Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Tue, 09 Feb 2016 15:55:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Extremism Threatens Press Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/extremism-threatens-press-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=extremism-threatens-press-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/extremism-threatens-press-freedom/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 13:06:41 +0000 Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143811 Member journalists of Karachi Union of Journalists and Karachi Press Club stage a protest demonstration against flurry of attacks on press freedom and killing of journalists across Pakistan. The journalists are holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans “Attacks on Press Freedom Unacceptable”, “Long Live Press Freedom” and “Attempt to muzzle free press will be opposed”. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

Member journalists of Karachi Union of Journalists and Karachi Press Club stage a protest demonstration against flurry of attacks on press freedom and killing of journalists across Pakistan. The journalists are holding banners and placards inscribed with slogans “Attacks on Press Freedom Unacceptable”, “Long Live Press Freedom” and “Attempt to muzzle free press will be opposed”. Credit: Saleem Shaikh/IPS

By Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan , Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

Pakistan continues to remain one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, where frequent attempts to restrict press freedom are commonplace and challenges to expanding media diversity and access to information abound.

Tense and uncertain security conditions, looming risks of terrorism and extremism-related activities, rampant political influence and the feeble role of the country’s democratic institutions, including parliament and judiciary, constitute the main reasons behind the sorry state of press freedom in Pakistan.

To address this issue, editors and news directors of a large number of Pakistani newspapers and television channels formally established ‘Editors for Safety’, an organisation focused exclusively on issues pertaining to violence and threats of violence against the media.

The organization would work on a core philosophy that an attack on one journalist or media house would be deemed as an attack on the entire media. The body would also encourage media organizations to speak with one voice against the ubiquitous culture of impunity, where journalists in the country are being frequently attacked while perpetrators are rarely brought to justice.

Former Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Mr. Javed Jabbar, welcomed the formation of Editors for Safety and said “today, militants alone do not target press freedom and journalists in the country. Political, religious, ethnic and the law enforcement agencies also attack them.”

In 2015, the country was ranked 159th out of 180 countries evaluated in the World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Pakistan has been a “frontline state” for almost four decades, which has polarised society and ruined people’s sense of security. Because of the Afghan war, the areas bordering Afghanistan, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and tribal areas in the country’s northwest region, are the most troubled areas for journalists to report from.

Media freedom across the country – and particularly in the terrorism-hit northwest region – has deteriorated over the last several years in part because of extremist groups who hurl threats to journalists for reporting their activities. Religious extremists go after media persons as they believe the latter do not respect their religion and harm it on the pretext of press freedom.

On March 28, 2014, Raza Rumi, a TV anchor, blogger and widely-acclaimed political and security analyst in Pakistan, narrowly escaped death when gunmen opened fire on his car in an attack that left his driver Mustafa dead. He moved to the U.S. soon after the attack on his life, which was triggered by his liberal and outspoken voice on politics, society, culture, militancy, human rights and persecution of religious minorities.

Last year on November 30, one journalist and three other employees of Lahore-based Din Media organization, which runs a TV channel and daily Urdu language newspaper, were killed when unknown miscreants lobbed a hand grenade on the office of the media organisation in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest urban city of 20 million people. The attack drew countrywide condemnation protests by journalists. The Prime Minister announced his pledge to bring those behind attack to the book and boost security measures for media offices and journalists.

Afzal Butt, president of Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) told IPS,
“We have conveyed the deep concern of the journalist community about the deteriorating state of press freedom to the Prime Minister and federal and provincial information ministers. We have also reminded them of their commitments made for protecting lives of journalists and press freedom in the country. But it has fallen on deaf ears.”

International media watchdogs including the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and RSF have kept highlighting the dismal state of press freedom in the country in their [annual] reports from time to time. Around 57 journalists have been killed in the line of the duty between year 1992 to 2015 and hundreds other harassed, tortured and kidnapped, according to recent data compiled by CPJ, a New York-based independent, non-profit organisation dedicated to the global defence of press freedom. In its 2015 report, CPJ ranked Pakistan as the sixth most deadly country for journalists.

Pakistan is ranked ninth out of 180 countries on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which spotlights countries, where journalists are slain and the killers go free.

“Incidents of threats, attacks and killings of journalists in Pakistan are the clear evidence of how critical the situation has become due to thriving culture of impunity,” said Mazhar Abbas, former deputy news director at the Ary News TV in Karachi and well-known champion of press freedom.

The good news is that the country has battled against impunity through judicial actions and institutionalisation of mechanisms to tackle this problem. For instance, two landmark convictions and arrests brought relief to the aggrieved families of slain TV journalists Wali Khan Babar, murdered in 2011 in Karachi, and Ayub Khattak, murdered in Karak district in conflict-prone Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan’s northwest.

The cases made progress thanks to relentless efforts by families of journalists, journalist unions and civil society pressure groups with cooperation from government and justice system, Khursheed Abbasi, PFUJ’s secretary general, said. The judicial commission set up to probe the attempt to murder Islamabad-based eminent television journalist Hamid Mir associated with the Geo News TV is part of this movement forward. Further to this was the announcement in April 2015 by the provincial government of Balochistan to establish two judicial tribunals to investigate six murder cases of journalists since 2011.

In another positive development, on March 9, 2015, the Islamabad High Court upheld the conviction of Mumtaz Qadri, the killer of publisher of English newspaper Daily Times Mr. Salman Taseer, under Section 302 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC). Qadri, his official guard in Islamabad in January 2010, killed Taseer, who was governor of Punjab province at that time.

“A free press is a fundamental foundation of sustainable and effective democracy. Any effort aimed at scuttling press freedom will only weaken democracy and democratic institutions,” warned journalist-turned Pakistani parliamentarian Mushahid Hussain Syed. He said that politicians need to realise that supporting endeavours for press freedom at any level would benefit the democratic political leaders themselves.

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Press Crackdown Is Likely to Worsenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/press-crackdown-is-likely-to-worsen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=press-crackdown-is-likely-to-worsen http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/press-crackdown-is-likely-to-worsen/#comments Fri, 05 Feb 2016 08:08:46 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143807 Ugandan journalist Andrew Lwanga, who is still recovering more than one year after allegedly being battered by a police commander while covering a protest. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Ugandan journalist Andrew Lwanga, who is still recovering more than one year after allegedly being battered by a police commander while covering a protest. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Uganda, Feb 5 2016 (IPS)

On October 2015, the day that Ugandan journalist Enoch Matovu, 25, was allegedly shot by the police for simply “doing my job”, the police had “run out of tear gas”, he claimed.

“So they had to use live bullets,” this journalist for broadcaster NTV Uganda told IPS. Matovu was injured in the head while covering the apparent vote rigging by contestants during the ruling party’s — National Resistance Movement (NRM) — elections in Mityana, central Uganda. “I only realised when I woke up in hospital what had happened,” he added.

Shockingly, since party elections in October, over 40 Ugandan journalists have been detained, beaten, had their tools and material taken, blocked from covering events and have lost employment, according to Robert Sempala, the National Coordinator for Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) Uganda. Two other journalists besides Matovu have allegedly been shot by the police.

Ahead of the February 18 elections, in which President Yoweri Museveni, 71, and already in power for 30 years, is standing, there’s a “likelihood” the press crackdown “is going to get worse”, said Sempala. “The contest is neck-to-neck,” he told IPS, adding there was “stiff competition” from the three-time presidential challenger Kizza Besigye and former Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi. “According to our statistics, most of the victims have been those that cover either Besigye or Mbabazi, as opposed to the rest of the contestants,” he emphasised.

On January 20, Endigyito FM, a privately owned radio station in Mbarara, about 170 miles outside the capital Kampala, was shut down, purportedly over unpaid licence fees of $11,000. Mbabazi’s campaign team claimed that an interview with him two days earlier had been disrupted 20 minutes into the show, after officials from the Uganda Communications Commission stormed the building. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and others have called for the broadcaster to be allowed to resume operations.

In a January report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) warned of a media clampdown, saying radio reporters working in local dialects with an audience in rural areas particularly faced intimidation and threats from government. “Looking over the last decade, its clear that violations of press freedom have clearly increased during elections and also during times of political tension in Kampala,” Maria Burnett, HRW senior researcher for Africa, told IPS.

“For journalists working outside Kampala, in local languages, my sense is that media freedom has been very difficult during political campaigns and elections in recent times,” she added. Burnett said in terms of what is happening outside Kampala, HRW’s research indicated that “the patterns are fairly similar” to the 2011 elections: “Perhaps the only real difference is that some radio journalists are more able to state the pressure they are under and the problems they face, either via social media or other media platforms as the Kampala-based media houses expand coverage country-wide.”

Sempala said “on the whole” there were more cases of violations against the press outside Kampala, according to HRNJ’s statistics. Most journalists attacked anywhere in Uganda claim it is hard to get justice. “Each morning I wonder what to do,” said Andrew Lwanga, 28, a cameraman with local WBS station, who was assaulted last year by the then Kampala district police commander Joram Mwesigye, leaving him with horrific injuries and unable to work. His equipment was also damaged.

“I loved covering the election so much. I would love to be out there,” he added. He is now fund-raising for a spinal operation in Spain — Ugandan doctors told him he had no option but to go abroad – and spends his days sitting in a lounge, watching his colleagues on the TV doing what he most wants to be doing.

Lwanga, a journalist of eight years, was injured while covering a small demonstration involving a group called the Unemployed Youths of Uganda in January 2015. Online, there is footage of Mwesigye assaulting Lwanga, of the cameraman falling down and then being led away by police, holding his head and crying in pain. “Now I can’t walk 50 metres without crutches,” said Lwanga, who has a visible scar on one side of his head and a bandage on one hand. “For the past 90 days I haven’t been able to sleep more than 40 minutes… All of this makes me cry,” he added.

More than a year after the assault, Lwanga’s case is dragging on. Mwesigye has been charged with three counts including assault and occasioning bodily harm, and suspended from his role. But at the last hearing, when Lwanga had to be carried into court by two others, it was revealed that the journalist’s damaged camera – an important exhibit – had disappeared and still hasn’t been found. “(The police) are trying to protect Joram, he wants to retain his job and he (has) always confronted me saying ‘you’re putting me out of work’,” said the cameraman.

Recently, Museveni pledged to financially help this journalist. But Lwanga said he hadn’t received any communication as yet when the money was coming. The last state witness in the trial was due to be heard on February 4 but has been adjourned to the 29th. Despite his ordeal, if he eventually has the operation and recovers, Lwanga said he will get back to work: “I miss my profession”.

Matovu is back at work, but still suffers a lot of headaches after his alleged attack, and admitted “sometimes I’m scared to do my job” “The police are not doing anything about this, only my bosses,” he said of his case.

Sempala said so far HRNJ had only managed to take “a few” cases involving journalists being assaulted to court. More advocacy is required to put pressure on police to investigate cases, he said. Burnett said it was “important that journalists who are physically attacked by police share their stories and push for justice”.

Police spokesperson Fred Enanga told IPS that Lwanga’s case was an “isolated” one, but the fact that police had “managed” to charge Mwesigye was “one very good example” that the authorities did not take human rights breaches against journalists lightly. “Over the years there’s been this very good working relationship with the media,” insisted Enanga.

(End)

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Activists Accuse India of Violating UN Convention on Child Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/activists-accuse-india-of-violating-un-convention-on-child-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=activists-accuse-india-of-violating-un-convention-on-child-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/activists-accuse-india-of-violating-un-convention-on-child-rights/#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2016 07:03:28 +0000 K. S. Harikrishnan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143697 A view of government juvenile home at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Rights activists allege that most of the children homes in India do not have adequate physical facilities to rehabilitate and reform delinquent children. Credit: K.S.Harikrishnan/IPS

A view of government juvenile home at Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala. Rights activists allege that most of the children homes in India do not have adequate physical facilities to rehabilitate and reform delinquent children. Credit: K.S.Harikrishnan/IPS

By K. S. Harikrishnan
NEW DELHI, Jan 26 2016 (IPS)

Civil rights groups and child welfare activists have strongly protested against the enactment of a new Juvenile Justice Act by the Indian parliament, lowering the age of a legally defined juvenile for trial from 18 to 16- years old in heinous crimes cases.

Human rights activists and people working for child welfare say reducing the age would be against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India ratified in 1992.

According to the existing law in India, formed in 2000, the accused under the age of 18 cannot be given any penalty higher than three years, nor be tried as an adult and sent to an adult jail. The new law also treats all children under the age of 18 similarly, except for one difference. It states that any one between 16 and 18 who commits a heinous offence may be tried as an adult.

The ongoing heated debates and protests started against the backdrop of the higher appeal courts’ permission to release one of the main accused in the high profile 2012 Delhi gang-rape case. The boy was a juvenile, from a reform home at the end of his three-year remand period.

The case relates to a horrific incident on 16 December 2012, when a 23-year-old female physiotherapy intern was beaten and gang raped in a moving private transport bus in which she was travelling with a male friend at night.

Dr. Pushkar Raj, well-known human rights leader and former General Secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, said that the move of the government to pass tougher laws on juveniles was ill-conceived and would not achieve the intended purpose of reducing crimes amongst juveniles.

“Though juvenile crime has slightly risen in India in last few years, it stands half as compared to US and Australia. While in India it hovers under 1500 per 100,000 of juvenile population, in the US and Australia it is well above 3000 per 100,000,” he told IPS.

The National Crime Records Bureau data says that there has been an increase in crimes committed by juveniles, especially by those in the 16 to 18 age group during the period 2003 to 2013.

The data shows that the percentage of juvenile crimes has increased from one per cent in 2003 to 1.2 per cent in 2013. During the same period, 16-18 year olds accused of crimes as a percentage of all juveniles accused of crimes increased from 54 per cent to 66 per cent.

Experts, however, say that the new law would go against the global commitment of India to child rights.

Shoba Koshy, Chairperson, Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, told IPS that whatever may be the logic behind the lowering of age, it is not acceptable as seen from a child rights perspective. She expressed the apprehension that the new law would be counterproductive until and unless correct remedial measures are taken.

“We have committed ourselves both nationally and internationally to protect child rights up to the age of 18 years.
Therefore, the new amended law is not suitable to this norm. Even if you reduce the age to 16 and then a 15-year old commits a similar crime, would you again reduce the age,” she asked.

“There are several unattended issues concerning children which need to be looked into. We should help our children to grow up to be good individuals by providing systems that will give them the care and protection they deserve in their childhood and by imparting proper education and moral values. The government should allocate more funds for strengthening infrastructure facility to develop reformative and rehabilitative mechanisms under the Juvenile Justice Law, “she said.

The National Human Rights Commission also disagreed with the government move and sent its disagreement in writing to the government.

Media reported that the rights panel opined that every boy at 16 years would be treated as juvenile. “If he is sent to jail, there is no likelihood of any reformation and he will come out a hardened criminal. “

However, participating in the debate in Parliament, Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi said that under the new law any juvenile aged between 16 and 18 years will stay in an institution meant for housing adolescent offenders till the age of 21 years, whatever the sentence.

A study report in 2013 on ‘Factors Underlying Juvenile Delinquency and Positive Youth Development Programs’, prepared by Kavita Sahney of the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, National Institute of Technology at Rourkela in Odisha, revealed that offences committed by delinquents were primarily due to the combination of various individual and environmental variables, individual risk factors of the delinquents, negligence and ignorance of the parents, peer influence, poor socio-economic status, family pressure and lack of proper socialization.

A section of women activists and members of parliament believe that the new law neither gives safety to women from crimes against them nor gives protection to the children involved in such cases.

Dr. T.N. Seema, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and parliament member in the Upper House, expressed deep anguish over the “encroachment” by the government on the rights of children.

“Most of the juvenile homes in the country do not have a good atmosphere and enough physical facilities to reside delinquent children. In such a situation, how can we reform juveniles?” she told IPS.

T. P. Lakshmi, an activist at Nagarkovil in Tamil Nadu, said that the government succumbed to the “pressure tactics” of a section of women’s groups “taking mileage from the Delhi rape case.” “It is unfortunate that one or two rape cases determine the fate of all the boys accused in juvenile cases in the country,” she said.

(End)

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Loneliness and Memories, Syrian Refugees Struggle in Safe Spaceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/loneliness-and-memories-syrian-refugees-struggle-in-safe-spaces/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=loneliness-and-memories-syrian-refugees-struggle-in-safe-spaces http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/loneliness-and-memories-syrian-refugees-struggle-in-safe-spaces/#comments Mon, 11 Jan 2016 07:41:10 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143549 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/loneliness-and-memories-syrian-refugees-struggle-in-safe-spaces/feed/ 0 CPJ: Two Thirds of 2015 Journalist Deaths were Acts of Reprisalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/cpj-two-thirds-of-2015-journalist-deaths-were-acts-of-reprisal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cpj-two-thirds-of-2015-journalist-deaths-were-acts-of-reprisal http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/01/cpj-two-thirds-of-2015-journalist-deaths-were-acts-of-reprisal/#comments Fri, 01 Jan 2016 20:24:32 +0000 Katherine Mackenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143499 By Katherine Mackenzie
ROME, Jan 1 2016 (IPS)

Of the 69 journalists who died on the job in 2015, 40 per cent were killed by Islamic militant groups like Al-Qaeda and Islamic State. Startlingly more than two-thirds were targeted for murder, according to a special report by the Committee to Protect Journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in its annual report that nine of those killings took place in France, second to Syria as the most dangerous country for the press in last year.

Globally 69 journalists were killed due to their vocation, including those slain for their reporting and those caught in crossfire or in conflict. The total for 2015 is higher than the 61 journalists killed in 2014.

The CPJ says it is investigating the deaths of a further 26 more journalists during the year to determine if they too were work-related.

In 2012, 2013, and 2014, those killed in Syria exceeded those than anywhere else in the world. But the fewer number this year dying on the job in Syria only means it is so dangerous that there are fewer journalists working there, said the report. Many international news agencies chose to withdraw staff anf local reporters were forced to flee, said the CPJ.

The report cited difficulties in researching cases in conflict including Libya, Yemen and Iraq. CPJ went on a research mission to Iraq last year investigating reports that some 35 journalists from the Mosul area had gone missing, were killed or being held by Islamic State.

The militant group has a grip on the city so the CPJ said it could only confirm the deaths of a few journalists. The committee’s report said it had received reports of dozens of other journalists killed but could not independently confirm the deaths or if indeed, journalism was the reason. It said several of these journalists are currently on CPJ’s missing list.

A mural for Avijit Roy in Dhaka, one of four bloggers murdered by extremists in Bangladesh this year. Credit: AP/A.M. Ahad

A mural for Avijit Roy in Dhaka, one of four bloggers murdered by extremists in Bangladesh this year. Credit: AP/A.M. Ahad

The Charlie Hebdo massacre that took place in Paris last January was claimed by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Eight journalists at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were targeted.

Islamic State in October murdered two Syrian journalists living in exile in Turkey, Fares Hamadi and Ibrahim Abd al-Qader. Abd al-Qader was given CPJ’s 1015 International Press Freedom Award as he was an early member of Raqaa is Being Slaughtered Silently, a Syrian citizen journalist group.

“In Bangladesh, members of an Al-Qaeda affiliate or another local extremist group, Ansarullah Bangla Team, were suspected in the hacking or stabbing murders of a publisher and four bloggers, including U.S.-Bangladeshi writer Avijit Roy, who was attending a book fair when he was killed,”said the report.

The Taliban in Pakistan claimed responsibility for the shooting of Zaman Mehsud, president and secretary-general of the Tribal Union of Journalists’ South Waziristan chapter and reporter for the Urdu-language Daily Ummat and Daily Nai Baat newspapers.

A security officer investigates the murder of Somali journalist Hindia Haji Mohamed, who was killed by a car bomb in December. Credit: AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab

A security officer investigates the murder of Somali journalist Hindia Haji Mohamed, who was killed by a car bomb in December. Credit: AFP/Mohamed Abdiwahab

In Somalia, Hindia Haji Mohamed, a journalist and the widow of another murdered journalist, was killed in December when a bomb blew up her car in an attack claimed by the Islamic militant group al-Shabaab.

Governments around the world were jailing at least 110 journalists on anti-state charges. This is out of 199 total jailed, according to CPJ’s most recent annual prison census.—It shows how the press is being cornered and targeted by terrorists and also squeezed by the squeezed by authorities saying there were committed to fighting terror as well, it said.

More than two thirds of the journalists killed in 2015 were targeted and murdered as a direct result of their work.

The report said about one third of journalists’ deaths worldwide were carried out by criminal groups, government officials, or local residents who were, in most cases, drug traffickers or those involved in organized crime. They included Brazilian Gleydson Carvalho, shot dead by two men while he was presenting his afternoon radio show. He was often critical of politicians and police Brazil had six killings last year, the highest since CPJ began keeping records in 1992.

But Brazilian judicial authorities have made headway in combating impunity by getting six convictions in murder cases in the last two years, said the report.

South Sudan registered for the first time on CPJ’s index of slain journalists when unidentified gunmen attacked an official convoy killing five journalists traveling with a county official. The motive is still unknown but there have been various accusations. Some say this could have been the result of the power struggle between former Vice President Riek Machar and President Salva Kiir which set off the civil war in 2013.

The murders of the five landed South Sudan on CPJ’s Global Impunity Index, which highlights countries where journalists are murdered and there is no one held responsible so their killers go free.

South Sudan, Poland and Ghana appeared on CPJ’s killed database for the first time. In Poland, Łukasz Masiak, was fatally assaulted in a bowling alley after telling colleagues he feared for his life. He was the founder and editor of a news website and reported on crime and drugs and pollution. In Ghana, radio reporter George Abanga, was shot dead on his way back from covering a cocoa farmers dispute.

CPJ cites these trends from its research:

• Seventeen journalists worldwide were killed in combat or crossfire. Five were killed on a dangerous assignment.
• At least 28 of the 47 murder victims received threats before they were killed.
• Broadcast reporting was the most dangerous job, with 25 killed. Twenty-nine victims worked online.
• The most common type of reporting by victims was politics, followed by war and human rights.

CPJ, in 1992, began compiling detailed records on all journalist deaths. If motives in a killing are unclear, it is possible that a journalist died in relation to his or her work and CPJ classifies the case as “unconfirmed” and continues to investigate. CPJ said its list does not include journalists who died of illness or natural causes or were killed in car or plane accidents unless the crash considered hostile action.

(End)

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The Power of the Penhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/the-power-of-the-pen-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-power-of-the-pen-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/the-power-of-the-pen-2/#comments Fri, 25 Dec 2015 21:30:51 +0000 May Carolan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143447 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/the-power-of-the-pen-2/feed/ 0 Initiatives Revive Palestinian Heritage Boosting Economy and ‘Homeland’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland/#comments Fri, 25 Dec 2015 11:27:41 +0000 Silvia Boarini http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143445 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/initiatives-revive-palestinian-heritage-boosting-economy-and-homeland/feed/ 0 Farmers, CSOs Rally Behind Environmentalist Jailed for Exposing Land Grabbing in Cameroonhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/farmers-csos-rally-environmentalist-jailed-for-exposing-land-grabbing-in-cameroon/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-csos-rally-environmentalist-jailed-for-exposing-land-grabbing-in-cameroon http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/farmers-csos-rally-environmentalist-jailed-for-exposing-land-grabbing-in-cameroon/#comments Tue, 15 Dec 2015 08:04:34 +0000 Mbom Sixtus http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143360 By Mbom Sixtus
YOUNDE, Cameroon, Dec 15 2015 (IPS)

Farmers and activists in Cameroon say a jail sentence handed down on an environmentalist who exposed land-grabbing by a multinational agro-industrial company, sends a dangerous signal to communities trying to protect their land and resources.

Nasako Bessingi, Director of Struggle to Economize Future Environment, SEFE, was sentenced on November 3, by a court in Mundemba, a small village in Cameroon’s southwest region. The SG-SOC company, a subsidiary of the New York-based Herakles Farms and two of his former employees sued him for defamation.

The verdict: a fine of just over 1,800 dollars or 3-years imprisonment. He was also ordered to pay damages of about 18,000 dollars to the two civil parties and costs of about 364 dollars. Nasako was given 24 hours to pay the fine otherwise he faces jail for 3 years.

Nasako says his NGO has paid the fine “Just to have time to do other things while our lawyer Adolf Malle follows up an appeal at the southwest regional Court of Appeal.”

Recounting his plight to IPS, he said Herakles Farms sued him following government’s suspension of its activities. He also revealed to IPS he had written petitions against the company in which he accused its officials of lying to villagers.

In his complaints, he notified the government of the company’s activities, clearing, felling trees and planting nurseries pending authorization, which he called illegal. He said he had also reported claims by the multinational firm that it had authorization to acquire 73,000 hectares of land on a 99 year-lease at the cost at about 50 cents per hectare per year.

“My complaint was filed in August 2012 and in November 2013, President Paul Biya signed a decree, limiting the company to 19,843 hectares of land in Cameroon and to pay seven dollars per hectare per year.” The company abandoned the project.

Going by Nasako, the initial suit filed by the company, charged him with inciting the government to suspend the activities of the company, but during the proceedings which took close to two years, the company modified its claims and emphasized on defamation.

Nasako led journalists from both the local and international media to cover conflicts between Herakles Farms (SG-SOC) and communities of the Mundemba sub-division in the southwest of Cameroon. He was attacked in the forest a few days later on his way to an interior village in the subdivision for a sensitization campaign.

In his report of the incident, a copy of which he forwarded to Bruce Wrobel, (now deceased), the CEO of the company at the time, stating that he had identified the attackers as workers of his company.

“They used the report against me claiming I defamed the company, whereas there were many witnesses at the scene of the event,” Nasako said. “I filed a complaint in court against the company, but they too filed one at the same time and for some reasons, the court decided to listen to the multinational firm.”

Several environmental NGOs, some of which were equally against the land grabbing attempts of Herakles Farms, have denounced the verdict which to them is unjust. Nasako says he is comforted by officials of local and international NGOs including Nature Cameroon, Cultural Survival, the African Coalition Against Land Grabbing, Green Peace among other sympathizers.

To Samuel Nguiffo, Coordinator of the Yaounde-based Center for Environment and Development, CED, “The conviction of Nasako Besingi, which follows a series of other procedures, suggests a desire to intimidate environmental activists, in a context marked by the proliferation of investments in land and natural resources, which strongly encroach on village land.”

A statement from the Amy Moas, a US-based Senior Forest Campaigner and Eric Ini, an Africa Forest Campaigner for Green Peace, says Nasako is “Guilty for nothing more than exercising his democratic right to protest.” They hold that Herakles Farms has consistently worked to silence its critics and that the activist has been intimidated and assaulted in recent years.

Chief Alexander Ekperi of Esoki, one of the villages affected by the Herakles agro-industrial project told IPS that as a traditional ruler, he was a middleman between the investors and the indigenes. He said his people depend on farming and without land they will be idle and poor.

“I am 100 per cent in support of Nasako. The company concealed information from us. We were fooled our village will be developed but Nasako and other environmentalist educated us on the project and we realized the company was going to exploit both timber and non-timber products, grab our farmland and leave people stranded. We were not even aware of how much land the company was grabbing,” he said.

The traditional ruler complained, “Even our people, like Dr. Blaise Mekole who were close to the investors have vanished and no longer communicate with us. People are looking up to me to pay for some work they did for the company, whereas I was given a fake ECOBANK cheque. It was a mafia (incident) and we regret the person who exposed it is getting a heavy sentence.”

Peter Okpo Wa-namolongo who lives in one of the villages in the Korup National Park, believes Nasako’s verdict was unjust. “I don’t know if some of our elite are truly Cameroonians, because when it comes to money, they don’t feel for their own people. The investors give us oil, food and beer and pay the elite huge amounts of bribe money for our land,” he said.

Wa-namolongo pointed out, “These big companies have money. They pay their way into places and I’m sure even the judges received their money. I am strongly against what is happening to Nasako.”

Mosembe Cornelius, owner of a vast farmland that was coveted by Harakles farms told IPS that “The main problem is that government has incomplete information about the crisis. I would have lost my own seven hectares if environmentalists were not here to help.”

Before Mosember could finish his statement, another villager, Edwin Njio joined in and said, “Environmentalists helped us meet international lawyers who exposed the illegality of the company. We would be dead without our land. We the villagers are very angry.”

He also said, “We were treated as animals but we now understand our rights. If Nasako is convicted then the whole of Cameroon should be jailed. Even our chiefs (traditional rulers) treated us as if we don’t deserve respect.”

But Chief Eben Joseph sees things conversely. He is one of the traditional rulers in whose jurisdiction Herakles Farms’ project was being set up. “This project was going to bring development to my village. The head of state wants Cameroon to be emergent by 2035. How can we get there without foreign investments?” he asked.

Quizzed on the disparities in the amount the company paid per hectare on the annual basis and what was later determined by the head of state, as well as the surface area of land they initially wanted to exploit and the limitations by the 2013 Presidential Decree, Chief Eben stated he is a businessman.

“One cannot invest where he will not make profit. You go where you will make the highest profit. Gulf Oil had a permit to exploit oil in the Bakassi Peninsular in the 1970s, they claimed to the government the oil was little and sold their permit to Pecten which then exploited oil for about 30 years. Pecten recently sold the same area to Addax Petroleum which is still exploiting oil where Gulf Oil had claimed had little oil. It’s just business,” he said.

The traditional ruler said the government would have been collecting taxes from Herakles Farms while villagers enjoy some royalties. “Nasako and I have been friends for long, he always sees things from his own unique way. But he is not above the law. I will not say whether his court sentence was right or wrong.”

To Chief Orume, another traditional ruler in the region, “I knew this company will bring development to my village which is in a conservative area with community forests and a national park. I knew they would construct roads to ferry their produce out of the forest. But I am surprised they have just disappeared and we don’t know when they will be back.”

Though grappling with an appeal, Nasako told IPS that he has received complaints from laid-off workers of Herakles Farms. “They made severance payments to some workers in July 2015 promising to pay 70 other workers on September 30 but did not,” he said.

The company wrote an appeal to Cameroon’s presidency on October 3, pleading the government should intervene in court cases against the company. Jonathan Watts, the company’s Chief Operations Manager, sent a letter saying the company spent funds on court cases and said that the government should help dismiss the cases so that the company could focus on producing palm oil, which is a disputed product in ecological circles as it destroys forests.

(End)

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“Nothing Will Be the Same” for Turkish Press After Recent Electionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/nothing-will-be-the-same-for-turkish-press-after-recent-elections/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nothing-will-be-the-same-for-turkish-press-after-recent-elections http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/nothing-will-be-the-same-for-turkish-press-after-recent-elections/#comments Tue, 01 Dec 2015 07:39:40 +0000 Joris Leverink http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143165 http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/12/nothing-will-be-the-same-for-turkish-press-after-recent-elections/feed/ 0 Latin America Has Beaten Down, but not Beaten, HIV/AIDShttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-has-beaten-down-but-not-beaten-hivaids/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-america-has-beaten-down-but-not-beaten-hivaids http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/07/latin-america-has-beaten-down-but-not-beaten-hivaids/#comments Tue, 14 Jul 2015 22:57:26 +0000 Alvaro Queiruga http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141588 A group of children use bottle caps to create the red ribbon that symbolises the fight against AIDS, in one of the awareness-raising activities carried out in Latin America. Credit: UNAIDS Latin America

A group of children use bottle caps to create the red ribbon that symbolises the fight against AIDS, in one of the awareness-raising activities carried out in Latin America. Credit: UNAIDS Latin America

By Álvaro Queiruga
MONTEVIDEO , Jul 14 2015 (IPS)

The countries of Latin America have partially met the Millennium Development Goal referring to the fight against HIV/AIDS, according to the UNAIDS report on the global epidemic released Tuesday.

“The world has achieved the AIDS targets of Millennium Development Goal 6. The epidemic has been halted and reversed,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon wrote in the preface to the report “How AIDS changed everything —“MDG6: 15 years, 15 lessons of hope from the AIDS response”.

Among the advances mentioned by the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) report was the fact that 47 percent of people over 15 and 54 percent of children under 14 living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America were receiving antiretroviral treatment in 2014 – one of the highest levels of coverage in the world.

The global average is 41 percent for adults and 32 percent for children.“In 2000, AIDS was a death sentence. People who became infected with HIV had just a few years to live….Today, the life expectancy of a person living with HIV who is receiving treatment is the same as that of a person who is not infected with HIV. That is success.” -- UNAIDS report

In some Latin American countries coverage is higher, such as Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico and Venezuela, the five countries that account for over 75 percent of cases of HIV/AIDS in the region. But in others it is much lower, like Bolivia, where antiretroviral coverage stands at less than 25 percent.

As an example to be followed, the report cites a major regional accomplishment: on Jun. 30 Cuba became the first country in the world to receive validation from the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it had eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay are set to become the next countries in the region to receive validation, possibly before June 2016, the regional director of UNAIDS for Latin America, César Núñez, said in an interview with IPS from Panama City.

The three pillars of the struggle

The experts, activists and HIV-positive persons consulted by IPS agreed that any effective struggle against the epidemic must be based on three pillars: prevention through early detection and treatment of HIV/AIDS, universal access to antiretroviral therapy, and the reduction of HIV-related stigma and discrimination, which limits access to detection and treatment.

According to UNAIDS, an estimated 70 percent of cases of HIV/AIDS in Latin America have been diagnosed and 47 percent of the patients have begun antiretroviral therapy. Of those in treatment, the virus has been suppressed among 66 percent – in other words, 28 percent of all HIV-positive people in the region.

HIV prevalence in the region stands at 0.4 percent of the population – compared to 0.8 percent globally. But it rises to 25 or 30 percent among trans women involved in sex work, over 10 percent among gays and other men who have sex with men, and six percent among female sex workers.

HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns are continually carried out in Latin America, such as this one launched by Chile’s Health Ministry, which shows a man and a woman who do not fit the stereotypes of HIV-positive persons, and warns that “HIV doesn’t kill; your fear does.” Credit: Chilean government

HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns are continually carried out in Latin America, such as this one launched by Chile’s Health Ministry, which shows a man and a woman who do not fit the stereotypes of HIV-positive persons, and warns that “HIV doesn’t kill; your fear of the test does.” Credit: Chilean government

“HIV is concentrated in sexual diversity communities…who even find it very hard just to have an AIDS test in a health centre when, in the best of cases, they face stigma or discrimination on the streets or in the health centre itself, and in the worst of cases, they face the threat of physical violence,” Núñez said.

Between January 2013 and March 2014 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights received 770 reports of violence (594 murders and 176 serious assaults) motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation or identity or gender expression.

UNAIDS figures

In Latin America the epidemic is concentrated in certain population groups, as well as in cities and ports, and along trade routes.

AIDS-related deaths in the region dropped 29 percent between 2005 and 2014, when the death toll was 41,000.

In 2014 there were 1.7 million people living with HIV/AIDS in Latin America, including 33,000 children. Of that total, 65 percent, or 1.1 million people, were men. The main route of transmission is sexual contact.

Over 75 percent of the 87,000 new HIV infections in the region in 2014 occurred, in descending order, in Brazil (which accounted for approximately 50 percent of the total), Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela and Argentina.

Fewer than 2000 children acquired HIV in 2014 in Latin America. High coverage of prevention of mother-to-child transmission has helped drive reductions in new infections among children, with 79 percent of the region’s 20,000 pregnant women living with HIV receiving antiretroviral therapy in 2014.

The Court recommended that states document such cases in order to develop policies for protecting the human rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersexual (LGBTI) population.

“Laws on gender identity, gay marriage, anti-discrimination…are clear examples of legislation that…contribute to reducing discrimination and make it possible for the most affected populations to have access to health systems,” Carlos Falistocco, president of the Horizontal Technical Cooperation Group in Latin America and the Caribbean, which brings together the heads of AIDS programmes in the region, told IPS.

Núñez acknowledged that the region “managed to curb the spread of HIV, but we fell short of reversing the epidemic,” one of the targets of the sixth MDG, which like the other seven are to be met this year, when they will be replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

There is still a long way to go, as reflected by the number of new HIV infections. Although they were reduced 13 percent from 2000 to 2014, in the last five years there has been little change in the annual number of new cases in the region.

Núñez said “there has been a kind of relaxation in the response. In some cases I think there’s a perception that this isn’t a problem anymore in Latin America, which has not enabled us to channel additional resources or put a higher priority on diagnosing and treating HIV.”

María José Fraga, a representative of the Network of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS in Uruguay, concurs.

“Because HIV has become a chronic disease, like diabetes or hypertension, social concern has died down,” she told IPS. “Today the epidemic is practically not discussed, because it’s not present. And for that reason we keep running into late diagnoses. There is no individual awareness of taking the test, or going to the doctor and asking for it.”

Fraga, 44, has been living with HIV for 24 years. When she was diagnosed in 1990, “there was practically no treatment,” she recalled.

“But that changed astoundingly fast, because by 1995 or 1996 there was already a wide variety of drugs…Back then they waited longer to start treatment. And the guidelines for treatment have gradually changed as more is understood about the disease and how it evolves in people,” she said.

Juan José Meré, a U.N. population fund (UNFPA) HIV/AIDS adviser, told IPS that in the case of Uruguay, “in nearly 40 percent of cases, full-blown AIDS is present by the time they are diagnosed. This can obviously be reverted, and in general it is, but at a high cost to their health.”

According to UNAIDS, in at least half of the countries in the region, 38 percent of people living with HIV had, when they were first tested, full-blown AIDS, which is defined by a CD4 cell count of less than 200 per cubic mm of blood. (CD4 cells are a type of lymphocyte or white blood cell; they are an important part of the immune system.)

WHO and UNAIDS recommend that antiretroviral treatment start when a person’s CD4 cell count falls to 500, when they are still asymptomatic.

“Some countries, like Brazil and Argentina, offer treatment to any diagnosed patient, regardless of the CD4 level,” said Falistocco.

What direction should Latin America take in the future?

“We must base whatever we do on that great message from Secretary General Ban…we can’t leave anyone behind. In the region we can make great progress, especially if we guarantee access to services for the sexual diversity community across the entire continent,” said Núñez.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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German Development Cooperation Piggybacks Onto Africa’s E-Boomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/german-development-cooperation-piggybacks-onto-africas-e-boom/#comments Fri, 26 Jun 2015 15:56:06 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141320 During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

During re:publica 2015, Juliet Wanyiri (centre), illustrates a practical workshop organised by Foondi*, of which she is founder and CEO. Credit: re:publica/Jan Zappner

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Jun 26 2015 (IPS)

In a major paradigm shift, the German government is now placing its bets on digitalisation for its development cooperation policy with Africa, under what it calls a Strategic Partnership for a ’Digital Africa’.

According to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), “through a new strategic partnership in the field of information and communication technology (ICT), German development cooperation will be joining forces with the private sector to support the development and sustainable management of Digital Africa’s potential.”

“Digitalisation offers a vast potential for making headway on Africa’s sustainable development,” said Dr Friedrich Kitschelt, a State Secretary in BMZ, noting however that this “benefits all sides, including German and European enterprises.”

Broad consensus about the overlap between public and private interests in attaining sustainable development goals was apparent at two high-profile events earlier this year – the annual re:publica conference on internet and society, and BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference, both held in Berlin."Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships” – Muhammad Radwan of icecairo

In Berlin for re:publica 2015 in May, Mugethi Gitau, a young Kenyan tech manager from Nairobi’s iHub, an incubator for “technology, innovation and community”, delivered a sharp presentation titled ‘10 Things Europe Can Learn From Africa’.  “We are pushing ahead with creative digital solutions,” said Gitau, delivering sharp know-how and hard facts.

The Kenyan start-up iHub is a member of the m:lab East Africa consortium, the region’s centre for mobile entrepreneurship, which was established through a seed grant from the World Bank’s InfoDev programme for “creating sustainable businesses in the knowledge economy”.

In turn, m:lab East Africa is part of the Global Information Gathering (GIG) initiative, which was founded in Berlin in 2003 as a partnership of BMZ, the German Federal Enterprise for International Cooperation (GIZ), the Centre for International Peace Operations (ZIF) and the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

The m:lab East Africa consortium has spawned 10 tech businesses which have gone regional, and boasts a portfolio of 150 start-ups, including Kopo Kopo, an add on to the M-Pesa money transfer application which has scaled into Africa, the PesaPal application for mobile credits, the Eneza ‘one laptop per child’ project, and locally relevant rural applications such as iCow and M-Farm which help farmers keep track of their yields and cut out the middleman to reach buyers directly.

“We are by nature a people who love to give, crowdsourcing is in our genes, our local villages have a tradition of coming together to help each other out, so it’s no wonder we have taken to sharing and social media like naturals,” Gitau told IPS, mentioning the popular chamas or “merry-go-rounds” whereby people bank with each other, avoiding banking interest costs.

Referring to the exponential tide of 700 million mobile phone users in Africa, which has already surpassed Europe, Thomas Silberhorn, a State Secretary in BMZ, told a re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information projects in developing countries: “This is a time of huge potential, like all historical transformations.”

The pace and range of innovative mobile solutions from Africa has been formidable. The creative use of SMS has enabled a range of services which enable urban and, significantly, rural populations to access anything from banking to health services, job listings and microcredits, not to mention mobilising “shit storms” against public authority inefficiencies.

However, the formidable pace of digital penetration has raised concerns about the “digital divide” – the widening socio-economic inequalities between those who have access to technology and those who have not.

Increasingly a North-South consensus is growing concerning three core aspects of digital economic development – the regulation of broadband internet as a public utility; the sustainable potential of mobile technology and low price smart devices to bring effective solutions to a whole gamut of local needs; and the need for good infrastructure as a precondition for environmental protection and as the leverage people need to lift themselves out of poverty.

New models of development cooperation, technology transfer and e-participation governance are emerging in response to the impact of digitalisation on all sectors of society and service provision in areas as disparate as they are increasingly connected including health, food and agriculture – access to education, communication, media, information and data and democratic participation.

“Tackling the digital divide is crucial,” said Philibert Nsengimana, Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT, addressing BMZ’s ‘Africa: Continent of Opportunities – Bridging the Digital Divide’ conference. “It encompasses a package of vision, implementation and much needed coordination among stakeholders.”

Rwanda, which now boasts a number of e-participation projects such as Sobanukirwa, the country’s first freedom of information project, is committed to universally accessible broadband and is rising to the forefront of Africa’s power-sharing technical revolution. 

The most active proponents of the e-revolution argue that digitalisation also offers the possibility to place governments under scrutiny and have leaders judged from the vantage point of e-participation, open data, freedom of expression and information – all elements of the power-sharing models that have seen the light  in the internet age.

“Governments will put up walls, but young people will always find ways of circumventing barriers – the key issue is how to bring services locally and work together in democratic internet governance, promoting civil society engagement and private sector partnerships,” said Muhammad Radwan of icecairo.

The icecairo initiative is part of the international icehubs network, which started with iceaddis in Ethiopia and icebauhaus in Germany.

The icehubs network (where ‘ice’ stands for Innovation-Collaboration-Enterprise) is an emerging open network of ‘hubs’, or community-driven technology innovation spaces, that promote the invention and development of home-grown, affordable technological products and services for meeting local challenges.

The network is enabled by GIZ, a company specialising in international development, which is owned by the German government and mainly operates on behalf of BMZ, which is now intent on using a “digital agenda” to guide German development cooperation with Africa.

“Let us take digitalisation seriously,” said Kitschelt. “Let us use the potential of ICT for development, address the digital and educational divide and build on that resourcefulness in our partnerships by advocating for digital rights and engaging in dialogue with the tech community, software developers, social entrepreneurs, makers, hackers, bloggers, programmers and internet activists worldwide.”

Kitschelt’s words certainly found their echo among African e-revolutionaries whose rallying cry has moved forward significantly from “fight the power“ to “share the power”.

However, while this may be well be what the future looks like, there were also those at the re:publica meeting on e-information and freedom of information who wondered about priorities when Silberhorn of BMZ told participants: “”The fact that in many development countries we are witnessing better access to mobile phones than toilets is a clear catalyser for changing development priorities.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

*  Foondi is an African design and training start-up that focuses on creating access to open source, low-cost appropriate technology-related sources to leverage local technologies for bottom-up innovation. It provides a platform for problem setting, designing and prototyping entrepreneurial-based ventures. Its larger vision is to nurture a group of young innovators in Africa working on building solutions that target emerging markets and under-served communities in Africa.

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Sex Workers in Nicaragua Break the Silence and Gain Rightshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/sex-workers-in-nicaragua-break-the-silence-and-gain-rights/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sex-workers-in-nicaragua-break-the-silence-and-gain-rights http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/06/sex-workers-in-nicaragua-break-the-silence-and-gain-rights/#comments Sat, 13 Jun 2015 01:28:26 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141117 María Elena Dávila, national coordinator of the Nicaraguan Sex Workers Network, participating in a workshop on the Regulation of Sex Work in this Central American nation. Credit: Courtesy of RedTraSex

María Elena Dávila, national coordinator of the Nicaraguan Sex Workers Network, participating in a workshop on the Regulation of Sex Work in this Central American nation. Credit: Courtesy of RedTraSex

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Jun 13 2015 (IPS)

After living in the shadows, thousands of Nicaraguan sex workers have broken their silence, won support from state institutions and gained new respect for their rights.

María Elena Dávila, national coordinator of the Nicaraguan Sex Workers Network (TraSex), explained to IPS that after 15 years of quietly organising, women who provide sexual services for money have managed to become “judicial facilitators” – a kind of conflict resolution mediator – in the Supreme Court and Health Ministry promoters of sexual and reproductive health.

They have also been incorporated into the Defensoría de Derechos Humanos or ombudsman’s office, and they now have a special prosecutor protecting their rights.

In addition, they were recently invited to receive training in political rights and to work as temporary employees for the Supreme Electoral Council in the 2016 general elections.

“This invitation to receive training on electoral matters empowers us to defend our rights vis-à-vis political parties and candidates,” Dávila told IPS.

TraSex represents Nicaragua in the Latin American and Caribbean Female Sex Workers Network, also made up of organisations from Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay and Peru.

The Nicaraguan branch of the network was founded in Managua in November 2007 with the support of local non-governmental organisations and social assistance funds from aid agencies.

The seed of the organisation was the Sunflowers Sex Workers Association, which initially brought together 125 women who starting in 1997 went to informal trainings and lectures on health and sex education.

In 2009 the government’s Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDDH) signed an agreement for cooperation and assistance with the organisation, which began to gain visibility, influence and respect.

The organisation now has a registry of 14,486 sex workers between the ages of 18 and 60, 2,360 of whom have joined the network.

“The other women, the ones outside the network, are still wary of the organisation or are unfamiliar with our aim to provide support,” said Dávila. “But we’re working to train them in defence of their rights as women and sex workers.”

Pajarita from Nandaime (not her real name) is one of the sex workers who reject any kind of organisation among her colleagues.

“I take care of myself and I don’t trust groups or associations,” the 27-year-old told IPS. “Those women get involved in that for money, to get dollars, and then they forget about you. This life has taught me that among prostitutes there is no friendship, only competition.”

She arranges daytime appointments over the phone, working in Managua motels, and is studying tourism in the evenings. On the weekends she goes back to Nandaime, her hometown in the eastern department (province) of Granada, 67 km from the capital.

Sex workers in Nicaragua taking part in activities to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, like this health fair organised by the Nicaraguan AIDS Commission. Credit: Courtesy of RedTraSex

Sex workers in Nicaragua taking part in activities to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS, like this health fair organised by the Nicaraguan AIDS Commission. Credit: Courtesy of RedTraSex

But the organisation is making headway in public institutions. The national legislature is now an ally, listening to their input when designing laws that relate to labour and social conditions of sex workers.

Carlos Emilio López, a national lawmaker who is vice president of the legislative Commission on Women, Children, Youth and Family Affairs, is one of the public officials who support the network.

“They are brave women putting up a struggle,” López told IPS. “They have historically been stigmatised and discriminated against, and now they are demanding the attention they have never been given. The state is in their debt, and it’s time they were given something back.”

In April, the vice president of the Supreme Court, magistrate Marvin Aguilar, presided over a ceremony where a pilot group, made up of 18 members of the network, received their credentials as judicial facilitators.

He explained at the time that the women were given technical and legal training to help manage conflicts through dialogue, as mediators.

“We’re the only country in the world that makes sex workers judicial facilitators,” said Aguilar. “The only country in the world that doesn’t try to arrest them and where their activity isn’t criminalised. We don’t throw them in prison for doing sex work.”

In May, the national police named a special chief to directly address the demands for safety voiced by the TraSex network and issued an institutional guideline for their complaints of domestic abuse and general violence to be addressed with the full force of the Integral Law Against Violence towards Women.

In the past, sex workers constantly complained about abuse of authority, harassment, discrimination and persecution by the police.

Their new relationship with the different branches of government enabled the TraSex network to have a say in the design of Nicaragua’s new Law Against Trafficking in Persons, which went into effect in April.

The original draft of the law linked prostitution and procuring with the crime of trafficking, while stressing that women, including prostitutes, were the main victims.

According to Dávila, associating sex workers with trafficking as both victims and victimisers did them harm. As a result, the network recommended modifying the text, the proposed change was accepted, and the connection between sex work and trafficking was removed from the law.

Reflecting their empowerment in Nicaraguan society, on Jun. 2 the network publicly celebrated for the first time International Sex Workers’ Day, annually acknowledged by sex worker networks and activists across the globe since 1976 in commemoration of a protest by prostitutes a year earlier in Lyon, France against the discrimination and police harassment they suffered.

In 2014, in a public ceremony covered by the media, the network presented the book “Ni putas ni prostitutas, somos trabajadoras sexuales” (Neither whores nor prostitutes, we are sex workers), containing first-hand accounts of four women talking about what it is like to be a sex worker and discussing their hopes for a better life.

In addition, since 2014 sex workers have held a voting seat on the Nicaraguan HIV/AIDS Commission, and have participated, also with both voice and vote, in the national HIV/AIDS coordinating committee, where official institutions, social organisations and international bodies design anti-HIV/AIDS actions.

Despite the progress they celebrate, Dávila acknowledged to IPS that social discrimination is still a problem and that there are “many battles to fight” in this impoverished Central American nation.

One of them is to establish lines of communication with the Education Ministry, to teach sex workers to read and write or help them finish school, and to protect their children from bullying by teachers and students, which is frequent when their mothers’ profession is discovered.

Another battle, said Dávila, is to engage in dialogue with the legal system authorities so the new Family Code, in force since April, is not used by judges to remove the children of sex workers from their mothers because of the work they do.

“Right now we have several cases of mothers who are sex workers, where the authorities want to take their daughters away because someone reported the work they do,” she said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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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 Fabíola 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 Fabíola 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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