Platform for Human Rights Education and Training have organised a workshop on human rights education for media professionals and journalists,” said Kazunari Fujii, SGI’s Geneva representative.

Fujii has been working among human rights pressure groups in Geneva to mobilise support for intensifying HRE campaigning. “Through the promotion of human rights education, SGI wants to foster a culture of human rights that prevents violations from occurring in the first place,“ Fujii told IPS after the workshop on Tuesday (Sep. 16).

“While protection of human rights is the core objective of the U.N. Charter, it is equally important to prevent the occurrence of human rights abuses,” he argued.

Citing SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s central message to foster a “culture of human rights”, Fujii said his mission in Geneva is to bring about solidarity among NGOs for achieving SGI’s major goals on human rights, nuclear disarmament and sustainable development.

The current session of the Human Rights Council, which will end on Sep. 26, is grappling with a range of festering conflicts in different parts of the world. “From a human rights perspective, it is clear that the immediate and urgent priority of the international community should be to halt the increasingly conjoined conflicts in Iraq and Syria,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the new U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“In particular, dedicated efforts are urgently needed to protect religious and ethnic groups, children – who are at risk of forcible recruitment and sexual violence – and women, who have been the targets of severe restrictions,” Al Hussein said in his maiden speech to the Council.

“The second step, as my predecessor [Navanetham Pillay] consistently stressed, must be to ensure accountability for gross violations of human rights and international crimes,” he continued, arguing that “impunity can only lead to further conflicts and abuses, as revenge festers and the wrong lessons are learned.”

Al Hussein, who comes from the Jordanian royal family, wants the Council to address the underlying factors of crises, particularly the “corrupt and discriminatory political systems that disenfranchised large parts of the population and leaders who oppressed or violently attacked independent actors of civil society”.

Among others, he stressed the need to end “persistent discrimination and impunity” underlying the Israel-Palestine conflict – in which 2131 Palestinians were killed during the latest crisis in Gaza, including 1,473 civilians, 501 of them children, and 71 Israelis.

The current session of the Human Rights Council is also scheduled to discuss issues such as basic economic and livelihood rights, which are going to be addressed through the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, the worsening plight of migrants around the world, and the detention of asylum seekers and migrants, including children in the United States.

“Clearly, a number of human rights violations and the worsening plight of indigenous people are major issues that need to be tackled on a sustained basis,” said Fujii. “But it is important to raise the awareness of human rights education among media professionals and journalists who are invariably caught in the crossfire of conflicts.”

During open discussion at the media professionals and journalists workshop, several reporters not only shared their personal experiences but also sought clarity on how reporters can safeguard human rights in conflicts where they are embedded with occupying forces in Iraq or other countries.

“This is a major issue that needs to be addressed because it is difficult for journalists to respect human rights when they are embedded with forces,” Oliver Rizzi Carlson, a representative of the United Network of Young Peacebuilders, told IPS.

Commenting on the work that remains to be done in spreading global citizenship education, Fujii noted that tangible progress has been made by bringing several human rights pressure groups together in intensifying the campaign for human rights education.

“Solidarity within civil society and increasing recognition for our work from member states is bringing about tangible results,” said Fujii. “The formation of an NGO coalition – HR 2020 – comprising 14 NGOs such as Amnesty International and SGI last year is a significant development in the intensification of our campaign.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Human Rights and Gender Equality Vague in Post-2015 Agendahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/human-rights-and-gender-equality-vague-in-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-rights-and-gender-equality-vague-in-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/human-rights-and-gender-equality-vague-in-post-2015-agenda/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 14:49:41 +0000 Ida Karlsson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136501 By Ida Karlsson
BRUSSELS, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

With the United Nations’ post-2015 development agenda currently under discussion, civil society actors in Europe are calling for a firmer stance on human rights and gender equality, including control of assets by women.

“The SDGs are a unique opportunity for us. The eradication of extreme poverty is within our grasp. But we still face very major challenges. Business as usual is not an option,” Seamus Jeffreson, Director of Concord, the European platform for non-governmental development organisations, told at a meeting in Brussels with the European Parliament Committee on Development on September 3.

An Open Working Group has been set up by the United Nations to come up with a set of new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to replace the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which range from halving extreme poverty to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education by the target date of 2015.“We need to address women's control over assets. The majority of farmers in the world are women but they do not own the land. There is legislation that prevents women from inheriting property" – Seamus Jeffreson, Director, Concord

Development organisations in Europe say a rights-based approach need to be strengthened in the proposed new SDGs or there is a risk these could be traded off in negotiations with major powers that are less committed to human rights.

“We do not see the spirit of a human rights-based approach infusing the other goals. It should underpin the SDGs. The connection is not made that people have rights to resources. We cannot have a development agenda without people’s rights being respected,” Jeffreson said.

Jeffreson’s complaint was echoed by Thomas Mayr-Harting, European Union Ambassador to the United Nations. “From our point of view, a rights-based approach and governance and rule of law need to be better represented in the SDGs.”

While Concord welcomes a specific goal on gender equality within the SDGs, “more details are needed for this to be a goal and not just a slogan,” Jeffreson told IPS. “We need to address women’s control over assets. The majority of farmers in the world are women but they do not own the land. There is legislation that prevents women from inheriting property.”

The European Union will produce a common position before inter-governmental negotiations start. Further input will come from a High-level Panel set up in July 2012 by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to advise on the global development framework beyond 2015.

“We now look to Ban Ki-moon to play a core role in bringing this process together,” said Mayr-Harting, adding that Sam Kutesa, Ugandan foreign minister, who will chair the UN General Assembly from mid-September, will play also an important role.

Ajay Kumar Bramdeo, ambassador of the African Union to the European Union, who also attended the meeting in Brussels, said that more than 90 percent of the priorities in the common African position have been included in the proposed new set of development goals, including its position on climate change.

“The negative impact of climate change is already being felt in countries in Africa. The European Union has been an important historical, political, economic and social partner for Africa and would also feel the impact of climate change on Africa,” he added.

Kumar Bramdeo emphasised the need to mobilise financing from the developed countries through the Green Climate Fund of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), transfer new clean technologies, and enhance disaster risk management and climate adaptation initiatives.

Ole Lund Hansen, representing the UN Global Compact at the meeting, stressed that the SDGs would not be achieved without the active participation of the world’s business sector. “Some figures say we need 2.5 billion dollars per year in additional investments to achieve the SDGs. We clearly need to tap into the vast resources of the private sector.”

The proposed new SDGs, which will make amends for the shortcomings of the MDGs, will be an integral part of the United Nations’ post-2015 development agenda which, among others, seeks to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger from the face of the earth by 2030.

There are currently 17 new goals on the drafting board, including proposals to end poverty, eliminate hunger, attain healthy lives, provide quality education, attain gender equality and reduce inequalities.

The list also includes the sustainable use of water and sanitation, energy for all, productive employment, industrialisation, protection of terrestrial ecosystems and strengthening the global partnership for sustainable development.

The final set of goals is to be approved by world leaders in September 2015.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Women – the Pillar of the Social Struggle in Chile’s Patagonia Regionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/women-the-pillar-of-the-social-struggle-in-chiles-patagonia-region/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 13:23:51 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136498 Miriam Chible, second on the left, with her partner Patricio Segura, two of her daughters and one of her grandchildren outside the door of her restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, where she puts into practice her objectives of sustainable locally-based development. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Miriam Chible, second on the left, with her partner Patricio Segura, two of her daughters and one of her grandchildren outside the door of her restaurant in Coyhaique, in Chile’s Patagonia region, where she puts into practice her objectives of sustainable locally-based development. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile , Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

In few places in Chile are women the pillars of community, grassroots rural and environmental movements as they are in the southern wilderness region of Patagonia. It is a social role that history forced them to assume in this remote part of the country.

“Patagonian women had to give birth without hospitals, they had to raise their children when this territory was inhospitable,” social activist Claudia Torres told IPS. “And they also had to take on the responsibility of the social organisation of the communities that began to emerge.”

“The men worked with livestock or in logging and they would leave twice a year for four or five months at a time. So the women got used to organising themselves and not depending on men, in case they didn’t come back.”

Women in this region not only raise their families and run the household but also shoulder the tasks of producing and managing food and natural resources – raising livestock, growing and selling fruit and vegetables, collecting firewood – used to heat homes and cook – and making and selling crafts.

The region of Aysén, whose capital, Coyhaique, is 1,630 km south of Santiago, is the heart of Chilean Patagonia. It is home to 91,492 people, of whom 43,315 are women, according to the last official census, from 2002.

According to Torres, “70 or 80 percent of community, grassroots rural and environmental leaders and activists” are women, who were the core of the month-long mass protests that broke out in Aysén in 2012, posing a major challenge to the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).
The Aysén uprising began on Feb. 18, 2012, after months of demands for better support for development in this isolated region and subsidies for the high cost of living in an area lacking in infrastructure and subject to low temperatures and inclement weather.“This is a region of enterprising women who are seeking a development model on a human scale, focused on an appreciation of the binational culture that we share with Argentine Patagonia, and on our own kind of development that puts a priority on the use of local raw materials.” -- Miriam Chible

“There were nights when it seemed like we were in a war,” said Torres, who helped reveal, in her programme on the Santa María radio station, the harsh crackdowns on the demonstrators in Coyhaique and Puerto Aysén, the second-largest city in the region.

For 45 days Torres broadcast coverage, night and day, on what was happening in the region. “There were accounts from people who were beaten, shot, arrested, women who were stripped naked in front of male police officers,” she said.

In her coverage of the protests, Torres saw local women taking on a central role in the demonstrations against the central government’s neglect of the region.

“It was women who were leading the roadblocks, organising the marches, the canteen, the resistance, caring for the injured,” she said. She was referring to the movement brought to an end by the government’s promise to listen to the region’s demands – although two and a half years later, “it has only lived up to 15 percent of what was agreed.”

The 40-year-old Torres, who studied design and tourism, started to work in the media in Caleta Tortel, the southernmost town in Aysén. She worked at a community radio station there, but her opposition to the HidroAysén project, which would have built five enormous hydropower dams on wilderness rivers in Patagonia, forced her into “exile”.

“We were activists, and we produced a programme informing people about Endesa [the Italian-Spanish company that was going to build the dams] and reporting on dams in other parts of Chile and the world. But it had political costs and I lost my job. I came back to Coyhaique without work, without anything,” said the married mother of two.

Torres, who describes herself as “Patagonian, messy, foul-mouthed, disheveled, ugly and happy,” continued the struggle against the dams and is now on the Patagonia Defence Council, which finally won the fight against HidroAysén when the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet cancelled the project on Jun. 10.

Now Torres is the owner of a gift shop and forms part of the Aysén Life Reserve project, focused on achieving sustainable development in the region by capitalising on its wild beauty and untrammeled wilderness by preserving rather than destroying it.

Mirtha Sánchez, a 65-year-old obstinate smoker, told IPS that life here is better now than when she was a little girl.

“I was five years old when I came to Coyhaique to live, and then I moved with my mother to Puerto Aysén, where she opened a boarding house that catered to workers,” Sánchez, who sees the strong role played by Patagonian women as a regional trademark, told IPS.

A decade ago she sold her business in Puerto Aysén and moved back to Coyhaique. She now runs a hostel that only brings in income in certain seasons.

“I thought it would be more restful, but it wasn’t,” she complained. “This region has changed radically. The nouveau riche, with created interests, have arrived,” she added, refusing to elaborate.

She defends the 1973-1990 military dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet), saying “Aysén started to improve in that period, and it has gone downhill in recent years.”

Miriam Chible, 58, disagrees with that assessment. She believes the region “has only good things to offer.”

Chible is an example of Patagonia’s women leaders. She told IPS that when she was widowed, she and her four children successfully ran a restaurant that is not only the leading eatery today in Coyhaique but is also an example of sustainable development.

She works tirelessly for the region to achieve energy and food sovereignty, forms part of the Presidential Advisory Commission for Regional Development and Decentralisation established by Bachelet in May, and participates in initiatives to create a model of alternative economic development for Aysén.

“I’m not an expert in anything, but I care, I’m an involved citizen,” said Chible. Her new partner is also a social activist, who goes around the country drumming up support for Aysén’s demands for respect for its right to development free of invasive and destructive projects.

“Sometimes people ask me ‘how’s your issue going, the dam thing?’ and they’re wrong, because it’s not ‘my issue’. Excessive industrialisation in the region of Aysén will hurt us all, which is why we have to fight to stop it,” she said.

Her three daughters and one son share the work of purchasing food, serving the tables, and running the restaurant. One of her daughters also manages a small ski rental and tour business.

The hard work has borne fruit: the ‘Histórico Ricer’ restaurant is one of the best-known businesses in the region, and its quality locally-based products are celebrated by locals and outsiders alike.

“This is a region of enterprising women,” said Chible, “women who are seeking a development model on a human scale, focused on an appreciation of the binational culture that we share with Argentine Patagonia, and on our own kind of development that puts a priority on the use of local raw materials.”

“That’s what we’re working towards, and that’s where we’re headed,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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