Inter Press Service » Active Citizens http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 21 Sep 2014 23:13:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 French Add Voice to Global Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/french-add-voice-to-global-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=french-add-voice-to-global-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/french-add-voice-to-global-climate-action/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 23:13:37 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136781 Calling for climate action at the People’s Climate March in Paris, Sep. 21, 2014. Credit: A.D. McKenzie/IPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Jordan’s LGBT Community Fears Greater Intolerancehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/jordans-lgbt-community-fears-greater-intolerance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jordans-lgbt-community-fears-greater-intolerance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/jordans-lgbt-community-fears-greater-intolerance/#comments Sun, 31 Aug 2014 10:47:44 +0000 Mona Alami http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136436 By Mona Alami
AMMAN, Aug 31 2014 (IPS)

As the region is rocked by violence against a backdrop of the rise of radical groups, Jordan’s lesbian gay bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community fears that new instability in the Hashemite kingdom could lead to increased intolerance towards the community. 

The Jabal Amman historical district, crisscrossed by quaint streets, cafés and art galleries has become a hub for the Jordanian capital’s LGBT community.

“Jordan does not have any laws against homosexuality; it does not, however, protect civil liberties for people facing discrimination on basis of their sexual preferences,” says Madian, a local activist. “Jordan does not have any laws against homosexuality; it does not, however, protect civil liberties for people facing discrimination on basis of their sexual preferences” - Madian, a Jordanian activist

Despite the absence of any article in Jordanian law that explicitly outlaws homosexual acts, there have been several crackdowns on members of the gay community. “The targeting of the LGBT community is not something that is systematic, but it still happens from time to time,” says George Azzi, head of the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality.

In October 2008, security forces in Amman “launched a campaign that targets ‘homosexuals’,” after security forces verified that they were gathering and meeting up at a park near a private hospital in Amman, according to a study on Law and Homosexuality: Survey and Analysis of Legislation Across the Arab World by Walid Ferchichit.

In the last few years, a few arrests have been made on the margin of private parties. Most of the arrests were made under the vaguely worded indecency law and the need to “respect the values of the Arab and Islamic nation”, although the arrests were rarely followed by formal charges.

The Hashemite Kingdom is an Islamic country, where homosexuality is considered as a sin. “Some members of the LGBT community have even been arrested for satanic worshipping,” notes Madian.

The basic form of social organisation in Jordan is heavily influenced by tribalism, which weighs on social norms and relations between people. “Members of the LGBT community fall prey to discrimination or violence not necessarily at the hand of the state but of society or their families,” says Azzi.

He recalls two members of the gay community who had to be smuggled out of Jordan to escape the wrath of their families who discovered their sexual preferences, and possible death.

Credit: LGBT Jordan on Twitter

Credit: LGBT Jordan on Twitter

“I know of four people at least who were killed in last few years for this reason,” says Madian.

He also says that while some victims have been the target of honour killings, others have been killed by gangs because they had to seek impoverished and dangerous areas for sexual favours to avoid the scrutiny of friends and families.

Nevertheless, despite such individual cases, the topic of homosexuality seems to be increasingly tolerated in Jordan. In 2012, a book called “Arous Amman” (Amman’s fiancée) by Fadi Zaghmout was published, featuring a homosexual character who was driven to marry a woman despite being gay.

Increasingly, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts are advocating gay rights and the LGBT community in the country.

“The LGBT community has been able to carve a space for itself in society, while staying away from anything that could raise its profile,” says Adam Coogle, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

But, with social and cultural mores considering homosexuality a sin and unnatural, advocating rights remains a taboo in the Hashemite Kingdom, and LGBT activism a somewhat difficult task. “We tried organising a few years back by creating an NGO but our application was rejected by the Ministry of Social Affairs on the basis of the indecency law,” says Madian.

Gay activism has also become more challenging today due to the security situation prevailing in the region, worrying both activists and human rights organizations.

With Jordan home to thousands of Salafi Jihadists, it is directly concerned by possible rising numbers of home-grown members of the Islamic State. Members of the gay community fear that renewed insecurity could jeopardise their space in society.

“Nonetheless, members of the LGBT community are not alone in being concerned about Jihadist threats which also target secular people as well as religious minorities,” adds Coogle.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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The Time for Burning Coal Has Passedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 00:38:11 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu and Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136333 Anti-coal human chain crossing the Niesse river which separates Poland and Germany, August 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace Poland

Anti-coal human chain crossing the Niesse river which separates Poland and Germany, August 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace Poland

By Claudia Ciobanu and Silvia Giannelli
GRABICE, Poland / PROSCHIM, Germany, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

“People have gathered here to tell their politicians that the way in which we used energy and our environment in the 19th and 20th centuries is now over,” says Radek Gawlik, one of Poland’s most experienced environmental activists. “The time for burning coal has passed and the sooner we understand this, the better it is for us.”

Gawlik was one of over 7,500 people who joined an 8-kilometre-long human chain at the weekend linking the German village of Kerkwitz with the Polish village of Grabice to oppose plans to expand lignite mining on both sides of the German-Polish border.“It's high time to plan the coal phase-out now and show the people in the region a future beyond the inevitable end of dirty fossil fuels" – Anike Peters, Greenpeace Germany

They were inhabitants of local villages whose houses would be destroyed if the plans go ahead, activists from Poland and Germany, and even visitors from other countries who wanted to lend a hand to the anti-coal cause. The human chain – which was organised by Greenpeace and other European environmental NGOs – passed through the Niesse river which marks the border between the two countries, and included people of all ages, from young children to local elders who brought along folding chairs.

At least 6,000 people in the German part of Lusatia region and another 3,000 across the border in south-western Poland stand to be relocated if the expansion plans in the two areas go ahead.

In Germany, it is Swedish state energy giant Vattenfall that plans to expand two of its lignite mines in the German states of Brandenburg and Saxony; state authorities have already approved the company’s plans. In Poland, state energy company PGE (Polska Grupa Energetyczna) plans an open-cast lignite mine from which it would extract almost two million tonnes of coal per year (more than from the German side).

On the German side

Germany has for a long time been perceived as an example in terms of its energy policy, not in the least because of its famous Energiewende, a strategy to decarbonise Germany’s economy by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 percent, reaching a 60 percent renewables share in the energy sector, and increasing energy efficiency by 50 percent, all by 2050.

Today, one-quarter of energy in Germany is produced from renewable sources, and the same for electricity, as a result of policies included in the Energiewende strategy.

Expanding coal mining as would happen in the Lusatia region contradicts Germany’s targets, argue environmentalists. “The expansion of lignite mines and the goals of the Energiewende to decarbonise Germany until 2050 do not fit together at all,” says Gregor Kessler from Greenpeace Germany.  “There have to be severe cuts in coal-burning if Germany wants to reach its own 2020 climate goal (reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent).

“Yet the government so far is afraid of taking the logical next step and announce a coal-phase-out plan,” Kessler continues. “So far both the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats keep repeating that coal will still be needed for years and years to provide energy security. However even today a lot of the coal-generated energy is exported abroad as more and more energy comes from renewables.”

Proschim, a town of around 360 people, is one of the villages threatened by Vattenfall’s planned expansion. Already surrounded by lignite mines, this little community has one feature that makes its possible destruction even more controversial: nowadays it produces more electricity from renewable energy than its citizens use for themselves.

Wind farm in Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Wind farm in Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

But Vattenfall’s project to extend two existing open cast mines, namely Nochten and Welzow-Süd, would destroy Proschim along with its solar and wind farm and its biogas plant.

“It is such a paradox, we have so much renewable energy from wind, solar and biogas in Proschim. And this is the town they want to bulldoze,” says former Proschim mayor Erhard Lehmann.

The village is nevertheless split on the issue, with half of its citizens welcoming Vattenfall’s expansion project, including Volker Glaubitz, the deputy mayor of Proschim, and his wife Ingrid, who came from Haidemühl, a neighbouring village that was evacuated to make room for the Welzow-Süd open-cast mine. The place is now known as the “ghost-town”, due to the abandoned buildings that Vattenfall was not allowed to tear down because of property-related controversies.

Abandoned buildings in Haidemühl, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Abandoned buildings in Haidemühl, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Lignite undoubtedly played a major role in Lusatia’s economic development, creating jobs not only in the many open-cast mines spread over the territory, but also through the satellite activities connected to coal processing. Lehmann himself was employed as a mechanic and electrician for the excavators used in the mines. Ingrid Glaubitz was a machinist at ‘Schwarze Pumpe’, one of Vattenfall’s power plants and her son also works for Vattenfall.

“There must be renewable energy in the future, but right now it is too expensive and we need lignite as a bridge technology,” Volker Glaubitz told IPS. “The mines bring many jobs to the region: without the coal, Lusatia would be dead already.”

Johannes Kapelle, a 78-year-old farmer of Sorb origin and at the forefront of the battle against Proschim’s destruction, sees coal in a completely different way: “Coal is already vanishing, it something that belongs to the past.”

His house, right in front of the Glaubitz’s, is covered in solar panels, and from his garden he proudly shows the wind park that provides Proschim with an estimated annual production of 5 GWh.

Johannes Kapelle in his courtyard, with roof covered in solar panels, Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Johannes Kapelle in his courtyard, with roof covered in solar panels, Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

According to Kapelle, lignite extraction has been threatening the Sorb culture, which is spiritually connected to the land, since the beginning of industrialisation over a hundred years ago. “When a Sorb has a house without a garden, and without farmland, without forests and lakes, then he’s not a true Sorb anymore, because he has no holy land.”

On the Polish side

Poland is Europe’s black sheep when it comes to climate, with 90 percent of electricity in Poland currently produced from coal and the country’s national energy strategy envisaging a core role for coal for decades to come. The Polish government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk has over the past years tried to block progress by the European Union in adopting more ambitious climate targets.

For Polish authorities, the over 100,000 jobs in coal mining in the country today are an argument to keep the sector going. Additionally, says the government, coal constitutes a local reserve that can ensure the country’s “energy security” (a hot topic in Europe, especially since the Ukrainian-Russian crisis).

Coal opponents, on the other hand, note that the development of renewables and energy efficiency creates jobs too (according to the United Nations, investments in improved energy efficiency in buildings alone could create up to 3.5 million jobs in the European Union and the United States). Environmentalists further argue that coal is not as cheap as its proponents claim: according to the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies, in some years, subsidies for coal mining in Poland have reached as much as 2 percent of GDP.

“In Poland, the coal lobby is very strong,” says Gawlik. “I also have the impression that our politicians have not yet fully understood that renewables and energy efficiency have already become real alternatives and do not come with some mythically high costs.”

The future of coal in Europe

In Europe as a whole, coal has seen a minor resurgence over the past 2-3 years, despite the European Union having the stated goal to decarbonise by 2050 (out of all fossil fuels, lignite produces the most CO2 per unit of energy produced).

Access to cheap coal exports from the United States, relatively high gas prices, plus a low carbon price on the EU’s internal emissions trading market (caused in turn by a decrease in industrial output following the economic crisis) led to a temporary hike in coal usage. Yet experts are certain that coal in Europe is dying a slow death.

“In the longer term the prospects for coal-fired power generation are negative,” according to a July report by the Economist Intelligence Unit. “Air-quality regulations (in the European Union) will force plant closures, and renewable energy will continue to surge, while in general European energy demand will be weak. The recent mini-boom in coal-burning will prove an aberration.”

“Additional coal mines would not only be catastrophic for people, nature and climate – it would also be highly tragic, as beyond 2030, when existing coal mines will be exhausted, renewable energies will have made coal redundant,” says Anike Peters, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Germany.

“It’s high time to plan the coal phase-out now and show the people in the region a future beyond the inevitable end of dirty fossil fuels.”

* Anja Krieger and Elena Roda contributed to this report in Germany

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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A Life Reserve for Sustainable Development in Chile’s Patagoniahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/a-life-reserve-for-sustainable-development-in-chiles-patagonia/#comments Tue, 19 Aug 2014 22:45:32 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136213 A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

A stand at the crafts fair in the city of Coyhaique. The production of locally-made ecological crafts from Patagonia is part of the development alternative promoted by the Aysén Life Reserve project. Credit: Marianela Jarraud/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
COYHAIQUE, Chile, Aug 19 2014 (IPS)

The people of Patagonia in southern Chile are working to make the Aysén region a “life reserve”. Neighbouring Argentina, across the border, is a historic ally in this remote wilderness area which is struggling to achieve sustainable development and boost growth by making use of its natural assets.

“The Aysén Life Reserve mega citizen initiative emerged as a theoretical proposal to have a special region with a special development model, one based on inclusive sustainable development, with and for the people of the region,” activist Peter Hartmann, the creator of the concept and of the coalition that is pushing the project forward, told IPS.

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” he said.

The southern region of Aysén is one of the least populated – and least densely populated – areas in Chile, with 105,000 inhabitants. This chilly wilderness area of vast biodiversity, swift-flowing rivers, lakes and glaciers also offers fertile land and marine resources that are exploited by large fishing companies.“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take.” -- Claudia Torres

“We are tiny and insignificant in this enormous territory,” Claudia Torres, a designer and communicator who was born and raised in Aysén, told IPS with visible pride.

Patagonia covers a total extension of approximately 800,000 sq km at the southern tip of the Americas, 75 percent of which is in Argentina and the rest in Aysén and the southernmost Chilean region of Magallanes.

Patagonia is made up of diverse ecosystems and is home to numerous species of flora and fauna, including birds, reptiles and amphibians that have not yet been identified. It is also the last refuge of the highly endangered huemul or south Andean deer.

Although it is in the middle of a stunning wilderness area, Coyhaique, the capital of Aysén, 1,629 km south of Santiago, is paradoxically the most polluted city in Chile, because in this region where temperatures are often below zero, local inhabitants heat their homes and cook with firewood, much of which is wet, green or mossy, because it is cheaper than dry wood.

It is one of the poorest and most vulnerable regions of the country, where 9.9 percent of the population lives in poverty and 4.2 percent in extreme poverty.

But these figures fail to reflect the poverty conditions suffered by families in the region, the regional government’s secretary of social development, Eduardo Montti, told IPS.

“We are lagging in terms of being able to ensure basic living standards and essential services for the community and to make it possible for the different actors to develop in equal conditions as the rest of the country,” he said.

But, he added, in May the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet established a plan for remote or impoverished areas which recognises the disparities with respect to the rest of the country, thus helping to more clearly identify the most urgent needs.

He said that in this region it is important “to move ahead in tourism enterprises, strengthen small local economies, share and participate in the development of our local customs, and help make them known to the world.”

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

“Many people say we want to chain off the region, but our aim is to use its good qualities, versus the megaprojects of the globalised world, which want to destroy them,” says Peter Hartmann, creator of the Aysén Life Reserve initiative in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Torres, an active participant in the Citizen Coalition for the Aysén Life Reserve, said the region is “one of the few that still have the chance to come up with a different kind of development.”

This is one of the few areas in the world that has largely kept its original wilderness intact. Much of the territory is under different forms of protection, including the Laguna San Rafael National Park, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve that contains a coastal lagoon and glaciers. The region as a whole is also seeking world heritage site status.

“The model we are building is aimed at strengthening economic development on a local scale, in a democratic fashion, and not with models imposed on us – development that is cooperative and economically and environmentally sustainable in time, under the premise that we are all just passing through this life and that you have to give back what you take,” Torres said.

She added that the project “is a dream and we are working to achieve it. Because people here understand that life itself is part of what makes it special to live here. For example, in this region you can still drink water from a river or a lake, because you know you won’t have problems.”

In her view, cities become dependent on, and vulnerable to, supplies from outside, and “the more independent you are, the better chances you have of surviving.”

“We don’t see this as a life reserve exclusive to Patagonians, but for the whole country. For example, I don’t have problems with the region sharing water with areas that suffer from drought.” But water for crops, drinking, or living – not for big industry, she clarified.

Chile’s Patagonians have a powerful ally in this endeavour: the Argentine side of Patagonia is fighting against the use of watersheds shared with Chile, by mining corporations.

“There is a common element in this big fight: water,” Torres said.

The two sides of the Andes share a long history of close ties and traditions which makes Patagonia one single territory, of great value because of its biodiversity – but highly vulnerable as well.

“We don’t feel like Chile, we feel like Patagonia…Chilean and Argentine,” Torres said.

From the start, the Aysén Life Reserve has shown that it is more than just an idea on paper. Hartmann pointed out that three community-based sustainable tourism enterprises have been established, financed by the Fondo de las Américas (FONDAM).

“We trained the communities in how to take care of their own territory, and in community-based tourism. That gave rise to a successful school for tourism guides,” he said proudly.

“Artisanal fishers from Puerto Aysén have also been making an effort to make their work more sustainable; there are exemplary garbage collection projects, and many crafts are being produced using local products, which is super sustainable,” he added.

Then there is “Sabores de Aysén” (Tastes of Aysén), a stamp that certifies quality products and services reflecting the region’s identity and care for nature. There is also a solar energy cooperative with a steadily growing number of members.

The Life Reserve project, Hartmann said, has two dimensions: awareness-raising and citizen participation. An Aysén Reserva de Vida label was created for sustainable products or processes, to make them more attractive to local consumers and visitors.

The idea of making the region a “Life Reserve” is cross-cutting and has managed to win the involvement of varied segments of society – a positive thing in a region that was highly polarised after 10 years of struggle against the HidroAysén hydroelectric project, which would have built large dams on wilderness rivers but was finally cancelled by the government in June.

The local population was also divided by the mass protests over the region’s isolation and high local prices of fuel and food that broke out in 2012, under the government of rightwing President Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014).

“There is greater awareness, and that is a step forward,” Torres said. “That means there is growing appreciation for what this region has to offer.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Militarism Should be Suppressed Like Hanging and Flogginghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/militarism-should-be-suppressed-like-hanging-and-flogging/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarism-should-be-suppressed-like-hanging-and-flogging http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/militarism-should-be-suppressed-like-hanging-and-flogging/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:42:34 +0000 mairead-maguire http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136173

In this column, Mairead Maguire, peace activist from Northern Ireland and Nobel Peace Laureate 1976, argues that, in the face of growing militarism, civil society should take a stand for human rights and real democracy, and against violence and war.

By Mairead Maguire
BELFAST, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

I once asked Dan Berrigan, the great American anti-war activist, for some advice to me in my life as a peace activist. He replied “Pray and Resist”.But I would like to ask how serious we are about resistance? What is our vision? And how does resistance fit into this? What do we need to resist? How can we resist effectively? And what methods are allowed? In resisting, what are our aims and objectives?

Mairead Maguire

Mairead Maguire

I would like to propose that the world’s peace movement adopt a vision of the total abolition of militarism. Such a vision would empower us to know where we are going. It would inspire and energise each of us to pursue our different projects, be it the fight against the arms trade, nuclear abolition, non-killing/non-violence, the culture of peace, the abolition of arms and drone warfare, human rights and environmental rights.

We will know, as we work towards this vision of a demilitarised, disarmed world, that we are part of an ever-growing new ‘consciousness’ of men and women, choosing to uphold human life, the right to individual conscience, loving our enemies, human rights and international law, and solving our problems without killing each other.

Why resist militarism? We are witnessing the growing militarism of Europe, and its role as a driving force for armaments, and its dangerous path, under the leadership of the United States/NATO towards a new ‘cold war’ and military aggression.

The European Union and many of its countries, which used to take initiatives in the United Nations for peaceful settlements of conflicts, particularly allegedly peaceful countries like Norway and Sweden, are now among the most important U.S./NATO war assets.“The greatest danger to our freedoms being eroded by governments and endangered by ‘armed’ groups is a fearful, apathetic, civil community, refusing to take a stand for human rights and real democracy, and against violence and war”

The European Union is a threat to the survival of neutrality, as countries are being asked to join NATO, and forced to end their neutrality and choose (unnecessarily) between West and East.

Many nations have been drawn into complicity in breaking international law through U.S./U.K./NATO wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and so on, Germany, the third largest exporter of military hardware in the world, continues to increase its military budget and is complicit with NATO, facilitating U.S. bases, from which drones leave to carry out illegal extrajudicial killings on the order of the U.S. president, in countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Germany has also provided Israel with its nuclear submarine and continues to be complicit under the Geneva Convention in Israeli war crimes against Gaza and in the illegal occupation of Palestine.

We need to abolish NATO and increase our task of dismantling the military-industrial complex, through non-violent and civil resistance.

The means of resistance are very important. As a pacifist deeply committed to non-killing/non-violence as a way to bring about social/cultural/political change, I believe that we need to use means consistent with the end, and it is wrong to use violence.

Our message that militarism and war do not solve our problem of violence challenges us to use new ways and that is why we need to teach the science of peace at every level of society.

We are all aware there are forces at work which are determined to continue their agenda of the militarisation of our societies and there are governments/corporate/media attempts to make violence and war acceptable.

The greatest danger to our freedoms being eroded by governments and endangered by ‘armed’ groups is a fearful, apathetic, civil community, refusing to take a stand for human rights and real democracy, and against violence and war.

We can take hope from the fact that most people want peace not war. However, we are facing a civilisation problem. We are facing a political/ideological challenge with the growth of what president Ike Eisenhower warned the U.S. people against ­– the military/industrial complex. He warned that it would destroy the United States.

We know now that a small group made up of the world’s military/industrial/media/corporate/academic elite – whose agenda is profit, arms, war and
valuable resources – now holds power and has a stronghold on our elected governments. We see this in the gun and Israeli lobbies, among others, which hold great power over U.S. politics.

We have witnessed this in ongoing wars, invasions, occupations and proxy war, all allegedly in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention and democracy’. However, in reality, they are causing great suffering, especially to the poor, through their policies of arms, war, domination and control of other countries and their resources.

Unmasking this agenda of war and demanding the implementation of human rights and international law is the work of the peace movement. We can turn away from this path of destruction by spelling out a clear vision of what kind of a world we want to live in, demanding an end to the military-industrial complex, and insisting that our governments adopt policies of peace.

We, the Peace Movement, are the alternative to militarism and war, and because we want a different world, we must be part of building it. We must not be satisfied with improvements to and reform of militarism but rather offer an alternative.

Militarism is an aberration and a system of dysfunction. Militarism should be outdated and disappear – like hanging and flogging! (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Does Iceland Gain From Whaling?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=does-iceland-gain-from-whaling http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/does-iceland-gain-from-whaling/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 07:39:28 +0000 Lowana Veal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136177 Two fin whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour, shortly before heading out to sea. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS

Two fin whaling boats in Reykjavik harbour, shortly before heading out to sea. Credit: Lowana Veal/IPS

By Lowana Veal
REYKJAVIK, Aug 18 2014 (IPS)

Although fin whaling by Icelanders has encountered increasing opposition over the last year, Icelandic whaling boats headed off to sea again in mid-June for the first hunt of the summer and by August 14 had killed 80 fin whales.

The story of what then happens to the whales once they have been taken back to Iceland is part mystery and part an economic balancing act between the country’s economic interests and its international image.

As soon as the whales are landed in Iceland, work begins on dismembering the whales. But does the meat get sold and where? How much money does it bring in for the Icelandic economy? And are the costs involved more than the revenue?

All of the whale meat is sent to Japan, but Hvalur hf, the only Icelandic company that hunts fin whales, has encountered a great deal of resistance in transporting it there and has had to resort to commissioning a ship to take the meat directly from Iceland to Japan, undoubtedly leading to extra costs.“The story of what happens to the whales once they have been taken back to Iceland is part mystery and part an economic balancing act between the country’s economic interests and its international image”

IPS was unable to find out the fate of the fin meat sent to Japan earlier this year. Two months after arriving at its final destination, a Japanese source, who did not want to be named, told IPS: “My colleague told me that the whale blubber is still in the cold storage of Osaka customs.” The Japanese embassy in Reykjavik acknowledges that there is at least some sale of fin whale meat, but actual figures do not seem to be available.

Earlier this year, a group of North American animal rights and environmental groups started to pressure North American companies to stop buying fish from Icelandic fishing company HB Grandi because of its links with Hvalur hf. Almost immediately, the Canadian/U.S. company High Liner Foods said it would no longer buy fish from HB Grandi and a number of other companies followed suit, including the U.S. health food chain Whole Foods.

The campaigners also called on U.S. President Barack Obama to invoke the Pelly Amendment, which allows the President to embargo any and all fisheries products from countries operating in a way that undermines a conservation treaty – in this case, the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling.

Obama decided to invoke the Amendment, and has already implemented one albeit diplomatic rather than economic action, which was not to invite Iceland to the large international “Our Ocean” conference hosted by the United States in June.

Besides the well-known Pelly Agreement, there is also the Packwood-Magnuson Amendment of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which allows the President to block foreign fleets from access to U.S. fisheries if their country is deemed to have diminished the effectiveness of an international conservation programme.

In 1984, Iceland and the United States signed an agreement whereby Iceland would obtain fishing permits in U.S. waters if it agreed to stop whaling. Due to various complications, although Iceland stopped whaling for 20 years in 1986, it did not start fishing in U.S. waters until December 1989 and then only caught a few tonnes of fish.

In spring this year, Social Democrat MP Sigridur Ingibjorg Ingadottir and seven other Icelandic opposition MPs tabled a parliamentary resolution calling for an investigation into the economic and trade repercussions for Iceland of whaling.

There was not enough time to discuss the matter in the last parliamentary session that ended mid-May, but Ingadottir is currently revising and updating the proposal with a view to submitting it early in the next parliamentary session, which starts in September.

“There are two main aspects to the proposal. One concerns the economic and trade interests of the country and the second Iceland’s image on an international scale,” she told IPS.

According to a report published in 2010, “In the years 1973-1985, when Hvalur hf pursued whaling of large cetaceans, whale processing usually stood for about 0.07 percent of GNP. The contribution of whaling itself to GNP is not known.” Minke whaling is not included in these figures.

Ingadottir, who trained as an economist, says that this figure is very low. “At that time, whaling was an industry and pursued systematically. Since then, a range of other large industries and commercial enterprises have sprung up, so the figure is likely to be lower,” she notes.

Gunnar Haraldsson, Director of the University of Iceland’s Institute of Economic Studies and one of the authors of the 2010 report, told IPS: “The problem is that no official figures exist on the returns of whale watching and various other parameters, thus there is a need to collect this sort of data specifically. It is therefore necessary to carry out a new study if we want to know what the national gains (and costs) actually are.”

Whale watching has blossomed over the last few years and at least 13 companies run whale-watching trips from various places around Iceland. Between 2012 and 2013, the number of whale watchers increased by 45,000, and the total number is now around 200,000 annually.

Three MPS had also called for an inquiry into whaling in the autumn of 2012. This was supposed to cover overall benefits to the economy, including economic interests, animal welfare issues and international obligations. A committee was set up to look into the organisation and grounds for whaling, but this petered out.

“The committee has not actually been dissolved, but it hasn’t met since the new government took over (in May 2013],” Asta Einarsdottir from the Ministry of Industries and Innovation told IPS. When asked why the committee had not met, Einarsdottir replied: “The Minister has not had a chance to meet with the Chair of the committee, despite repeated requests.”

Einarsdottir said that the committee was quite large and included representatives from the whale-watching and conservation sectors as well as from the whaling industry and various ministries.

Meanwhile, Icelandic lamb has also been affected by the whaling dispute. Over the last few years, Icelandic lamb has been exported to the United States and sold in the Whole Foods chain of shops under the banner of “Icelandic lamb”.

Last year, however, the chain decided not to brand the lamb as Icelandic because Iceland’s whaling activities had given Iceland a bad name. The expected increase in sales did not occur, and considerable pressure had to be applied to persuade them to keep selling the meat at all.

Ingadottir is forthright in her opinions. “Are they damaging our interests? Are they protecting a narrow group of interests rather than the national interest? What are we actually protecting with this whaling?” she asks, adding: “Iceland has to come up with very good reasons for pursuing whaling in order to continue doing it.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Trauma Kits and Body Bags Now Fill Aleppo Schoolhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/trauma-kits-and-body-bags-now-fill-aleppo-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trauma-kits-and-body-bags-now-fill-aleppo-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/trauma-kits-and-body-bags-now-fill-aleppo-school/#comments Sat, 16 Aug 2014 17:44:11 +0000 Shelly Kittleson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136168 A central Aleppo street after a barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

A central Aleppo street after a barrel bomb attack, August 2014. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Shelly Kittleson
ALEPPO, Syria, Aug 16 2014 (IPS)

Volunteer civil defence units operating here in Syria’s largest city careen through crater-pocked routes of precariously hanging, pancaked concrete where barrel bombs have struck.

Greyish dust blankets the dead, the alive and the twisted steel jutting out.  The panicked confusion immortalised in innumerable photos – with bloodied survivors raking desperately through the rubble for loved ones – is granted a modicum of order by the arrival of the rescue teams, in their distinctive white hard hats and black knee pads and boots.

When IPS arrived on the scene a few moments after the explosion of one such barrel bomb in early August, the men were already there, looking for survivors amid the rubble. One stood ready ear glued to his walkie-talkie, eyes darting between onlookers he was trying to keep at a safe distance and the sky – the first barrel bomb is almost always followed by another within 10-30 minutes, targeting would-be rescuers.One [rescue worker] stood ready, ear glued to his walkie-talkie, eyes darting between onlookers he was trying to keep at a safe distance and the sky – the first barrel bomb is almost always followed by another within 10-30 minutes, targeting would-be rescuers

The Hanano civil defence centre in eastern Aleppo is a repurposed school, its corridors dusty and empty except for a few firemen’s boots airing out, a broom, and a few morale-boosting posters of the civil defence men in uniform.

Body bags and trauma kits sit alongside fuel for Bobcat excavating and rubble-clearing equipment, pickaxes with USAID logos on them, drills and boxes of firemen’s suits, propped up against chalkboards still bearing the marks of lessons once taught in them.

Many of the men are in their twenties, clean-shaven, former university students. Khaled Hijjo, a former law student in his mid-twenties and head of the centre, told IPS that the rescue and fire teams work in two shifts: 12 hours on, 12 hours off.

At the moment there is only one medical specialist at the centre, he said, so this specialist is on call 24 hours a day. The man, who did not give his name, said he had worked for the Syrian Red Crescent even prior to the 2011 uprising and subsequent violence, but that he had no time to train the other men in basic first aid.

Correct carry and extraction procedures prevent aggravating injuries, including paralysing spinal injuries, and the heavy equipment received has proven vital to remove rubble and save those trapped underneath.

For the past four months, the rescue workers have been receiving a salary from the government-in-exile and courses from a number of foreign bodies and governments.

Entry-level first responders are given a salary of 175 dollars, while the heads of the various centres instead receive 200, civil defence chief and former English teacher Ammar Salmo told IPS, adding that 21 members of the team had been killed by barrel bombs while on duty.

When the bombs bring down entire buildings, ‘’many are trapped and nothing can be done. There are five still alive in one area that we know of, but there is no way to get them out’’, one local media activist told IPS, saying he felt helpless, and that taking pictures of the dead and wounded had ceased to make him feel useful

Though many of the local media activists have been given expensive cameras and satellite equipment and attended training programmes funded by Western nations in southern Turkey, virtually none of them seem to have had any basic first aid training.

Given the extremely severe shortage of trained medical staff left in Aleppo after the repeated attacking of medical facilities by the regime, the civil defence teams play an even more vital role in saving lives.

Ambulances donated from abroad and brought in through the sole supply road still under rebel control into the city go with the first responder team in central Aleppo, while those injured in the surrounding countryside are taken in cars to the nearest first aid centre. Communication is possible only via walkie-talkie, because there is no mobile phone reception.

A training centre was recently established inside Syrian territory but outside of the city, where team members were attending 20-day training sessions a few at a time, said Salmo.

He added that more civil defence centres were currently being set up in the Idlib region further to the west, and that it was proving easier to manage them than those in Aleppo, because many of the men ‘’were regime defectors and are more familiar with how institutions work.’’

He said the deputy chief of civil defence was a former regime general, and that four other former generals are currently working with them.

Of the instructors at the training centre, Salmo told IPS,  ‘’five are defectors from Assad’s forces, including a general teaching how to deal with barrel bombs and fire, and two doctors serve as medical experts to train the men in first aid.’’

The group has experienced some minor problems with some of the armed groups. One team member also told IPS that some of the heavy equipment had been ‘’borrowed’’ for a day by a Free Syrian Army group a few weeks earlier, but that they had promised that they would return it soon.

‘’We’re trying to solve the matter through dialogue,’’ he said.

When asked whether the group had had problems with the more extremist groups such as the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra, he scoffed, saying ‘’Jabhat Al-Nusra doesn’t need our things. They already have enough money.’’

No fire engines or other emergency vehicles could be seen in the immediate vicinity of a civil defence centre near a front line where IPS spoke to Salmo, who said that the teams had to be careful.

‘’Once you are seen as more organised,’’ he noted, ‘’you’re also seen as more of a danger to the regime.’’

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Silent Power of Boycotts and Blockadeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 17:18:21 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135425 Nonviolent rally in front of the US Embassy in Chile, asking for the withdrawal of US troops from occupied territories. Credit: Rafael Edwards/Ressenza via Flickr/ CC 2.0

Nonviolent rally in front of the US Embassy in Chile, asking for the withdrawal of US troops from occupied territories. Credit: Rafael Edwards/Ressenza via Flickr/ CC 2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
CAPE TOWN, Jul 8 2014 (IPS)

Peruse a few reports on global military expenditure and you will not be able to shake the image of the planet as one massive army camp, patrolled by heavily weaponised guards in a plethora of uniforms.

Last year, the world spent about 1.76 trillion dollars on military activity according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The year before, arms sales among SIPRI’s ‘Top 100’ companies touched 410 billion dollars. It is estimated that 1,000 people die from gun violence every single day.

The newly founded Pan African Network on Nonviolence and Peacebuilding is the first regional initiative of its kind dedicated to connecting African grassroots organisers around nonviolent resistance.
But scattered amongst the barracks of this planetary war zone are scores of white flags, wielded daily by the many millions of people engaged in nonviolent resistance to the forces that threaten their existence.

Nearly 120 of these peace activists are currently assembled in Cape Town’s City Hall, for the quadrennial meeting of the 93-year-old War Resister’s International (WRI), a global network of activists from far-flung regions fighting on every imaginable front, from anti-trafficking in Australia to peace and reconciliation in Rwanda.

Returning to the very pulpit from where he led the historic 1989 March for Peace, Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed the forum’s participants Saturday night by invoking memories of the long and bloody struggle against apartheid.

“Take our thanks back to your countries,” he told the audience, “even the poorest of which stood ready to receive South African exiles and refugees.” Drawing on the conference’s theme ‘Small Actions – Big Movements: the continuum of nonviolence’, he urged greater collaboration between disparate movements, in order to find strength in unity.

“The U.S. Command in Africa (AFRICOM) has now expanded to approximately 2,000 troops on the continent, covering 38 countries,” WRI Conference Coordinator Matt Meyer told IPS.

“With almost no money but a lot of passion and an understanding of the need for unity in the face of militarism, violence, and a re-colonisation of the land, we brought together people from every continent and 33 African countries to say: ‘We will continue to resist. We will build a beautiful new tomorrow.’”

Running from Jul. 4-8, the gathering offers a bird’s eye view of the life-affirming campaigns that often get pushed off front pages in favour of headlines proclaiming death and war.

While not often on the news, the efficacy of the peace movement is being documented elsewhere. Analysing a century’s worth of data, the World Peace Foundation found that between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent movements had a 53-percent success rate, compared to a 22-percent success rate for violent movements.

Other tangible successes include the long list of victories recently secured by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, according to Omar Barghouti, a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).

With three basic demands (ending the occupation as defined by the 1967 borders; ending Israel’s system of legal discrimination against Palestinians; and enforcing the right of return for Palestinian refugees), the civil society initiative calls for the same global solidarity that erupted during the fight against apartheid in South Africa, and urges companies to withdraw their investments from firms that directly profit from the occupation of Palestine.

In the last three years alone, many major pension funds in Europe have divested from Israeli banks, including the 200-billion-dollar financial giant PGGM, the second-largest pension manager in the Netherlands.

Gender and Militarism

With women and children disproportionately impacted by conflict and militarisation, the Women Peacemaker’s Program (WPP) played a major role in the conference, releasing its annual May 24 report here just days before the WRI gathering.

Organising their work under the larger umbrella of what WPP Program Officer Sophie Schellens called “gender sensitive active nonviolence”, the organisation is comprised of a network of some 50 partners based on every continent.

“This is a politically sensitive topic, since we are analysing militarism and the military from a gender perspective,” Schellens told IPS.

“For instance, an indigenous Manipur-based woman activist in our network, Sumshot Khular, connects the links between militarism, development and politics, and the specific effects of this alliance on women.”

An article by Khular in WPP’s report, ‘Gender and Militarism: Analyzing the Links to Strategize for Peace,’ notes that South Asia is home to more than 160 million indigenous people, yet few governments formally recognise their rights, leaving many at the mercy of developers carrying out coal and uranium mining, and oil and gas exploration.

“The aggressive development models associated with intensive militarisation have been ravaging not only our land and resources, but also our people – especially women and girls,” Khular writes.

According to Schellens, these affected women are now coming together in large numbers to “defy these militarised structures.”
In addition, the 810-billion-dollar sovereign wealth fund of Norway decided this year to pull investments from Israeli firms operating in the West Bank; the Luxembourg Pension Fund followed suit, citing ethical concerns over the building of settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

In addition, said Barghouti, “Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, recently divested from the British-Danish-owned G4S, one of the largest private security companies in the world; the United Methodist Church – one of the richest in the U.S. – pulled its 18-billion-dollar fund out of companies operating on occupied Palestinian land; and the Presbyterian church has divested from companies like Caterpillar, HP and Motorola Solutions because of their involvement in the occupation.”

With its 15-billion-dollar defense budget, the Israeli government is not taking this lightly, and has identified the BDS movement as a strategic, rather than societal, threat.

“Israel recently shifted overall responsibility for fighting BDS from the ministry of foreign affairs to the ministry of strategic affairs,” Barghouti said Monday, “the same ministry that deals with the Iranian threat, and Israel’s relationship with the U.S.”

Elsewhere, too, authoritarian regimes are recognising the legitimate power of nonviolent resistance. A South Sudanese activist, wishing to be identified only as Karbash A M, told IPS that the Sudanese government in Khartoum has issued a blanket ban on NGOs conducting nonviolence trainings among refugee communities.

But in the face of a political crisis that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since South Sudan declared independence in 2011, Marmoun said, a handful of organisations continue to train hundreds of community leaders and youth activists in the tactics of nonviolence, even as a wave of arms and ammunition threatens to drown the country.

Documenting over 14 case studies of peaceful resistance, the second edition of WRI’s Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns, released here Sunday, offers a tip-of-the-iceberg analysis of the proliferation of nonviolent movements around the world, from protests against the Indonesian military in West Papua, to the diaspora solidarity movement for Eritrea.

Recognising a continuum between the moral commitment to nonviolence adopted by Gandhi, the strategic decision to exercise nonviolence in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, and a “willingness to use nonviolent methods […] but no commitment to avoid low-level physical violence,” the Handbook offers practical advice to activists and organisers from Colombia to South Korea and beyond.

Another major development here this week was the founding of the Pan African Network on Nonviolence and Peacebuilding, the first regional initiative of its kind dedicated to connecting African grassroots organisers around nonviolent resistance.

“I am delighted we have been able to give birth to this network here in Cape Town,” Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, executive director of the South Africa-based organisation Embrace Dignity – which fights to end sex trafficking and the commercial exploitation of women – told IPS.

“At the last count, 33 African countries are represented in the network, with a 16-member steering committee, each from a different country.

“We are also making an effort to ensure representation from island states like Mauritius and the Canary Islands,” she stated, adding that the network will play a crucial role in elevating the voices of civil society on issues of governance, development and corruption.

Experts here say such a network could be hugely important in combating the U.S.’ increased military presence in Africa, such as plans to construct a 220-million-dollar Special Operations compound at the base of the U.S.’ Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.

The actions may be small, but their impacts are felt at the highest level.

“We can now call ourselves the ‘three percent people’,” Anand Mazgaonkar, a representative of the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements (NAPM) in Gujarat, India, said at a plenary session Monday, “because a recent intelligence report in India has named all of us involved in movements as collectively responsible for a three percent damage to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).”

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Rights Experts Urge Action on Gender Equality in Taiwanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/rights-experts-urge-action-on-gender-equality-in-taiwan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rights-experts-urge-action-on-gender-equality-in-taiwan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/rights-experts-urge-action-on-gender-equality-in-taiwan/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 19:48:03 +0000 Dennis Engbarth http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135335 Taiwanese women hold aloft a LGBT flag during Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26, 2013. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

Taiwanese women hold aloft a LGBT flag during Taiwan`s 11th annual LGBT Pride March in Taipei City Oct. 26, 2013. Credit: Dennis Engbarth/IPS

By Dennis Engbarth
TAIPEI, Jul 2 2014 (IPS)

Prominent international human rights experts are calling on the Taiwan government to quickly enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination act, revamp the law on citizenship and take a wide range of other actions to curb gender discrimination.

A five-member commission issued 35 recommendations after an intense review of Taiwan’s second national report on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The commission members from Kenya, Malaysia the Philippines, South Korea and the United States met at the Civil Service Training Center in Taipei City June 23-26.

"It is...commendable, that a country which is not a UN member state has voluntarily undertaken to adopt the standards of CEDAW..." -- Mary Shanthi Dairiam, United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Gender Equality Taskforce
More than 230 government officials and some 100 representatives of non-governmental organizations joined in the review. The event consisted of discussions with the 55 civil society organizations, as well as a day-long questioning session with Taiwan government officials on issues raised by NGOs in nearly 30 “parallel reports.”

Zoe Ye of the Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association, reminded the committee of the case of Tsai Ya-ting, a trans-woman whose application for a national identity card was rejected in 2002. She committed suicide the following year.

“The government has not learned from this lesson and has ignored the urgent desire of transgender persons to adopt a legal gender status in accord with their self-identity,” according to Ye.

The Taiwan government currently requires applicants for gender change to undergo psychological examinations and the surgical removal of reproductive organs before changes in official registration are approved, a requirement which Ye stressed violates five UN human rights conventions, including CEDAW.

Other NGO representatives stressed infringements on women’s land rights, faulting the government for failure to conduct gender impact-assessments for many of its development plans that involve large-scale land expropriations.

These “threaten the right to adequate housing for rural women and all aspects of their lives,” said Lu Shih-wei of Taiwan Rural Front and Wild at Heart Legal Defence Association.

Non-member committed to CEDAW

Taiwan ratified CEDAW in 2007 under the previous centrist Democratic Progressive Party government of then president Chen Shui-bian, but the United Nations Secretariat rejected the ratified treaty for deposit since Taiwan is not a UN member state.

Instead, CEDAW was directly incorporated into Taiwan’s domestic law through an “enforcement act” effective January 1, 2012.

“It is almost unique, and commendable, that a country which is not a UN member state has voluntarily undertaken to adopt the standards of CEDAW and other human rights treaties,” Mary Shanthi Dairiam, a member of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Gender Equality Taskforce, told IPS.

Still, “the defensiveness of government officials here is the same as elsewhere,” according to Shanthi, who is a former member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms Discrimination against Women (CEFDW).

Speaking to IPS, Democratic Progressive Party legislator Yu Mei-nu said that  the realization of CEDAW objectives may be hampered by “martial law mentalities” of certain government officials. But the convention has “provided a platform for citizens and civil society organizations to link with international society and fight for human rights at home,” according to Yu.

Main recommendations 

Chief among the 35 recommendations were calls to set a deadline to enact “comprehensive legislation covering all fields of gender discrimination” as soon as possible; establish an independent national human rights institution; prompt revision of laws on nationality, domestic violence, human trafficking and marriage equality; and passage of long-denied bills to protect domestic workers, along with ratification of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families.

The committee further stressed the need for “gender impact assessments” for government policies and development plans.

It called for abolishing the surgical requirement for trans women, as well as the mandatory HIV testing requirement for entry, stay and residence of women living with HIV/AIDS.

The panel was led by Shin Heisoo, representative of the Korea Center for UN Human Rights Policy and a member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Shin previously participated in the review of CEDAW state reports from 2001 to 2008.

“I hope the government of Taiwan is contemplating how to implement these recommendations…” Shin concluded, “Especially since we have heard that there has been a deterioration of civil and political and economic human rights.”

UNDP’s Shanti echoed the need for action. “The government officials said they have revised over 33,000 laws and regulations. But what the world community wants to know is not what the state says it is doing, but what is actually being achieved in terms of real improvement in gender equality.”

 

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Chile’s Patagonia Celebrates Decision Against Wilderness Damshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/chiles-patagonia-celebrates-decision-against-wilderness-dams/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chiles-patagonia-celebrates-decision-against-wilderness-dams http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/chiles-patagonia-celebrates-decision-against-wilderness-dams/#comments Wed, 11 Jun 2014 00:47:51 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134922 Patagonia Without Dams activists broke out in cheers when they heard the decision reached by a ministerial committee to reject the HidroAysén dam project on Tuesday Jun. 10. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace Chile

Patagonia Without Dams activists broke out in cheers when they heard the decision reached by a ministerial committee to reject the HidroAysén dam project on Tuesday Jun. 10. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace Chile

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO , Jun 11 2014 (IPS)

The Chilean government rejected Tuesday the controversial HidroAysén project for the construction of five hydroelectric dams on rivers in the south of the country. The decision came after years of struggle by environmental groups and local communities, who warned the world of the destruction the dams would wreak on the Patagonian wilderness.

“This is a historic day,” Juan Pablo Orrego, the international coordinator of the Patagonia Without Dams campaign, told IPS after the decision was announced.

“I am moved that the citizens – because this was a victory by the citizens – managed to finally inspire a government to do the right thing in the face of a mega-project,” he added.

The decision was reached after a three-hour meeting by a committee of ministers of the government of socialist President Michelle Bachelet, who took office for a second term in March.

The committee, made up of the ministers of environment, energy, agriculture, mining, economy and health, unanimously accepted the 35 complaints presented against the project, 34 of which were introduced by communities and others opposed to the initiative and the last of which was presented by the company itself.

The decision took six years to arrive, after a number of legal battles. And in response to the announcement people took to the streets in Patagonia, a wilderness region in southern Chile, to celebrate.

“This ministerial committee has decided to accept the complaints presented by the community, by the citizens, and annul the environmental permit for the HidroAysén project,” Environment Minister Pablo Badenier told reporters, declaring that the dam had been rejected by the government.

The company, owned by Italian firm Endesa-Enel (which holds a 51 percent share) and Chile’s Colbún, has 30 days to appeal the resolution in an environmental court in Valdivia, in southern Chile.

During the election campaign, President Bachelet had stated that the dams were not viable.

In May, when her administration unveiled its energy agenda, she said she would promote renewable unconventional energy sources and the use of natural gas, in contrast with the plan of her predecessor, Sebastián Piñera (2010-2014), which favoured hydropower.

The HidroAysén project, presented in August 2007, was to involve the construction of five large hydroelectric dams on the Baker and Pascua rivers in Patagonia. But the following year, 32 of the 34 public agencies called on to pronounce themselves did so against the project.

Environmental groups, with the support of some government officials, have proposed UNESCO world heritage site status for the southern region of Aysén, where the dams were to be built some 1,600 km south of Santiago. Patagonia is not only biodiverse but is also one of the biggest reserves of freshwater in the world.

The dams would have flooded a total of 5,910 hectares of wilderness, for a total capacity of 2,750 MW for the national grid (SIC).

Chile has a total installed capacity of 17,000 MW: 74 percent in SIC, 25 percent in the great northern grid (SING), and the rest in medium-sized grids in the southern regions of Aysén and Magallanes.

The project also included a 1,912-km power line, the longest in the world, which was to run through nine of the 15 regions of this long narrow South American country.

Energy Minister Máximo Pacheco said the HidroAysén project “suffers from serious problems in its execution because it did not treat aspects related to the people who live there with due care and attention.”

He added that as energy minister “I have voted with complete peace and clarity of mind with respect to this project.”

Pacheco also said “the decision that was reached today does not compromise in the least the energy policy that we have designed in the energy agenda, but specifically refers to one project.”

Orrego, the environmentalist, said the decision against the construction of the HidroAysén dams “points to the end of the era of the thermoelectric and hydroelectric energy mega-projects – an era that in the developed countries ended a long time ago.”

Chile imports 97 percent of its fossil fuels and its energy mix is made up of 40 percent hydropower and the rest of polluting fossil fuels, used in thermoelectric plants.

The fact that Chile lacks domestic oil and natural gas means the cost of producing electricity per MW-hour is among the highest in Latin America – over 160 dollars, compared to 55 dollars in Peru, 40 in Colombia and 10 in Argentina.

The executive director of the association of electric companies (ASEL), Rodrigo Castillo, said on Tuesday that the resolution “refers to one project in particular and does not make it impossible to use hydrological resources in southern Chile in the future.”

But René Muga, the head of the association of power plants (AGG), said HidroAysén represented 40 percent of the energy needed by the country in the next 10 years, equivalent, according to his figures, to what seven or eight coal-fired plants would produce. “That energy is really necessary,” he argued.

Orrego said the Bachelet administration’s decision could bring it “very powerful political consequences.”

“It is a brave move,” the environmentalist said. “But it was inspired by the citizens, of that we have no doubt.”

“These many years of struggle have culminated in this resounding victory for the citizens,” Orrego added.

The Patagonia Without Dams campaign waged by a coalition of environmental and citizen groups and led by Orrego and prominent environmentalist Sara Larraín managed to mobilise the entire country against the HidroAysén project and drew international attention to the planned wilderness dams.

In opinion polls, three-quarters of respondents have said they were opposed to the dams. And in early 2011, more than 100,000 people took to the streets against HidroAysén.

Orrego, who won the Right Livelihood Award in 1998, expressed his gratitude to Chile, “because this campaign was carried out by the entire country.”

He also acknowledged the participation of “allies” in other countries, such as Argentina, Belgium, Italy and Spain.

In the Aysén región, critics of the project waited in a local cinema for the announcement of the ministerial committee’s decision, before marching through the streets of Coyhaique, the regional capital, to celebrate.

Patricio Segura of the Citizen Coalition for the Aysen Life Reserve told IPS that the government’s decision “was the right thing in terms of sustainability and the construction of the energy mix that we as a country deserve.”

“We hoped President Michelle Bachelet’s political commitment would be fulfilled, as well as the duty to set aside an irregular project that advanced due to lobbying and pressure,” he added.

Segura said the project “generated tremendous polarisation in the Aysén region,” and he complained that “they managed to divide the people of Aysén without even laying one brick.”

As a result, he said, this decision lays the foundation “for us to sit down in Aysén and discuss what really matters, which is the Aysén Life Reserve.”

“Now we have to discuss a sovereign and sustainable energy mix for the Aysén region, including our region’s abundant water resources and wind energy,” he added.

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Train on the Move to Unite Basques, Scots and Catalanshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/train-on-the-move-to-unite-basques-scots-and-catalonians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=train-on-the-move-to-unite-basques-scots-and-catalonians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/train-on-the-move-to-unite-basques-scots-and-catalonians/#comments Mon, 09 Jun 2014 15:16:41 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134880 Demonstrators in the village of Beasain, halfway along the 123-km long human chain “for the right to decide”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Demonstrators in the village of Beasain, halfway along the 123-km long human chain “for the right to decide”. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

By Karlos Zurutuza
BEASAIN, Spain, Jun 9 2014 (IPS)

“Around 150,000 showed up to claim that we, Basques, want to decide the future of this country,” Urtzi Urrutikoetxea, journalist, writer and member of the Basque people’s organisation Gure Esku Dago (GED), told IPS after on the 123-kilometre long human chain “for the right to decide” organised Sunday.

“This is just the beginning of a train that will link the Basque Country with both Scotland and Catalonia,“ said the Basque intellectual.

“Initially we thought we´d be done with 50,000 so it is definitely been a huge success,” he noted, referring to the number of demonstrators that lined up holding hands between Durango and Pamplona, respectively 418 and 450 km north of Madrid.

Gure Esku Dago, which stands for “It lies in our hands” in the Basque language, was set up in June 2013 as a platform which, according to Urrutikoetxea, “vows to serve as an umbrella organisation for local initiatives aimed at the activation and citizen support for the right to decide of the Basques.”"We cannot but adhere to an initiative that is rooted in the most fundamental right to decide within a democracy. And this is the very basic point where both Spanish and Basque nationalists should come together" – Laura Mintegi, Basque MP

The Basque people have their own language and culture and live on both sides of the Pyrenees. Theirs is a territory divided into different political-administrative organisations: the Basque Autonomous Community and the Chartered Community of Navarre in Spain, and three provinces in France. Their total population is estimated at about three million. Well over two-thirds live in the Basque Autonomous Community.

Alongside several trade unions and social agents, the two main political forces in the Basque Parliament, the right-wing Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) and the left-wing Euskal Herria Bildu – with 27 and 21 seats respectively of the 75 in the Basque chamber – supported the demonstration.

“The citizenship has remained expectant for too many years, trying to figure out what the political parties´ next moves would be. Today they have lost the fear to remain ignored and unheard so they have decided to take the initiative,” Laura Mintegi, Basque MP and Parliamentary spokesperson for Euskal Herria Bildu, told IPS.

Mintegi summed up the reasons behind her group joining the human chain: “We cannot but adhere to an initiative that is rooted in the most fundamental right to decide within a democracy. And this is the very basic point where both Spanish and Basque nationalists should come together.”

But key actors such as the Popular Party (PP) – Spain´s ruling party – are still far from following suit. Laura Garrido holds one of the ten seats the conservative coalition has in the Basque chamber, where the Popular Party is the fourth force.

The 43-year-old MP labelled the Basque nationalist parties´ attitude as “disruptive”, while she accused them of “fostering instability.”

“Theirs is a dangerous challenge to the established order. Far from uniting the Basques, it only encourages confrontation among us,” Garrido told IPS.

Asked about the reasons for her party preventing a vote on independence, the conservative political leader was categorical:

“The Spanish Constitution does not provide any such legal instruments, so a referendum of this kind is simply not a feasible option.”

The “Basque nationalists versus Spanish constitutionalists” equation may not coincide with today´s national political scenario. Even members of the opposition Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE) and other left-wing Spanish parties have publicly showed support for Sunday´s demonstration.

Gemma Zabaleta, who served form many years as a Minister of Employment and Social Affairs in the Basque Government, has repeatedly stated that she would not favour an independent Basque Country, and that she would like to defend her position in a plebiscite.

“It is, by far, the most democratic, healthiest and most clarifying formula. Hampering such a referendum only boosts nationalist feelings even further,” said Zabaleta during a conference last April.

But perhaps one of the biggest arguments to refute the thesis that a referendum lies exclusively in the agenda of Basque nationalist sectors is the call on the citizenship to participate in the human chain by the Podemos (“We can”) political party, created in March this year by Spanish leftist activists.

Only three months after it was registered as a political party, Podemos won five seats in the European Parliament elections on May 25. Their arrival in the Spanish political arena has been spectacular and many political analysts see them as the outcome of the so called “Indignants´ movement”, which led a series of massive protests in demand of radical changes in Spanish politics back in 2011.

“The right of the peoples of Europe to become a state, provided that´s the citizenship´s will, is clearly stated in our political programme,” Carolina Bescansa, head of Podemos’ Unit of Political Analysis told IPS.

“The right of the people to decide on their future is not a nationalist claim, but a purely democratic demand,” insisted Bescansa, a professor of Political Science who calls for an “urgent restoration of democracy and participation lost at the hands of the ruling oligarchy in Spain.”

Public disenchantment with key institutions formed in the 1970s after a four-decade long dictatorship is, indeed, widespread in Spain after long and deep economic crisis, and an endless list of corruption scandals.

Also touched by the latter, Spanish king Juan Carlos I abdicated on June 2 after a 39-year reign, so the Spanish Government is currently working around the clock over the coronation of Philip VI. Meanwhile, thousands keep marching across the country for the abolition of the monarchy that was reinstated in 1975.

The next crucial date on the agenda will likely be November 9, when 7.5 million Catalans will hold a referendum over independence from Spain. The plebiscite date was announced by Catalan President Artur Mas in December 2013, only three months after a massive human chain criss-crossed Catalonia

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Protests Threaten to Paralyse Brazil Ahead of World Cuphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/protests-threaten-paralyse-brazil-ahead-world-cup/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protests-threaten-paralyse-brazil-ahead-world-cup http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/protests-threaten-paralyse-brazil-ahead-world-cup/#comments Mon, 26 May 2014 23:35:03 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134559 Professors and public employees of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, a state in northeast Brazil, in a demonstration during the strike they have been holding since March. The state capital, Natal, is one of the 12 cities hosting the FIFA World Cup. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Professors and public employees of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, a state in northeast Brazil, in a demonstration during the strike they have been holding since March. The state capital, Natal, is one of the 12 cities hosting the FIFA World Cup. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 26 2014 (IPS)

As the FIFA World Cup approaches, the streets of Brazil are heating up with strikes and demonstrations, and there are worries that the social unrest could escalate into a wave of protests similar to the ones that shook the country in June 2013.

Groups of public and private sector workers have been on strike for days, creating a hectic backdrop for the Jun. 12-Jul. 13 global football championship.

In the southern city of São Paulo a strike by bus drivers last week generated the worst traffic jams in the history of the city. And on May 21, some 8,000 police marched to the esplanade of ministries in the capital Brasilia, in a protest supported by the federal and military police forces.

In the 12 cities that will host the World Cup matches, at least 15 protests are scheduled for the event’s opening day.

Trade unions are taking advantage of the spotlight on Brazil to pressure the centre-left government of Dilma Rousseff to meet their demands.

Even workers in over a dozen Brazilian consulates in the United States and Europe, responsible for issuing visas to those interested in flying to Brazil for the sporting event, went on strike last week.

And staff at LATAM airlines – the region’s largest carrier, formed by the merger of Brazil’s Tam and Chile’s Lan – threatened a strike or slowdown that could bring airports to a halt and disrupt hundreds of international flights during the World Cup.

Professors at 90 percent of the country’s federal and state universities and teachers at state and municipal primary schools across the country have also gone on strike, while many public cultural foundations and museums have closed their doors.

“A general strike hasn’t been ruled out,” Sergio Ronaldo da Silva, secretary general of the main federal workers’ union, CONDSEF, told IPS.

“This isn’t all happening because of the World Cup,” he said. “We had been talking for a long time about going on strike. Our complaints aren’t connected to the championship – they are demands we have been voicing for years.”

If the situation remains unchanged, this country of 200 million people could grind to a halt during the World Cup, Ronaldo da Silva admitted, after pointing out that the authorities have not set a date for negotiations. He added that as the opening match approaches, relations could become even more tense.

“The federal government should have foreseen this scenario,” the trade unionist said. “They want to show the image of Brazil as a first world country, but our health system is almost broken down, and the same thing is true of education and public transport.”

CONDSEF represents around 80 percent of Brazil’s 1.3 million federal public employees.

“On May 30 we’re going to discuss the possibility of a general strike, in our confederation. The government has been hearing the message since last June’s protests,” Ronaldo da Silva said.“The government generated an exaggerated sense of expectation among the public, which has fallen flat. It promised a lot and has delivered very little. The outlook has changed and the protests are a reflection of those changes.” -- Pedro Trengrouse

In late 2013, the government signed more than 140 labour agreements with a number of different trade unions, pledging – among other things – a 15.8 percent raise, to be paid in three annual quotas.

But at that time, the projected inflation rate was much lower than today’s rate of 26 percent, the unions complain. “Of the agreements that were signed, 70 percent are not being fulfilled,” said Ronaldo da Silva.

Another problem facing the public sector is the exodus of public employees. In the latest recruitment process, in 2011, 240,000 were hired – and nearly half have already left their jobs, according to CONDSEF.

Since February 2012, legislators have been discussing proposals for preventing strikes during the World Cup. Draft law 728/2011, currently under debate in the Senate, would limit strikes ahead of and during the global sporting event.

Under the bill, unions organising a strike would have to announce it 15 days ahead of time, and 70 percent of workers would have to remain on the job.

And in February the government introduced a bill to limit protests and strikes, but there are doubts that it will be approved in the next few days.

Justice Minister José Eduardo Cardozo said strikes, demonstrations or other measures should not create chaos and disorder or generate economic damage or violence.

“The police, who serve the constitution, know that strikes are prohibited by Supreme Court rulings,” he said. “We can use the national security forces and the armed forces to guarantee law and order,” he added, to reassure the public.

On May 13, Sports Minister Aldo Rebelo predicted that the World Cup would be a peaceful time of public celebration.

“If protests occur, they’ll be isolated incidents,” he said. “I believe the country is ready because Brazil’s legislation protects peaceful demonstrations and prevents violent protests. I don’t think there are many people interested in seeing the World Cup turn chaotic because of violent protests.”

“I think we’re prepared, that public security is going to work. The safety of visitors and guests is assured. There is no risk,” he maintained.

But Pedro Trengrouse, a member of the Brazilian Lawyers Institute who specialises in sports law, said there is a climate of frustration that is very different from the initial enthusiastic reception of the 2009 announcement that Brazil would host the World Cup.

“The government generated an exaggerated sense of expectation among the public, which has fallen flat. It promised a lot and has delivered very little. The outlook has changed and the protests are a reflection of those changes,” Trengrouse told IPS.

When Brazil was selected as the host of the 2014 World Cup, no one was thinking about protests, he pointed out, because 80 percent of the population at the time supported Brazil’s bid for hosting the event, according to opinion polls.

Today, however, 55 percent of respondents say the World Cup is likely to bring the country more problems than benefits.

In 2008 and 2009, Trengrouse worked as a United Nations consultant in the service of the Brazilian government for legislative affairs related to sports, especially the World Cup.

The lawyer said the government associated the World Cup with the major structural transformations that Brazil needed, but that they would have had to be carried out with or without the mega sports event.

And in two years time, Rio de Janeiro will also host the 2016 summer Olympics.

“A balance must be struck,” Trengrouse said. “The workers’ right to strike for better conditions is inalienable. But strikes must not hurt the public. There is opportunism in some sectors. Protests cannot be allowed to give rise to criminal activities, vandalism and fascist rallies.”

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Conflict with Local Communities Hits Mining and Oil Companies Where It Hurtshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/conflict-local-communities-hits-mining-oil-companies-hurts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=conflict-local-communities-hits-mining-oil-companies-hurts http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/conflict-local-communities-hits-mining-oil-companies-hurts/#comments Sun, 18 May 2014 09:39:03 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134359 Rosa Tanguila, a Quechua indigenous woman, cleaning up the pollution caused by Texaco in a stream in her community, Rumipamba, in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle region. Credit: Gonzalo Ortiz/IPS

Rosa Tanguila, a Quechua indigenous woman, cleaning up the pollution caused by Texaco in a stream in her community, Rumipamba, in Ecuador’s Amazon jungle region. Credit: Gonzalo Ortiz/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada , May 18 2014 (IPS)

Conflicts with local communities over mining, oil and gas development are costing companies billions of dollars a year. One corporation alone reported a six billion dollar cost over a two-year period according to the first-ever peer-reviewed study on the cost of conflicts in the extractive sector.

The Pascua Lama gold mining project in Chile has cost Canada’s Barrick Gold 5.4 billion dollars following 10 years of protests and irregularities. No gold has ever been mined and the project has been suspended on court order.

And in Peru, the two billion dollar Conga copper mining project was suspended in 2011 after protests broke out over the projected destruction of four high mountain lakes. The U.S.-based Newmont Mining Co, which also operates the nearby Yanacocha mine, has now built four reservoirs which, according to its plan, are to be used instead of the lakes.

“Communities are not powerless. Our study shows they can organise and mobilise, which results in substantial costs to companies,” said co-author Daniel Franks of Australia’s University of Queensland, who is also deputy director of the Centre for Social Responsibility in Mining.

“Unfortunately conflicts can also result in bloodshed and loss of life,” Franks told Tierramérica.

The study is based on 45 in-depth, confidential interviews with high-level officials in the extractive (energy and mining) industries with operations around the world.

“Conflict translates environmental and social risk into business costs” was published May 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). A special report “Costs of Company-Community Conflict in the Extractive Sector” based on the study is also available.

“We wanted to document the costs of bad relationships with communities. Companies aren’t fully aware and only some investors know the extent of the risk,” Franks said.

“If companies are interested in securing their profits then they need to have high environmental and social standards and collaborate with communities,” Franks said in an interview.

Investing in building relationships with communities is far less costly than conflict. Local people are not generally opposed to development. What they oppose is having little say or control over how development proceeds, he added.

“We want development that benefits indigenous people and doesn’t just benefit someone’s brother-in-law,” said Alberto Pizango, president of the  Interethnic Association for the Development of the Peruvian Rainforest (AIDESEP), an indigenous rights organisation in Peru representing 1,350 Amazon jungle communities.

Peruvian indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, who is on trial in connection with the 2009 massacre in Bagua, has at the same time been asked by the Environment Ministry to help plan the next climate summit. Credit: Coimbra Sirica/BurnessGlobal

Peruvian indigenous leader Alberto Pizango, who is on trial in connection with the 2009 massacre in Bagua, has at the same time been asked by the Environment Ministry to help plan the next climate summit. Credit: Coimbra Sirica/BurnessGlobal

“Indigenous people have something to say about harmonious development with nature. We don’t want development that destroys our beloved Amazon,” Pizango told Tierrámerica from Lima.

Pizango has been actively resisting the government of Peru’s selling of petroleum concessions to foreign companies on lands legally titled to indigenous people.

The struggle turned violent outside the northern jungle town of Bagua on Jun. 5, 2009, when armed riot police moved to evict peaceful protesters blocking a road. In the clash 24 police officers and 10 civilians were killed.

Pizango and 52 other indigenous leaders were charged with inciting violence and 18 other crimes. They went on trial May 14 in Bagua.

The indigenous people were protesting 10 legislative decrees they considered unconstitutional, which were put in place by the government to foment private investment in native territories.

“We had no choice and thought our protests were fair and that we were right. But it was too high a price. We don’t want to see that again. We want to move from the ‘big protest’ to the ‘big proposal,” said Pizango, who faces a life sentence if he is found guilty.

The study published in PNAS shows that the violence in Bagua could have been avoided if companies and the government acknowledged indigenous rights and worked with local communities.

“It is with great sadness I say this has yet to happen in Peru,” said Pizango, who was not even in Bagua when the violent clash occurred.

Meanwhile, Peru’s Environment Ministry has asked Pizango and AIDESEP to assist in the planning of the big U.N. climate conference to be held in Lima at the end of the year. The indigenous leader hopes the event will show the world that native people can protect the forest and the climate.

Repairing relationships between communities and companies and governments is difficult, said Rachel Davis, a Fellow at the Corporate Social Responsibility Initiative at Harvard University.

“It is much harder for a company to repair its relationship with a local community after it has broken down; relationships cannot be ‘retro-fitted’,” said Davis, a co-author of the study.

Franks compares this to a divorce, pointing out that only rarely do partners remarry.

Leading mining corporations have apparently begun to understand this, and are implementing the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and adopting the International Council on Mining and Metals Sustainable Development Framework, Davis said in a statement.

But this is not the case in the oil and gas sector. “Their culture is very different. They’re not used to dealing with communities,” said Franks.

The study shows that environmental and water issues are the biggest triggers of conflicts. Activities like hydraulic fracking for unconventional gas and oil are on the rise and are affecting water. Big conflicts are coming, he predicts.

“It’s a good report but doesn’t address the broader economic and political pressure to push projects through quickly,” said Jamie Kneen of MiningWatch Canada.

Shareholders want big returns on their investments and governments want their royalties sooner rather than later. All of this makes corporations less willing to compromise or to take the time to find alternatives that might be acceptable to local people,” Kneen told Tierrámerica.

“Companies know there will be problems with local communities. Companies often gamble that any conflict will not get too high a profile and try to hide this risk from investors,” he added.

Not all conflicts are resolvable, Kneen said. “Some communities will never accept any risk of contamination to their water.”

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

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Lagging Urban Transport Works Hinder World Cup Sustainabilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/lagging-urban-transport-works-hinder-world-cup-sustainability/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lagging-urban-transport-works-hinder-world-cup-sustainability http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/lagging-urban-transport-works-hinder-world-cup-sustainability/#comments Thu, 15 May 2014 01:28:15 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134302 Stands in the Arena Dunas in the city of Natal in Northeast Brazil, one of the eight FIFA World Cup stadiums granted a sustainable construction certificate. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Stands in the Arena Dunas in the city of Natal in Northeast Brazil, one of the eight FIFA World Cup stadiums granted a sustainable construction certificate. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
NATAL, Brazil, May 15 2014 (IPS)

Brazil’s efforts to promote the image of an environmentally sustainable World Cup have focused on the stadiums built for the tournament. But the 12 cities where the matches will be played are in a race against time to complete the urban transport projects.

Natal, the capital of the state of Rio Grande do Norte in the Brazilian Northeast, is one of the cities that will host the World Cup 2014, and four games will be played here. This city of 800,000 people is known in this country as the “city of the sun” because there are more than 300 days of sunshine a year, enjoyed by visitors to the state’s 400 km of beaches.

This is the city with the cleanest air in South America, according to a study carried out in 1994 by the National Institute for Space Research (INPE) in partnership with the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Water quality here is also excellent, because the water is “filtered” by the vast dunes surrounding the city.

Natal, which receives 1.5 million tourists a year, is now seeking an image of a sustainable city during the World Cup, which will take place in Brazil Jun. 12-Jul. 13.

The Arena Dunas stadium in Natal was officially inaugurated on Jan. 22, with a capacity for 42,000 spectators. The cost went 30 percent over the 190 million dollar budget, but at least the project is considered environmentally sustainable.

The OAS construction company, which built and is managing the stadium, will harvest rainwater, which will cut water consumption by 40 percent. And nearly 100 percent of the waste generated will be recycled.

In contrast with how early the stadium was finished, the urban transport works in the city run the risk of not being completed by the World Cup kickoff match on Jun. 13 – which could hurt the image of Natal as a sustainable World Cup city.

Unfinished transportation works around the stadium in Natal where the first of the four FIFA World Cup matches to be hosted by this city will take place on Jun. 13. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Unfinished transportation works around the stadium in Natal where the first of the four FIFA World Cup matches to be hosted by this city will take place on Jun. 13. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

Of the seven transport projects planned, only one was completed, a year ago. At that time the remaining six were still only on paper, and three ended up being cancelled, after the city government admitted that it was unable to implement them.

The mayor of Natal, Carlos Eduardo Alves of the opposition Democratic Labour Party (PDT), told IPS that the city would be ready to host the World Cup thanks to 250 million dollars in federal funds.

“When Natal was chosen to be one of the host cities, it had 53 months to build the infrastructure and complete the projects. When I took office in January 2013, there were only 18 months to go, and nothing had started yet,” he said.

A total of 1,450 people are employed in shifts, 24/7, on the infrastructure projects.

Organised citizens one, expropriations zero

In 2012, the people of Natal were taken by surprise by the announcement that on Capitão Mor Gouveias avenue, one of the city’s main arteries, the property of 3,000 residents and 200 business owners was to be expropriated to make way for the construction of a road from the new airport to the stadium.

“One morning an official came to my business and handed me a letter informing me that half of the 200 square metres of my shop would be expropriated. He did so in a rude manner, and I was indignant. So we decided to fight the measure,” Jonas Valentim, 73, told IPS.

Valentim’s business has operated there for 30 years, and he was scared. “When we found out that the World Cup would be coming here, we were happy. But it was because we didn’t know it would deal us such a blow.”

He became one of the representatives in Natal of the “association of people affected by the World Cup works” (APAC), created in 2012 He is also a member of the World Cup People’s Committee, which has protested that the infrastructure works are not in line with the needs of the city.

In the case of Capitão Mor Gouveia avenue, the local residents and business owners managed to avoid forced eviction by asking specialists at the regional university to help draw up an alternative project, since the authorities had not consulted experts.

“We made suggestions to use avenues with less traffic, where no expropriations would be necessary,” said Valentim. That is the project currently being implemented – and no one has been evicted.

Alves guaranteed that six tunnels and a viaduct would be finished by May 31. A second viaduct won’t be done on time, but it will nevertheless be open to traffic during the World Cup.

“Natal won’t end after the World Cup,” the mayor said. “It will leave us with the biggest drainage system in the city, which cost 60 million dollars, and which will be 70 percent complete by the start of the World Cup.”

He added that 4,000 trees would be planted around the city.

He also said the big problem facing Brazilian cities today is traffic congestion, which is why tunnels and viaducts are being built, to ease traffic jams.

But the coordinator of transport research in the Civil Energy Department of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Enilson Medeiros dos Santos, doubts that the six transport construction projects around the stadium will be finished in time for the tournament.

“I don’t think they’ll be completed,” Santos said. “The viaduct of the BR-101 freeway [next to the stadium] was not in the original project and doesn’t stand a chance of being finished – work got started on it really late.”

Santos, a prominent voice in urban planning in Natal, complained that his team was not consulted when the transport plans were drawn up.

“The city that it took the longest for the federal government’s funds to reach was Natal,” he said. “The moment for planning is past; now concrete spending plans are needed.”

Santos also complained about a lack of information. Of the cities that will host the World Cup games, Natal was ranked the lowest on transparency in investment in 2013 by the Ethos Institute.

“No one has access to the executive projects, it’s all a total mystery,” he said.

According to Santos, Natal was the fruit of an accelerated development process and is one of the cities in the Northeast with the highest number of motor vehicles per capita.

The city has one motor vehicle for every four inhabitants, while demand for public transport is falling. There are more than 260,000 vehicles in the city, and since 2000 the number of cars has risen at a rate of 20,000 a year.

“The city does not have chronic congestion, but traffic has gotten worse quickly in the last 10 years. We had already pointed out the problem in 1998, if the city failed to put in place high-quality public transport systems,” Santos said.

In June 2012, during the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), FIFA, the international governing body of association football, announced that it would invest 20 million dollars to make the 2014 World Cup the first with a comprehensive sustainability strategy.

The strategy included “green” stadiums, waste management, community support, reducing and offsetting carbon emissions, renewable energy, climate change and capacity development, according to FIFA and the Local Organising Committee.

FIFA also stated that it would give priority to environmentally-friendly suppliers, and that it would carry out studies to assess the environmental impacts on the areas around the stadiums.

In addition, the construction projects had to obtain environmental permits, as a condition for receiving financing from the country’s state-owned development bank, the BNDES.

Another BNDES requisite was for the stadiums and other installations to receive LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification granted by the U.S. Green Building Council, which is recognised by more than 130 countries.

Eight of the 12 World Cup stadiums followed sustainable construction guidelines, using water and energy saving technologies and recycled materials such as demolition waste.

But what apparently will not be sustainable is the use of the stadium after the World Cup. There is a danger that the Arena Dunas will become a white elephant because football matches in that area do not generally draw more than 6,000 people, OAS business manager Artur Couto acknowledged to IPS.

That means it would take over 3,000 matches just to pay off the construction costs.

But Couto defended the stadium as a multi-use structure. “It was built with the concept of multi-functionality, to be a living cell in the city. There are 40 dates for football games a year, but there are other uses as well, such as concerts and shows.”

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Latin America’s LGBTI Movement Celebrates Triumphs, Sets New Goalshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/latin-americas-lgbti-movement-celebrates-triumphs-sets-new-goals/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=latin-americas-lgbti-movement-celebrates-triumphs-sets-new-goals http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/latin-americas-lgbti-movement-celebrates-triumphs-sets-new-goals/#comments Sat, 10 May 2014 09:19:32 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=134207 Members of the Tropicana dance company animate a session of the conference of the International Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People for Latin America and the Caribbean, in the Cuban resort town of Varadero. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Members of the Tropicana dance company animate a session of the conference of the International Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People for Latin America and the Caribbean, in the Cuban resort town of Varadero. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
VARADERO, Cuba , May 10 2014 (IPS)

Although it might not seem to be, Latin America is the most active region in the world when it comes to the defence of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) people.

That is due to the maturity and intelligent strategies that the LGBTI movement has come up with in a number of the region’s 33 countries, where the level of respect for sexual orientation and gender identity still varies a great deal, however, activists from around the region told IPS at a conference in the Cuban resort town of Varadero.

“The most progressive and interesting proposals are emerging in the Americas,” said Mexican activist Gloria Careaga during the sixth Regional Conference of the International Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex People for Latin America and the Caribbean (ILGALAC), which was held here this week.

Leading the changes are Argentina and Uruguay, said Careaga, the co-secretary of the global federation, which was founded in 1978 and has Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

These two Southern Cone countries have passed laws against discrimination and legalising same-sex marriage and adoptions.

Careaga added that other countries that have taken major steps are Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. She also stressed the progress made in Cuba, where “public displays of homosexuality” were illegal until the 1990s, and which is now hosting the May 6-10 regional conference.

In general terms, the Caribbean is the part of the region that is lagging the most in terms of LGBTI rights.

Today, homosexuality is only criminalised in two Latin American countries, Belize and Guyana. That is compared to nine Caribbean island nations that penalise same-sex acts, especially male on male.

Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago provide for prison sentences of between 10 and 50 years for people convicted of engaging in same-sex acts.

And since 1976, Trinidad and Tobago has barred homosexuals from entering the country.

For these and other reasons, the conference in the Plaza America Convention Centre in Varadero, 121 km east of Havana, is the first held in the Caribbean region. The gathering brought together representatives of more than 200 organisations belonging to ILGALAC, along with participants from Europe and the United States.

Rainbow flags, the global symbol of respect for free sexual orientation and gender identity, and signs with inclusive messages adorn the convention centre’s corridors and halls.

Despite the situation in the Caribbean, this region as a whole continues to gain ground in the fight against deep-rooted homophobia and sexism.

To explain the advances made, Careaga stressed that every country has outlined its own agenda, adapted to its specific context.

Argentine lawyer Pedro Paradiso, who has been involved in the cause for over 20 years, said the evolution of LGBTI activism has been a key factor.

“We have gradually changed. At first the struggle was much more about victimisation and protests. But our approach began to expand and to be renovated. Now we are subjects of rights,” the member of the Argentine Homosexual Community, an organisation that emerged over three decades ago, told IPS.

In his view, raising the self-esteem of the non-heterosexual population and taking an approach based on their rights as a collective were decisive, although he said there were many other factors involved.

According to Paradiso, the movement started out by empowering itself and gaining in visibility. Later it began to gain institutional status and to demand sexual and reproductive rights as human rights. It also started forging ties with other social movements, and alliances were forged with political parties and public and private institutions like universities.

In addition, the movement gained ground in international forums like the United Nations and the Organisation of American States, which can exercise pressure to some extent on governments and member states.

And to the extent that each legal system allowed, the LGBTI community has used the courts to forge paths, sometimes tortuous, towards equality.

That is the case of Colombia, where same-sex couples legalise their unions in the courts, while waiting for a law on same-sex marriage. “The process is like a long, painful birth,” said Anaís Morales of the Corporación Femm, which groups lesbian and bisexual women in that South American country.

The 25-year-old feminist activist said women are still outnumbered in the fight for sexual and reproductive rights. “Gay men are the most visible,” Morales told IPS.

In general terms, the women’s organisations present in Varadero agreed that women suffer from double discrimination because of their gender and sexual orientation, and said they needed greater access to assisted reproduction techniques, respectful treatment in health services, and better connections between the women’s and lesbian rights movements.

The first transgender city council member in Chile, Zuliana Araya, told IPS that the LGBTI movement needed to forge closer internal ties. “Among ourselves there can be no discrimination,” said the city councillor from Valparaíso, who is an activist in a local union of trans persons.

“Just because the majority of our [trans] community is involved in commercial sex work doesn’t mean we should be left out,” said Araya, 50, whose activism led her into a career in politics, in a country that passed legislation against discrimination in May 2012. “We are still in the stage of demanding our rights,” she said.

Bringing about a cultural and social shift towards respect for sexual and gender diversity is the big challenge, even in Argentina and Uruguay, whose legislation is among the most advanced in the world.

The hindering effects of religious fundamentalism and political conservatism are also felt, especially in the Caribbean. Although gay Dominican activist Davis Ventura told IPS that “there are many Caribbeans.”

The 40-year-old Ventura said the criminalisation of same-sex relations in the English-speaking Caribbean makes activism virtually impossible, or confines it to international forums, while a “mid” level of progress has been made in the Spanish-speaking countries – Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico – and the islands with French and Dutch influence are the most progressive.

Firm steps have been taken in Puerto Rico at the municipal level, while there are associations that have gained visibility in the Dominican Republic and Cuba passed the first anti-discrimination law in the Caribbean in 2013, when it approved a new labour code that explicitly protects the labour rights of non-heterosexuals.

However, there are voices arguing that there is no actual LGBTI movement as such in Cuba.

Manuel Vázquez, the head of legal advisory services in the National Sex Education Centre (CENESEX), a public institution, told IPS that “we are seeing groups that are actively asking for, demanding and discussing sexual rights.”

In the view of Maykel González, of the Proyecto Arcoíris (Rainbow Project), activism is still emerging.

Arcoíris, which describes itself as “independent and anti-capitalist”, the non-governmental Cuban Multidisciplinary Society for the Study of Sexuality, and initiatives supported by government institutions like CENESEX or the National Centre for the Prevention of STI/HIV/AIDS represented Cuba in the ILGALAC conference.

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