Inter Press Service » Africa http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 05 Sep 2015 10:57:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Migrants Waiting Their Moment in the Moroccan Mountainshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/migrants-waiting-their-moment-in-the-moroccan-mountains/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=migrants-waiting-their-moment-in-the-moroccan-mountains http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/migrants-waiting-their-moment-in-the-moroccan-mountains/#comments Fri, 04 Sep 2015 16:22:35 +0000 Andrea Pettrachin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142268 Migrants looking down from the mountain behind the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco. Credit: Andrea Pettrachin/IPS

Migrants looking down from the mountain behind the Spanish enclave of Ceuta in Morocco. Credit: Andrea Pettrachin/IPS

By Andrea Pettrachin
CEUTA, Sep 4 2015 (IPS)

In the middle of the mountains behind the border fence of Ceuta, the Spanish enclave in Morocco, and eight kilometres from the nearest Moroccan village of Fnideq, an uncertain number of migrants live in the woods. No one knows exactly how many they are but charity workers in Melilla, Spain’s other enclave in Morocco, say they could be in their thousands.

Ceuta is one of the main (and few) ‘doors’ leading from northern Africa to the territory of the European Union, and is a ’door’ that has been closed since the end of the 1990s, when the Spanish authorities started to build a tripe six-metre fence topped with barbed wire that surrounds the whole enclave, as in Melilla.

In the past, those waiting in the mountains for their turn to try to reach Spain had been able to build something resembling a normal life. They put up tents and at least were able to sleep relatively peacefully at night.Today, the migrants are forced to remain mostly hidden in small groups among the trees or in small caverns, and they know that all attempts to pass the Spanish border are almost certain to fail and end up with arrest by the Moroccan authorities

That all ended after 2012, when the Moroccan police started to burn down the camps and periodically sweep the mountainside, arresting any migrants they found, charged with having illegally entered the country.

These actions were the result of agreements between the Moroccan and Spanish governments, after Spain had asked Morocco to control migration flows.

The most tragic raid so far by the Moroccan police took place last year on Gurugu Mountain which looks down on Melilla. Five migrants were killed, 40 wounded and 400 removed to a desert area on the border with Algeria. According to the migrants, the wounded were not cured and were left to their own destiny.

Today, the migrants are forced to remain mostly hidden in small groups among the trees or in small caverns, and they know that all attempts to pass the Spanish border are almost certain to fail and end up with arrest by the Moroccan authorities.

They live, in their words, “like animals” and when speaking with outsiders are clearly ashamed by their condition, apologising for being dirty and badly-dressed.

The first thing many of them tell you in French is that they are students and that before having to leave their countries they were studying mathematics, economics or engineering at university.

Many of them are from Guinea, one of the countries most seriously affected by the Ebola epidemic, others come from Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Mali, Burkina Faso, all countries characterised by political turmoil of various types.

All of them have been forced to live in these woods for months or even years, waiting for their chance to pass the border fence.

The statistics show that some of them will certainly die in their attempts to reach Spain – either on the heavily fortified fences which encircle the enclaves or out at sea in a small boat or trying to swim to a Spanish beach.

Some of them will finally make it to Spain, perhaps after five or six failed attempts. In that case they will have overcome the first hurdle, escaping the “push-back operations” by the Spanish Guardia Civil, but they will still face the possibility of forced repatriation, particularly if they come from countries with which Spain has a repatriation agreement.

Many of them, however, will finally give up and decide to remain somewhere in Morocco, destined to a life of continuous uncertainty due to their irregular position in the country. You can meet them and listen to their stories in the main Moroccan cities, especially in the north. In most cases, they had escaped death in their attempts to reach Spain and do not want to risk their lives any longer.

Meanwhile a report on ‘Refugee Persons in Spain and Europe” published at the end of May by the non-governmental Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR), denounces how sub-Saharan migrants are dissuaded from seeking asylum in Spain, even if coming from countries in conflict such as Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo or Somalia, once they realise that they are likely to be forced to remain for months in a Centre for Temporary Residence of Immigrants (CETI) in Ceuta or Melilla.

In Melilla, for example, those who apply for asylum cannot leave the enclave until a decision has been taken on their application. Unlike Syrian refugees whose application takes no more than two months, CEAR said the average time to reach a decision for sub-Saharan Africans is one and a half years.

The CEAR report is only one of a long list of recent criticisms of the Spanish government’s migration policies from numerous NGOs and international organisations.

The main target of these criticisms has been the Security Law (Ley de Seguridad Ciudadana) passed this year by the Spanish Parliament with only the votes of Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s Popular Party. The aim was to give legal cover to the so called devoluciones en caliente, the “push-back operations” against migrants carried out by the Spanish frontier authorities in Ceuta and Melilla in violation of international and European law.

On the Spanish mainland, said the CEAR report, migrant’s right of asylum is seriously undermined by the bureaucratic lengths of application procedures and the political choices of the Spanish authorities.

Calls from CEAR and other NGOs to end “push-back operations” seem very unlikely to be taken into consideration soon by the Spanish government and Parliament, in view of the general elections later this year.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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European Residents Offer Support, Homes to Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/european-residents-offer-support-homes-to-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=european-residents-offer-support-homes-to-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/european-residents-offer-support-homes-to-refugees/#comments Thu, 03 Sep 2015 21:01:34 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142265 Many Syrian cities have been reduced to piles of rubble, as a civil war that is now well into its fifth year shows no signs of abating. Desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the fighting. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

Many Syrian cities have been reduced to piles of rubble, as a civil war that is now well into its fifth year shows no signs of abating. Desperate refugees are fleeing to Europe to escape the fighting. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 3 2015 (IPS)

As the migration crisis in Europe continues to grow and government response remains slow, European citizens have taken it upon themselves to act by opening up their homes to those in need.

In a Facebook group entitled ‘Dear Eygló Harðar – Syria is Calling’, over 15,000 Icelanders have signed an open letter calling on their government to “open the gates” for more Syrian refugees.

The open letter, initiated by author and professor Bryndis Bjorgvinsdottir on Aug. 30, addresses Iceland’s Minister of Welfare Eygló Harðar and calls on the government to reconsider capping the number of refugees at a mere 50.

The week-long campaign, which ends on Sep. 4, aims to gather information about available assistance and to create pressure on the government to increase its quota.

“Refugees are our […] best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host. People who we’ll never be able to say to: ‘Your life is worth less than mine’,” the open letter states.

Many have posted their own open letters, offering their homes, food, and general support to refugees, to enable them to integrate into Icelandic society.

One Icelander posted on the group: “I’m a single mother with a six-year-old son […] we can take a child in need. I’m a teacher and would teach the child to speak, read and write Icelandic and adjust to Icelandic society. We have clothes, a bed, toys, and everything a child needs. I would of course pay for the airplane ticket.”

The open letter has sparked more people around the world to express words of support and to offer their homes to those in need.

One mother of a 19-month-old baby from Argentina wrote in the group: “I want you to know that I would like to help in any way I can, even if it is looking at the possibility of hosting some boy or girl in my house […]. I don’t have a comfortable financial position, but I can provide what is necessary and a lot of love.”

Similar efforts to house refugees have begun in other parts of Europe.

Refugees Welcome, a German initiative, matches refugees from around the world with host citizens offering private accommodation.

Once hosts sign up to offer their homes, Refugees Welcome works with local refugee organizations to reach out to find a “suitable” match.

Though only Germany and Austrian residents can currently be hosts, over 780 people have already signed up to help and more than 134 refugees from Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Iraq, Somalia, and Syria have been matched with families in the two countries.

Refugees Welcome also stated that the initiative has been picked up and may be expanded to the United States and Australia.

“We are convinced that refugees should not be stigmatized and excluded by being housed in mass accommodations. Instead, we should offer them a warm welcome,” says Refugees Welcome on its website.

European Union’s border agency Frontex revealed that in July 2015 alone, over 100,000 people migrated into Europe. Germany has stated that it expects up to 800,000 asylum seekers by the end of the year.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe Invaded Mostly by “Regime Change” Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/europe-invaded-mostly-by-regime-change-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-invaded-mostly-by-regime-change-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/europe-invaded-mostly-by-regime-change-refugees/#comments Thu, 03 Sep 2015 20:23:40 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142262 The migrants photographed here were being loaded on to a cargo plane in Kufra, located in southeastern Libya. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

The migrants photographed here were being loaded on to a cargo plane in Kufra, located in southeastern Libya. Credit: Rebecca Murray/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 3 2015 (IPS)

The military conflicts and political instability driving hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe were triggered largely by U.S. and Western military interventions for regime change – specifically in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria (a regime change in-the-making).

The United States was provided with strong military support by countries such as Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Spain, while the no-fly zone to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi was led by France and the UK in 2011 and aided by Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Canada, among others.

“[European leaders] stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.” -- James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum
Last week, an unnamed official of a former Eastern European country, now an integral part of the 28-nation European Union (EU), was constrained to ask: “Why should we provide homes for these refugees when we didn’t invade their countries?”

This reaction could have come from any of the former Soviet bloc countries, including Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Latvia – all of them now members of the EU, which has an open-door policy for transiting migrants and refugees.

The United States was directly involved in regime change in Afghanistan (in 2001) and Iraq (in 2003) – and has been providing support for the ouster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad battling a civil war now in its fifth year.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who says he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe, points out that a large majority of people “undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.”

James A. Paul, former executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the term “regime change refugees” is an excellent way to change the empty conversation about the refugee crisis.

Obviously, there are many causes, but “regime change” helps focus on a crucial part of the picture, he added.

Official discourse in Europe frames the civil wars and economic turmoil in terms of fanaticism, corruption, dictatorship, economic failures and other causes for which they have no responsibility, Paul said.

“They stay silent about the military intervention and regime change in which Europeans were major actors, interventions that have torn the refugees’ homelands apart and resulted in civil war and state collapse.”

The origins of the refugees make the case clearly: Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan are major sources, he pointed out.

Also many refugees come from the Balkans where the wars of the 1990s, again involving European complicity, shredded those societies and led to the present economic and social collapse, he noted.

Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, Connecticut, and the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History, told IPS the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention was dated.

He said the Covenant “was written up for the time of the Cold War – when those who were fleeing the so-called Unfree World were to be welcomed to the Free World”.

He said many Third World states refused this covenant because of the horrid ideology behind it.

“We need a new Covenant,” he said, one that specifically takes into consideration economic refugees (driven by the International Monetary Fund) and political (war) refugees.

At the same time, he said, the international community should also recognize “climate change refugees, regime change refugees and NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] refugees.”

The 1951 Convention guarantees refugee status if one “has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”

Asked about the Eastern European reaction, Prashad said: “I agree entirely. But of course one didn’t hear such a sentiment from Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and others – who also welcomed refugees in large numbers. Why say, ‘Why should we take [them]?’ Why not say, ‘Why are they [Western Europe and the U.S.] not doing more?’” he asked.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon – none of which invaded any of the countries from where most of the refugees are originating.

Paul told IPS the huge flow of refugees into Europe has created a political crisis in many recipient countries, especially Germany, where neo-Nazi thugs battle police almost daily, while fire-bombings of refugee housing have alarmed the political establishment.

The public have been horrified by refugees drowning in the Mediterranean, deaths in trucks and railway tunnels, thousands of children and families caught on the open seas, facing border fences and mobilized security forces.

Religious leaders call for tolerance, while EU politicians wring their hands and wonder how they can solve the issue with new rules and more money, Paul said.

“But the refugee flow is increasing rapidly, with no end in sight.  Fences cannot contain the desperate multitudes.”

He said a few billion euros in economic assistance to the countries of origin, recently proposed by the Germans, are unlikely to buy away the problem.

“Only a clear understanding of the origins of the crisis can lead to an answer, but European leaders do not want to touch this hot wire and expose their own culpability.”

Paul said some European leaders, the French in particular, are arguing in favour of military intervention in these troubled lands on their periphery as a way of doing something.

Overthrowing Assad appears to be popular among the policy classes in Paris, who choose to ignore how counter-productive their overthrow of Libyan leader Gaddafi was a short time ago, or how counter-productive has been their clandestine support in Syria for the Islamist rebels, he declared.

Paul also said “the aggressive nationalist beast in the rich country establishments is not ready to learn the lesson, or to beware the “blowback” from future interventions.”

“This is why we need to look closely at the ‘regime change’ angle and to mobilize the public understanding that this was a crisis that was largely ‘Made in Europe’ – with the active connivance of Washington, of course,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Sustainable Settlements to Combat Urban Slums in Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/sustainable-settlements-to-combat-urban-slums-in-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sustainable-settlements-to-combat-urban-slums-in-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/sustainable-settlements-to-combat-urban-slums-in-africa/#comments Thu, 03 Sep 2015 09:19:36 +0000 Busani Bafana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142251 Shanty town near Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Chell Hill(CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Shanty town near Cape Town, South Africa. Credit: Chell Hill(CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Busani Bafana
LUANDA, Sep 3 2015 (IPS)

Slums are a curse and blessing in fast urbanising Africa. They have challenged Africa’s progress towards better living and working spaces but they also provide shelter for the swelling populations seeking a life in cities.

Rural Africans are pouring into towns and cities in search of jobs and other opportunities, but African cities – 25 of which are among the 100 fastest growing cities in the world – are not delivering the much needed support services, including housing, at the same rate as people are demanding them.

The United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) projects that nearly 1.3 billion people – more than the current population of China – will be living in cities in Africa in the next 15 years."We must encourage, identify ‎and celebrate the continent. Our schools need to train architects and city planners in no other way than to appreciate and promote African architectural culture" – Tokunbo Omisore, past president of the African Architects Association

Africa’s urbanisation rate of four percent a year is already over-stretching the capacity of its cities to provide adequate shelter, water, sanitation, energy and even food for its growing population.

Safe and resilient cities and human settlements is one of the aims of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be agreed on in New York next month. As the SDGs replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) launched in September 2000, UN-Habitat has largely succeeded in meeting the target of taking 100 million people out of slums by the time the MDGs expired in Asia, China and part of India … but not in Africa.

However, Tokunbo Omisore, past president of the African Architects Association, believes that Africa can solve its slums situation by planning and developing towns and cities that strike a balance in the provision of housing, water sanitation, energy and transport while luring investments to create jobs.

According to Omisore, the problem lies in the fact that so far settlements have been developed for people but not with people, and he asks if Africa wants the humane aspects of its cultural values and heritage reflected in its cities or has to replicate the cities of developed nations to become classified as developed.

“Slums and sprawls demand understanding the reasons and problems resulting in their existence and identifying the class of people living there,” says Omisore.

“African governments focus on the infrastructural development of developed nations without consideration for the human development of our different communities and ensuring creation of employment opportunities which is key to the sustainability of our cities. People make the cities, not the other way around.”

By redefining slums, policy-makers in Africa can work more on understanding the rural-urban links to arrive at African solutions for African problems, he argues, calling for a “campaign of marketing Africa and appreciating what is African.”

Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat. Credit: Busani Bafana/IPS

“We must encourage, identify ‎and celebrate the continent. Our schools need to train architects and city planners in no other way than to appreciate and promote African architectural culture.”

At a time Africa is grappling with the issue of land tenure, particularly in agriculture, limited and often expensive land in urban settlements is posing the question of whether Africa should build up or build across, and there are those who argue that densification is the answer to Africa’s housing woes.

At the 2nd Africa Urban Infrastructure Investment Forum hosted by United Cities and Local Government-Africa (UCLG-A) and the government of Angola in Luanda in April,  Aisa Kirabo Kacyira, Assistant Secretary General and Deputy Executive Director of UN-Habitat argued that densification is an avenue for the transformation of Africa and its cities.

“If urbanisation should be possible and if we are going to build landed housing without going up, it simply means it will be expensive, but if we have to densify then we need to go up,” said Kacyira.

“Yes, let us stick to our identity and culture, but let us stick to principles that make economic sense. We are not going to have vibrant cities by running away from the problem and spreading and sprawling.”

Kacyira also argued that by planning, reducing desertification and recycling waste, African cities can help reduce their carbon footprint, a key issue on the post-MDG agenda.

Meanwhile, a Kenya housing project could represent a model for the future of

Housing in Africa. Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, a federation of slum dwellers, has partnered with Shack/Slum Dwellers International to provide decent shelter for people living in slums by creating a low cost three-level house called  ‘The Footprint’, which costs 1,000 dollars.

The project has built 300 houses in two settlements this year. Dwellers pay 20 percent towards the structure and are given support to access a microloan covering 80 percent of the cost.

The UCLG-A network which represents over 1,000 cities in Africa, estimates that Africa needs to mobilise investments of 80 billion dollars a year for upgrading urban infrastructure to meet the needs of urban residents.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Urban Farming Mushrooms in Africa Amid Food Deficitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/urban-farming-mushrooms-in-africa-amid-food-deficits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=urban-farming-mushrooms-in-africa-amid-food-deficits http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/urban-farming-mushrooms-in-africa-amid-food-deficits/#comments Wed, 02 Sep 2015 15:28:42 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142235 Urban farming is mushrooming in Africa as starvation hits even town and city dwellers. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Urban farming is mushrooming in Africa as starvation hits even town and city dwellers. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Sep 2 2015 (IPS)

There is a scramble for unoccupied land in Africa, but this time it is not British, Portuguese, French or other colonialists racing to occupy the continent’s vacant land – it is the continent’s urban dwellers fast turning to urban farming amid the rampant food shortages that have not spared them.

Inadequate wages have aggravated the situation of many, like Agness Samwenje who lives in Harare’s high density Mufakose suburb, and they have found that turning to urban farming is one way of supplementing their supply of food.

Samwenje, a pre-school teacher who took over an open piece of land to cultivate in vicinity to a farm, told IPS that “this mini-farming here is a back-up means to feed my family because the 200 dollars I earn monthly is not enough to support my family after becoming the breadwinner following the death of my husband four years ago, leaving me to care for our three school-going children.”“There is increased rural-to-urban migration in Africa as people seek better employment opportunities which, however, they rarely find and subsequently turn to farming on open pieces of land in towns in order for them to survive because they have no money to buy foodstuffs” –Zambian development expert Mulubwa Nakalonga

“I now spend very little money buying food because crops from my small field here in the city supplement my food,” she added.

For others, like jobless 34-year-old Silveira Sinorita from Mozambique who now lives in the Zimbabwean town of Mutare, urban farming has become their job as they battle to feed their families.

“Without employment, I have found that farming here in town is an answer to my food woes at home because I grow my own potatoes, beans, vegetables and fresh maize cobs, whose surplus I then sell,” Sinorita told IPS.

Pushed to the edge by mounting food deficits, urban farmers in other African countries have even gone beyond mere crop farming. In cities such as Kampala in Uganda and Yaoundé in Cameroon, many urban households are raising livestock, including poultry, dairy cattle and pigs.

Urban farming is mushrooming in Africa’s towns and cities at a time the United Nations is urging nations the world over to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger in line with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), more than 800 million people around the world practise urban agriculture and it has helped cushion them against rising food costs and insecurity, although the U.N. agency also warns that the number of hungry people has risen to over one billion globally, with the “urban poor being particularly vulnerable.”

However, urban farming in Africa is often met with opposition from the authorities where land is owned by local municipalities and agricultural experts say that opposing it makes no sense in the face of growing food insecurity.

“Poverty is not sparing even people living in the cities because jobs are getting scarce on the continent and as a result, farming in cities is fast becoming a common trend as people battle to supplement their foods, this despite urban farming being prohibited in towns and cities here,” government agricultural officer Norman Hwengwere told IPS. Zimbabwe’s local authority by-laws prohibit farming on vacant municipal land.

FAO has also reported that Africa’s market gardens are the most threatened by the continent’s growth spurt because they are typically not regulated or supported by governments, and a recent study has called for governments to become more involved.

In a 2011 research study titled ‘Growing Potential: Africa’s Urban Farmers’, Anna Plyushteva, a PhD student at University College London, argues that greater government involvement is needed for urban agriculture to emerge out of marginality and illegality and deliver greater environmental and social benefits.

“Without official regulation, urban farming can create some serious problems. At present, informal farmers and their produce are exposed to contamination with organic and non-organic pollutants, which is a serious threat to public health,” said Plyushteva.

For independent Zambian development expert Mulubwa Nakalonga, the more people flock to cities, the more pressure they add to the limited resources there.

“There is increased rural-to-urban migration in Africa as people seek better employment opportunities which, however, they rarely find and subsequently turn to farming on open pieces of land in towns in order for them to survive because they have no money to buy foodstuffs,” Nakalonga told IPS.

“Often when people migrate from rural areas anywhere here in Africa, they cling to their agricultural heritage of practices through urban agriculture which you see many practising in towns today to evade hunger,” Nakalonga added.

In the Tanzanian capital of Dar es Salaam, for example, urban gardens in some communities resemble those found in the country’s rural areas from which people migrated.

Despite the opposition elsewhere, some African cities are nevertheless supporting the urban farming trend. The Cape Town local authority in South Africa, for example, introduced its first urban agriculture policy document in 2007, focusing on the importance of urban agriculture for poverty alleviation and job creation.

As FAO projects that there will be 35 million urban farmers in Africa by 2020, it is supporting programmes in some countries to capitalise on the benefits. In the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, FAO’s Urban Horticulture Programme is building on the skills of rural farmers who have come to the cities.

The FAO programme in DRC started in response to the country’s massive rural-to-urban exodus following a five-year conflict and now helps local urban farmers to produce 330,000 tons of vegetables each year, while providing employment and income for 16,000 small-scale market gardeners in the country’s towns and cities.

The country’s urban farmers sell 90 percent of what they produce in urban markets and supermarkets, according to FAO, helping to feed a swelling urban population as Congolese flee the countryside in search of security.

Meanwhile, in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, various groups and agencies have helped popularise the “vertical farm in a bag” concept in which city dwellers create their own gardens using tall sacks filled with soil from which plant life grows.

With hunger hitting both rural and urban African dwellers hard, an increasing number of them believe that urban farming is the way to go.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Impeachment Motion Stirs Political Waters in Somaliahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/impeachment-motion-stirs-political-waters-in-somalia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=impeachment-motion-stirs-political-waters-in-somalia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/impeachment-motion-stirs-political-waters-in-somalia/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 21:16:05 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142222 Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is seen in his presidential office inside Villa Somalia. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is seen in his presidential office inside Villa Somalia. Credit: UN Photo/Stuart Price

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

The impeachment motion Somali parliamentarians filed against President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on Aug. 12 has created a political standoff that might further threaten the country’s stability shortly ahead of planned elections in 2016.

Last week, the envoys of the United Nations, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), the European Union, the United States and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement, calling for a rapid resolution of the crisis and expressing their concern that the motion “will impede progress on Somalia’s peace and state building goals”.

"The chronic bane of Somali elite politics, particularly in the past two decades, has been a toxic cocktail of tribalism, malfeasance, and incompetence. President Hassan Sheikh is the embodiment of this syndrome." -- Ahmed Ismail Samatar, former member of the Somali Federal Parliament
“While we fully respect the right of the Federal Parliament to hold institutions to account and to fulfill its constitutional duties, the submission of any such motion requires a high standard of transparency and integrity in the process and will consume extremely valuable time, not least in the absence of essential legal bodies.”

“Emerging institutions are still fragile. They require a period of stability and continuity to allow Somalia to benefit from the New Deal Somali Compact and to prepare for a peaceful and legitimate transfer of public office in 2016,” the text added.

As a matter of fact, there are important procedural irregularities as well as legal obstacles arising from insufficiently developed institutions that stand in the way of a smooth running of the impeachment process and might indeed cause further political turmoil.

In accordance with article 92 of the Federal Government of Somalia’s (FGS) provisional constitution, the impeachment motion has been submitted by one-third of the members of parliament.

However, as reported by the Somali Current, at least 25 members of parliament out of a total of 93 deputies endorsing the motion claimed their names were used without their consent.

After the submission of the impeachment motion, the following step provided for under articles 92 and 135 of the provisional constitution will be a decision by the Constitutional Court, within 60 days, on the legal grounds of the motion, followed by a two-thirds majority vote in the Parliament.

However, at the time of writing, no Constitutional Court exists in the country – a major obvious hindrance, even though some analysts invoke the possibility of a decision by the Supreme Court acting on the matter instead, following the legal precedent of former article 99 of the 1960 Somali Constitution.

Another major question of debate concerns the charges against President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. As outlined in a press statement by the Somali Federal Parliament, the impeachment motion lists a total of 16 charges against President Hassan, including abuse of power, corruption, looting of public resources, failure to address insecurity, human rights abuses, detentions of political dissidents, interference with the independence of the judiciary and intentional failure to meet the requirements for elections in 2016.

Article 92 (1) states that a deposition of the Somali president can only occur if there are allegations of “treason or gross violations of the constitution”. There is ongoing discussion whether the charges put forth by the parliamentarians present enough legal grounds for the motion to pass.

In a press conference last week, President Mohamud dismissed the charges against him, adding it was not the right moment for an impeachment procedure and accusing individuals of having “special interests” – a possible allusion to deputies seeking term extensions.

This suspicion has also been brought up, in an indirect way, in the above-mentioned joint press statement by the international community:

“We also recall that Somalia and all member states are bound by United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 2232, which sets out the expectations of the international community on the security and political progress needed in Somalia, and the need for an electoral process in 2016 without extension of either the legislative or executive branch,” the statement said.

In an interview with Voice of America, U.N. Envoy to Somalia Nicholas Kay repeated the international criticism of the impeachment motion.

He said, in the context of the upcoming election and ongoing attacks by al-Shabaab militants, Somalia shouldn’t “lose time [on] the political bickering that has brought down governments in the past.”

While some voices are more concerned about the impeachment motion itself as it will likely create further chaos and instability, others emphasise the validity of the charges and the need to hold the President and national institutions accountable.

Ahmed Ismail Samatar is former member of the Somali Federal Parliament. A candidate for the 2012 elections in Somalia, he is now working as professor and chair of International Studies at Macalester College.

Speaking to IPS, he said, “The chronic bane of Somali elite politics, particularly in the past two decades, has been a toxic cocktail of tribalism, malfeasance, and incompetence. President Hassan Sheikh is the embodiment of this syndrome.”

Unlike most international observers, Samatar does not necessarily see the elections in 2016 threatened by the motion: “If carried expeditiously and firmly, the proceedings need not thwart the mounting of the elections in September 2016.”

Last month, President Mohamud declared that he does not expect “one person, one vote” elections to be possible in 2016 due to persisting security challenges. However, he said in an interview with Voice of America, he is “aiming for the next best option” regarding transition of power in 2016.

Opposition parties have reacted angrily to the president’s statement, claiming that he uses the insecurity argument as a pretence to extend his mandate.

President Mohamud was elected in 2012 by a parliament made up of 135 clan elders in what the BBC described as a “U.N.-backed bid to restore normality to the country”.

However, instability, severe economic problems and continuing al-Shabaab attacks as well as the current political crisis seem to suggest that the country still has a long way to go to achieve normality.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Despite Treaty, Conventional Arms Fuel Ongoing Conflictshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/despite-treaty-conventional-arms-fuel-ongoing-conflicts/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-treaty-conventional-arms-fuel-ongoing-conflicts http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/09/despite-treaty-conventional-arms-fuel-ongoing-conflicts/#comments Tue, 01 Sep 2015 20:36:26 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142219 SPLM-N soldiers clean weapons they say they took from government forces. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

SPLM-N soldiers clean weapons they say they took from government forces. Credit: Jared Ferrie/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 1 2015 (IPS)

Despite last year’s Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), the proliferation of conventional weapons, both legally and illegally, continues to help fuel military conflicts in several countries in the Middle East and Africa, including Syria, Iraq, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen.

Described as the first international, legally binding agreement to regulate the trade in conventional arms, the ATT was also aimed at preventing the illicit trade in weapons.

“Arms transfers are still continuing – transfers that states know will contribute to death, injury, rape, displacement, and other forms of violence against human beings and our shared environment." -- Ray Acheson, Director, Reaching Critical Will, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)
But the first Conference of States Parties (CSP1) to the ATT, held in Cancun, Mexico last week, was the first meeting to assess the political credibility of the treaty, which came into force in December 2014.

Ray Acheson, Director, Reaching Critical Will, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), told IPS the failure of CSP1 to adopt robust, comprehensive reporting templates that meet the needs of effective Treaty implementation is disappointing and must be corrected at CSP2, which is to be held in Geneva in 2016.

She said the working group process leading up to CSP2 must be more transparent and inclusive with regards to civil society participation than the process that lead to the provisional reporting templates.

“CSP1 is over, but implementation of the Treaty is just beginning,” she said.

“Arms transfers are still continuing – transfers that states know will contribute to death, injury, rape, displacement, and other forms of violence against human beings and our shared environment,” said Acheson who participated in the Cancun meeting.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Program in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, who also attended the Cancun conference, told IPS that CSP1 was intended to provide the administrative backbone for the implementation of the ATT.

States Parties (the countries that have completed the ratification or accession process) largely succeeded in this effort, she said.

Goldring said CSP1 accomplished a great deal, but the real tests still lie ahead.

The Conference agreed on the basic structures for the new Secretariat to implement the Arms Trade Treaty, but that’s simply a first step.

She said full implementation of the Arms Trade Treaty requires action at the national, regional, and global levels.

One indication of countries’ commitment to the ATT will be the extent to which the countries with substantive and budgetary resources help the countries that lack those capacities, said Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

Some of the world’s key arms suppliers are either non-signatories, or have signed but not ratified the treaty. The ATT has been signed by 130 states and ratified by 72.

The United States, Ukraine and Israel have signed but not ratified while China and Russia abstained on the General Assembly vote on the treaty – and neither has signed it.

The major arms suppliers to sign and ratify the treaty include France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Spain.

The ATT Monitor, published by WILPF, quotes a U.N. report, which says South Sudan spent almost 30 million dollars last year on machine guns, grenade launchers, and other weapons from China, along with Russian armoured vehicles and Israeli rifles and attack helicopters.

The conflict in South Sudan has been triggered by a power struggle between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar: a conflict “which has been fueled with arms from many exporters,” according to the Monitor.

China told the Cancun meeting it would never export weapons that do not relate to its three self-declared principles: that arms transfers must relate to self-defence; must not undermine security; and must not interfere with internal affairs of recipients.

Acheson said the ATT can and must be used as a tool to illuminate, stigmatise, and hopefully prevent arms transfers that are responsible for death and destruction.

By the end of the Conference, she said, States Parties had taken decisions on all of the issues before it, including the location and head of the secretariat; management committee and budget issues; reporting templates; a programme of work for the inter-sessional period; and the bureau for CSP2.

The CSP1 voted for Geneva as home of the treaty’s permanent Secretariat – against two competing cities, namely Vienna, Austria; and Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago – while Dumisani Dladla was selected to head the Secretariat.

Acheson said while most of these items are infrastructural and procedural, they do have implications for how effectively the Treaty might be implemented moving forward.

On the question of transparency, unfortunately, states parties failed to meet real life needs, she added.

States parties also did not adopt the reporting templates that have been under development for the past year. But this is a relief, she added.

States that want to improve transparency around the international arms trade, and most civil society groups, are very concerned that the provisional templates are woefully inadequate and too closely tied to the voluntary and incomprehensive reporting practices of the U.N. Register on Conventional Arms.

“As we conduct inter-sessional work and turn our focus to implementation, we must all act upon the ATT not as a stand-alone instrument but as a piece of a much bigger whole,” she noted.

ATT implementation must be firmly situated in wider considerations of conflict prevention, resolution, and peacebuilding.

Acheson also said the ATT could be useful for confronting and minimising the challenges associated with transparency and accountability.

“It could help prevent atrocities, protect human rights and dignity, reduce suffering, and save lives. But to do so effectively, states parties need to implement it with these goals in mind.”

Commenting on the prepared statements at the high level segment of the conference, Goldring told IPS the United Nations and its subsidiary bodies could save a great deal of time if countries submitted their opening statements electronically in advance of the relevant meetings instead of presenting them orally in plenary sessions.

States Parties were not successful in developing agreed procedures for countries to comply with the mandatory reporting requirements of the ATT.

The group was only able to agree on provisional reporting templates, deferring formal adoption to the second Conference of States parties. This is an extremely important omission.

Goldring said countries reporting on the weapons that were imported or exported or transited their territory is a critical transparency task.

She said reporting needs to be comprehensive and public, and the data need to be comparable from country to country and over time.

“The current templates do not meet these tests,” she said pointing out that another important task will be trying to convince leading suppliers and recipients to join the treaty.

In a pleasant contrast to many U.N. meetings, NGOs were included in both the formal plenary and informal working group sessions.

The Rules of Procedure focus on consensus, but provide sensible options if it’s impossible to achieve consensus. This is a welcome development, as it will make it much more difficult for a small number of countries to block progress, she said.

“But in the end, the most important measure of success will be whether the ATT helps reduce the human cost of armed violence. It’s simply too early to tell whether this will be the case,” Goldring declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe Squabbles While Refugees Diehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/europe-squabbles-while-refugees-die/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europe-squabbles-while-refugees-die http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/europe-squabbles-while-refugees-die/#comments Sun, 30 Aug 2015 16:06:20 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142190 North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

North African immigrants near the Italian island of Sicily. Credit: Vito Manzari from Martina Franca (TA), Italy. Immigrati Lampedusa/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

As tens of thousands of refugees continue to flee conflict-ridden countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, Western European governments and international humanitarian organisations are struggling to cope with a snowballing humanitarian crisis threatening to explode.

Hungary is building a fence to ward off refugees.  Slovakia says it will accept only Christian refugees, triggering a condemnation by the United Nations.

“We have to remember [refugees] are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care." -- Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross
The crisis was further dramatized last week when the Austrians discovered an abandoned delivery truck containing the decomposing bodies of some 71 refugees, including eight women and three children, off a highway outside of Vienna.

Sweden and Germany, which have been the most receptive, have absorbed about 43 percent of all asylum seekers.

But in Germany, despite its liberal open door policy with over 44,000 Syrian refugees registered this year, there have been attacks on migrants, mostly by neo-Nazi groups.

The crisis is likely to get worse, with the United Nations predicting over 3,000 migrants streaming into Western Europe every day – some of them dying on the high seas.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says more than 2,500 refugees have died trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe this year.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire for dehumanizing migrants as “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain”.

Harriet Harman, a British lawyer and a Labour Party leader of the opposition, shot back when she said Cameron “should remember he is talking about people and not insects” and called the use of “divisive” language a “worrying turn”.

The three countries with the largest external borders – Italy, Greece and Hungary – are facing the heaviest inflow of refugees.

The 28-member European Union (EU) remains sharply divided as to how best it should share the burden.

While Western European countries are complaining about the hundreds and thousands of refugees flooding their shores, the numbers are relatively insignificant compared to the 3.5 million Syrian refugees hosted by Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon

The New York Times Saturday quoted Alexander Betts, a professor and director of the Refugees Studies Centre at Oxford University, as saying: “While Europe is squabbling, people are dying.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says the EU is facing one of its worst crises ever, outpacing the Greek financial meltdown, which threatened to break up the Union.

In a hard-hitting statement released Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is “horrified and heartbroken” at the latest loss of lives of refugees and migrants in the Mediterranean and Europe.

He pointed out that a large majority of people undertaking these arduous and dangerous journeys are refugees fleeing from places such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

“International law has stipulated – and states have long recognized – the right of refugees to protection and asylum.”

When considering asylum requests, he said, States cannot make distinctions based on religion or other identity – nor can they force people to return to places from which they have fled if there is a well-founded fear of persecution or attack.

“This is not only a matter of international law; it is also our duty as human beings,” the U.N. chief declared.

Meanwhile, international organisations, including the United Nations, have been calling for “humanitarian corridors” in war zones – primarily to provide food, shelter and medicine unhindered by conflicts.

Francesco Rocca, President of the Italian Red Cross, told IPS: “On our side, we ask for humanitarian corridors, respect for human dignity and respect for Geneva Conventions [governing the treatment of civilians in war zones] for reaching everyone suffering.”

Regarding people on the move – and people fleeing from these conflicts – “we have to remember they are human beings. Often they have no choice but to leave their homes. And they must have unhindered access to basic human rights, in particular the right to protection and health care,” he said.

Rocca said these people don’t want to escape; they love their homes, their teachers, their schools and their friends.

“But these are terrible stories of people who have been driven from their homes by violence in Syria, Sudan and other conflicts. For almost three years we have asked for humanitarian corridors,” but to no avail, he said.

“I strongly support the Red Cross EU Office position on migration and asylum in the EU, which clearly recommends respecting and protecting the rights of migrants whatever their legal status, respecting the dignity and rights of all migrants in border management policies, sharing responsibility in applying a Common European asylum system.”

As far as the Italian Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) are concerned, he said: “We urge for a humanitarian approach to tackling the vulnerabilities of migrants, rather than focusing on their legal status.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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Winning Women a Greater Say in Somaliland’s Policy-Makinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/winning-women-a-greater-say-in-somalilands-policy-making/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 07:45:41 +0000 Katie Riordan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142144 Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Katie Riordan/IPS

Women sport their national pride at the annual Somaliland Independence Day celebration on May 18 in Hargeisa. Advocates argue that a political quota would give women a greater say in their country's policy-making. Credit: Katie Riordan/IPS

By Katie Riordan
HARGEISA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Bar Seed is the only female member in Somaliland’s 82-person Parliament, but activists hope upcoming national elections may end her isolation.

Gender equality advocates in the self-declared nation are currently renewing a push for a quota for women in government that has been over a decade in the making.

“The public’s opinion is changing,” says Seed hopefully.

Somaliland, internationally recognised as a region of Somalia and not as an autonomous nation, nonetheless hosts its own elections and has its own president.  It is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process – to the detriment of the country’s development, activists argue – are women. [Somaliland] is often hailed as a burgeoning democracy that circumvented Somalia’s fate as a failed state. But noticeably absent from the decision-making process are women

With only Seed in Parliament, no women in the House of Elders known as the Guurti, and two female ministers and two deputies, supporters argue that a political quota enshrined in law is necessary to correct this gender imbalance.

“Nobody is going to take a silver platter and present it to women. We aren’t being shy anymore, we are saying: you want my vote? Then earn it,” says Edna Adan, a former foreign minister in Somaliland and founder of the Edna Anan University Hospital, a facility dedicated to addressing gender issues such as female genital mutation (FGM).

Adan has witnessed the debate about women in government evolve over the years, playing out as a political game often filled with empty promises to appoint more women in positions of power.  A measure to enact a political quota has twice failed to pass Somaliland’s legislature, once shot down by Parliament and once stymied by the Guurti.

But Adan believes conditions have ripened for women to make a final push for a quota as they have become more organised and strategic in their lobbying efforts.

While some accuse advocates of “settling” for their current demand of a reserved 10 percent of seats – meaning women would only run against women for eight spots in Parliament – Adan counters that setting the bar higher at the moment is unrealistic.

In addition to pushing for this 10 percent clause in an election law that Parliament is slated to review and debate in the coming months, advocates are also lobbying political parties to have voluntary quotas for their list of parliamentary candidates for seats outside those exclusively reserved for women.

A disputed extension decision made in May that postponed Somaliland’s elections for president, parliament and local councils until at least the end of 2016 and as late as spring 2017 drew the ire of the international community and much of civil society including organisations backing a women’s political quota.  Critics say the extension calls into question Somaliland’s commitment to a democratic process.

But the extra time may prove to be a silver lining for quota lobbyists. It could give them leverage to force politicians to prove their adherence to building an inclusive government in order to appear favourable to their constituents and the international community by pushing for more women in government.

“Women have threatened the parties that if they don’t support us, then we will not support them,” says Seed, who is a member of the Waddani Party, one of Somaliland’s two current opposition parties.

However, she explains that parties often publicly support ideas and mechanisms that push for gender parity but have a poor track record of following through with them. In many ways they have not been obliged to because, historically, women have not voted for other women in meaningful numbers.

“So they know it’s a bit of any empty threat but some are frightened [they could lose female votes],” Seed adds.

Also standing in the way of women is Somaliland’s deeply entrenched tribal and clan system that overshadows politics. In order to win elections, individuals need the support of clan leaders who sway the vote of members of their tribe, explains Seed. But since men are viewed as the stronger candidate, women rarely received clan endorsement.

A woman’s position is also unique in that she often has claims to two clans, the one she is born into and the one that she marries into, though this rarely works to her advantage.

“If a woman goes on to become a minister, both clans would claim her, but if she asks for help, they both tell her to go to the other clan,” said Nura Jamal Hussein, a women’s advocate who is contemplating running for political office.

The Nagaad Network, a local NGO dedicated to the political, economic and social empowerment of women, has been the buttress of the push for a quota. Its current director, Nafisa Mohamed, says that convincing women – who, according to some estimates, are about 60 percent of the voting bloc – to vote for women will be crucial to defying the status quo.

Given the cultural and religious barriers that women contend with, that status quo will be incredibly difficult to change, she says. Mohamed counts small victories like a change in hard-line religious preaching that denounced women’s presence in politics. She says approaching spiritual leaders on an individual basis to garner their support has proved fruitful and that they are generally warming to the idea of women in government.

But the power of religion in shaping public opinion is still palpable.

Mohamed Ali has served in Parliament since it was last elected in 2005. He backs legislation for a quota for women in government.  But asked if a woman could be president, he says it would be contrary to the teachings of the Quran, a view shared by many that IPS talked to.

While he hesitantly admits that he may one day change his views, he says others would accuse him of “not knowing one’s religion” if he advocated a woman for president.

Critics have brushed the quota off as an import from the West and an unnecessary measure that is pushing for change that a country may not be ready to undertake. Some also question if it will genuinely result in its desired effect that political empowerment for women will trickle down to other aspects of life.

Amina Farah Arshe, an entrepreneur, believes that if there was greater focus on economic empowerment for women, more political representation would naturally follow.

“I hate quotas. I want women to vote for themselves without it,” she says.  “But the current situation will not allow for that so we still need it.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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U.N. Chief Warns of Growing Humanitarian Crisis in Northeastern Nigeriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-warns-of-growing-humanitarian-crisis-in-northeastern-nigeria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-warns-of-growing-humanitarian-crisis-in-northeastern-nigeria http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-warns-of-growing-humanitarian-crisis-in-northeastern-nigeria/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 19:38:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142147 U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (left) meets with Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

With over 1.5 million displaced, 800,000 of whom are children, and continuously escalating violence in northeastern Nigeria, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the humanitarian situation as “particularly worrying” during a visit to the country.

Speaking at a press conference on Aug. 24 following a meeting with newly-elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, Ban expressed concern over the “troubling” violence perpetrated by armed extremist group Boko Haram and its impact on civilians.

In an impact assessment report released in April 2015 on the conflict in Nigeria, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) found that in 2014 alone, more than 7,300 people have been killed at the hands of Boko Haram.

As a result of the conflict, access to health services, safe water, and sanitation is extremely limited in northeastern Nigeria. UNICEF found that less than 40 percent of health facilities are operational in the conflict-stricken region, increasing the risk of malaria, measles, and diarrhoea.

Malnutrition rates have soared in northern Nigeria, accounting for approximately 36 percent of malnourished children under five across the entire Sahel region.

UNICEF also reported that women and children are deliberately targeted and abducted in mass numbers for physical and sexual assault, slavery, and forced marriages.

Ban reiterated these findings during a dialogue on democracy, human rights, development, climate change, and countering violent extremism in Abuja on Aug. 24, marking the 500th day of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping.

“I am appealing as U.N. Secretary-General and personally as a father and grandfather. Think about your own daughters. How would you feel if your daughters and sisters were abducted by others?” said Ban while calling for the girls’ unconditional release.

Though the Chibok kidnapping was by far Boko Haram’s largest abduction, Human Rights Watch reported in its 2015 World Report on Nigeria that the extremist group has abducted more than 500 women and girls since 2009.

Amnesty International has also reported brutal “acts which constitute crimes under international law” committed by Nigerian government forces, including the abuse, torture, and extrajudicial killings of detainees. In one case, the national armed forces rounded up a group of 35 men “seemingly at random” and beat them publicly. The men were detained and returned to the community six days later, where military personnel “shot them dead, several at a time, before dumping their bodies.”

Corruption has also been a serious problem within the police force and the government. The International Crisis Group stated that the country has lost more than 400 billion dollars to large-scale corruption since independence in 1960.

“The most effective way to root out this disease is a transparent, fair, and independent process to address corruption in a comprehensive way,” said Ban in his keynote address to the dialogue.

The U.N. chief also stressed on the importance of collaboration in addressing such violent crimes and in alleviating the humanitarian situation, announcing increased humanitarian operations and the provision of training for military operations.

But he dismissed the sole use of military force, stating: “Weapons may kill terrorists. But good governance will kill terrorism.”

Since Boko Haram’s radicalization in 2009, at least 15,000 people have been killed.

The group is opposed to secular authority and seeks to implement Sharia law in northern Nigeria, where widespread poverty and marginalization may also have been contributing factors to the extremists’ rise.

According to Nigeria’s Millennium Development Goals Report, the north has the highest absolute poverty rate in the country, with approximately 66 percent of people living on less than a dollar a day, compared to 55 percent in the south.

In fact, in an April New York Times op-ed, Buhari stated that countering Boko Haram will not only require increased military operations, but also increased attention to social issues such as poverty and education.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Poverty and Slavery Often Go Hand-in-Hand for Africa’s Childrenhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/poverty-and-slavery-often-go-hand-in-hand-for-africas-children/#comments Wed, 26 Aug 2015 08:50:16 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142136 Africa's children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Africa's children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Aug 26 2015 (IPS)

“Poverty has become part of me,” says 13-year-old Aminata Kabangele from the Democratic Republic of Congo. “I have learned to live with the reality that nobody cares for me.”

Aminata, who fled her war-torn country after the rest of her family was killed by armed rebels and now lives as a as a refugee in Zimbabwe’s Tongogara refugee camp in Chipinge on the country’s eastern border, told IPS that she has had no option but to resign her fate to poverty.

Despite the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, African children still stand as the number one victims of suffering and destitution across the continent.“Poverty has become part of me. I have learned to live with the reality that nobody cares for me” – Aminata Kabangele, a 13-year-old refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo

“In every country you may turn to here in Africa, children are at the receiving end of poverty, with high numbers of them becoming orphans,” Melody Nhemachena, an independent social worker in Zimbabwe, told IPS.

Based on a 2013 UNICEF report, the World Bank has estimated that up to 400 million children under the age of 17 worldwide live in extreme poverty, the majority of them in Africa and Asia.

According to human rights activists, the growing poverty facing many African families is also directly responsible for the fate of 200,000 African children that the United Nations estimates are sold into slavery every year.

“Many families in Africa are living in abject poverty, forcing them to trade their children for a meal to persons purporting to employ or take care of them (the children), but it is often not the case as the children end up in forced labour, earning almost nothing at the end of the day,” Amukusana Kalenga, a child rights activist based in Zambia, told IPS.

West Africa is one of the continent’s regions where modern-day slavery has not spared children.

According to Mike Sheil, who was sent by British charity and lobby group Anti-Slavery International to West Africa to photograph the lives of children trafficked as slaves and forced into marriage, for many families in Benin – one of the world’s poorest countries – “if someone offers to take their child away … it is almost a relief.”

Global March Against Child Labour, a worldwide network of trade unions, teachers’ and civil society organisations working to eliminate and prevent all forms of child labour, has reported that a 2010 study showed that “a staggering 1.8 million children aged 5 to 17 years worked in cocoa farms of Ivory Coast and Ghana at the cost of their physical, emotional, cognitive and moral well-being.”

“Trafficking in children is real. Gabon, for example, is considered an Eldorado and draws a lot of West African immigrants who traffic children,” Gabon’s Social Affairs Director-General Mélanie Mbadinga Matsanga told a conference on preventing child trafficking held in Congo’s southern city of Pointe Noire in 2012.

Gabon is primarily a destination and transit country for children and women who are subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 human trafficking report.

In Africa’s most populous country, Nigeria, a study of child poverty showed that over 70 percent of children are not registered at birth while more than 30 percent experience severe educational deprivation. According to UNICEF Nigeria, about 4.7 million children of primary school age are still not in school.

“These boys and girls, some as young as 13-years-old, serve in the ranks of terror groups like Boko Haram, often participating  in suicide operations, and act as spies,” Hillary Akingbade, a Nigerian independent conflict management expert, told IPS.

“Girls here are often forced into sexual slavery while many other African children are abducted or recruited by force, with others joining out of desperation, believing that armed groups offer their best chance for survival,” she added.

Akingbade’s remarks echo the reality of poverty which also faces children in the Central African Republic, where an estimated 6,000 to 10,000 boys and girls became members of armed groups following an outbreak of a bloody civil war in the central African nation in December 2012, according to Save the Children.

Violence plagued the Central African Republic when the country’s Muslim Seleka rebels seized control of the country’s capital Bangui in March 2013, prompting a backlash by the largely Christian militia.

A 2013 report by Save the Children stated that in the Central African Republic, children as young as eight were being recruited by the country’s warring parties, with some of the children forcibly conscripted while others were impelled by poverty.

Last year, the United Nations reported that the recruitment of children in South Sudan’s on-going civil war was “rampant”, estimating that there were 11,000 children serving in both rebel and government armies, some of who had volunteered but others forced by their parents to join armed groups with the hopes of changing their economic fortunes for the better.

Meanwhile, back in the Tongogara refugee camp, Aminata has resigned herself. “I have descended into worse poverty since I came here in the company of other fleeing Congolese and, for many children like me here at the camp, poverty remains the order of the day.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Breaking the Media Blackout in Western Saharahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/breaking-the-media-blackout-in-western-sahara/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=breaking-the-media-blackout-in-western-sahara http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/breaking-the-media-blackout-in-western-sahara/#comments Sun, 23 Aug 2015 08:45:12 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142109 Moroccan security forces charge against a group of Sahrawi women in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Courtesy of Equipe Media

Moroccan security forces charge against a group of Sahrawi women in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Courtesy of Equipe Media

By Karlos Zurutuza
LAAYOUNE, Occupied Western Sahara, Aug 23 2015 (IPS)

Ahmed Ettanji is looking for a flat in downtown Laayoune, a city 1,100 km south of Rabat. He only wants it for one day but it must have a rooftop terrace overlooking the square that will host the next pro-Sahrawi demonstration.

“Rooftop terraces are essential for us as they are the only places from which we can get a graphic testimony of the brutality we suffer from the Moroccan police,” Ettanji told IPS. This 26-year-old is one the leaders of the Equipe Media, a group of Sahrawi volunteers struggling to break the media blackout enforced by Rabat over the territory.

Ahmed Ettanji and a fellow Equipe Media activist edit video taken at a pro-independence demonstration in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Ahmed Ettanji and a fellow Equipe Media activist edit video taken at a pro-independence demonstration in Laayoune, occupied Western Sahara. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

“There are no news agencies based here and foreign journalists are denied access, and even deported if caught inside,” stressed Ettanji.

Spanish journalist Luís de Vega is one of several foreign journalists who can confirm the activist´s claim – he was expelled in 2010 after spending eight years based in Rabat and declared persona non grata by the Moroccan authorities.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences,” de Vega told IPS over the phone, adding that he was “fully convinced” that his was an exemplary punishment because he was the foreign correspondent who had spent more time in Morocco.

“The Western Sahara issue is among the most sensitive issues for journalists in Morocco. Those of us who dare to tackle it inevitably face the consequences” – Spanish journalist Luís de Vega
This year will mark four decades since this territory the size of Britain was annexed by Morocco after Spain pulled out from its last colony of Western Sahara.

Since the ceasefire signed in 1991 between Morocco and the Polisario Front – the authority that the United Nations recognises as a legitimate representative of the Sahrawi people – Rabat has controlled almost the whole territory, including the entire Atlantic coast. The United Nations still labels Western Sahara as a “territory under an unfinished process of decolonisation”.

Mohamed Mayara, also a member of Equipe Media, is helping Ettanji to find the rooftop terrace. Like most his colleagues, he acknowledges having been arrested and tortured several times. The constant harassment, however, has not prevented him from working enthusiastically, although he admits that there are other limitations than those dealing with any underground activity:

“We set up the first group in 2009 but a majority of us are working on pure instinct. We have no training in media so we are learning journalism on the spot,” said Mayara, a Sahrawi born in the year of the invasion who writes reports and press releases in English and French. His father disappeared in the hands of the Moroccan army two months after he was born, and he says he has known nothing about him ever since.

Sustained crackdown

Today the majority of the Sahrawis live in the refugee camps in Tindouf, in Western Algeria. The members of Equipe Media say they have a “fluid communication” with the Polisario authorities based there. Other than sharing all the material they gather, they also work side by side with Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV. SADR stands for ‘Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic’.

Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV in Laayoune. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Hayat Khatari, the only reporter currently working openly for SADR TV in Laayoune. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS

Khatari, a 24-year-old journalist, recalls that she started working in 2010, after the Gdeim Izzik protest camp incidents in Laayoune. Originally a peaceful protest camp, Gdeim Izzik resulted in riots that spread to other Sahrawi cities when it was forcefully dismantled after 28 days on Nov. 8.

Western analysts such as Noam Chomsky have argued that the so-called “Arab Spring” did not start in Tunisia as is commonly argued, but rather in Laayoune.

“We have to work really hard and risk a lot to be able to counterbalance the propaganda spread by Rabat about everything happening here,” Khatari told IPS. The young activist added that she was last arrested in December 2014 for covering a pro-independence demonstration in June 2014. Unlike Mahmood al Lhaissan, her predecessor in SADR TV, Khatari was released after a few days in prison.

In a report released in March, Reporters Without Borders records al Lhaissan´s case. The activist was released provisionally on Feb. 25, eight months after his arrest in Laayoune, but he is still facing trial on charges of participating in an “armed gathering,” obstructing a public thoroughfare, attacking officials while they were on duty, and damaging public property.

In the same report, Reporters Without Borders also denounces the deportation in February of French journalists Jean-Louis Perez and Pierre Chautard, who were reporting for France 3 on the economic and social situation in Morocco.

Before seizing their video recordings and putting them on a flight to Paris, the authorities arrested them at the headquarters of Moroccan Association of Human Rights (AMDH), one of the country’s leading human rights NGOs, which the interior ministry has accused of “undermining the actions of the security forces”.

Likewise, other major organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly denounced human rights abuses suffered by the Sahrawi people at the hands of Morocco over the last decades.

Despite several phone calls and e-mails, the Moroccan authorities did not respond to IPS’s requests for comments on these and other human rights violations allegedly committed in Western Sahara.

Back in downtown Laayoune, Equipe Media activists seemed to have found what they were looking for. The owner of the central apartment is a Sahrawi family. It could have not been otherwise.

“We would never ask a Moroccan such a thing,” said Ettanji from the rooftop terrace overlooking the spot where the upcoming protest would take place.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Climate Change Shrinking Uganda’s Lakes and Fishhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/climate-change-shrinking-ugandas-lakes-and-fish/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=climate-change-shrinking-ugandas-lakes-and-fish http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/climate-change-shrinking-ugandas-lakes-and-fish/#comments Sat, 22 Aug 2015 11:04:31 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142100 Studies show that indigenous fish species in Uganda – here being caught on Lake Victoria – have shrunk in size due to an increase in water temperature as a result of climate change. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

Studies show that indigenous fish species in Uganda – here being caught on Lake Victoria – have shrunk in size due to an increase in water temperature as a result of climate change. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Aug 22 2015 (IPS)

Climate change is reducing the size of several species of fish on lakes in Uganda and its neighbouring East African countries, with a negative impact on the livelihoods of millions people who depend on fishing for food and income.

Studies conducted on inland lakes in Uganda, including Lake Victoria which is shared by three East African countries, indicate that indigenous fish species have shrunk in size due to an increase in temperatures in the water bodies.

“What we are seeing in Lake Victoria and other lakes is a shift in the composition of fish. In the past, we had a dominance of bigger fish but now we are seeing the fish stocks dominated by small fish. This means they are the ones which are adapting well to the changed conditions,” said Dr Jackson Efitre, a lecturer in fisheries management and aquatic sciences at Uganda’s Makerere University.

“So if that condition goes on, he added, “the question is would we want to see our fish population dominated by small fish with little value?”

“We need to provide lake-dependent populations with an alternative for them to survive … If measures cannot be agreed and implemented quickly, then we are condemning those communities to death” – Dr Justus Rutaisire, responsible for aquaculture at Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO)
In Uganda, the fisheries sector accounts for 2.5 percent of the national budget and 12.5 percent of agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). It employs 1.2 million people, generates over 100 million dollars in exports and provides about 50 percent of the dietary proteins of Ugandans.

Efitre was one of the researchers for a study on ‘Application of policies to address the influence of climate change on inland aquatic and riparian ecosystems, fisheries and livelihoods”, which examined the influence of climate variability and change on fisheries resources and livelihoods using lakes Wamala and Kawi in the Victoria and Kyoga lake basins as case studies.

It also looked at the extent to which existing policies can be applied to address the impacts of and any challenges associated with climate change.

The study’s findings showed that temperatures around the two lakes had always varied but had increased consistently by 0.02-0.03oC annually since the 1980s, and that rainfall had deviated from historical averages and on Lake Wamala – although not Lake Kawi – had generally been above average since the 1980s.

According to the study, these findings are consistent with those reported by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 and 2014 for the East African region.

Mark Olokotum, one of the study’s researchers, climate changes have affected the livelihoods of local fishing communities.

“These are fishers who depend on the environment. You either increase on the number of times you fish to get more fish or get more fishing gear to catch more fish. And once that happens, you spend more time fishing, earn much less although the price is high, and there are no fish so people have resorted to eating what is available,” he said.

Olokotum told IPS that the water balance of most aquatic systems in Uganda is determined by rainfall and temperature through evaporation.

He said that about 80 percent of the water gain in Lake Wamala was through rainfall while 86 percent of the loss was through evaporation, resulting in a negative water balance and the failure of the lake to retain its historical water levels.

“Therefore, although rainfall in the East African region is expected to increase as a result of climate change, this gain may be offset by increased evaporation associated with increases in temperature unless the increases in rainfall outweigh the loss through evaporation,” Olokotum explained.

These changes have made life more difficult for people like Clement Opedum and his eight sons who have traditionally depended on lakes as a source of food and income.

Opedum’s living has always come from the waters of Lake Wamala. In the past, sales of tilapia fish from the lake to neighbouring districts were brisk; and some would be bought by traders from the Democratic Republic of Congo, sustaining his family and other fishermen.

Those days are now gone. Over the years, the lake has steadily retreated from its former shores, leaving Opedum and his neighbours high and dry, and faced with the prospect that the lake could vanish entirely.

Charles Lugambwa, another fisherman in the same area, has been obliged to turn to farming, and he now grows yams, sweet potatoes and beans on land that was previously under the waters of the lake.

Lugambwa told IPS that apart from tilapia fish, other species have started disappearing from the lake in 30 or so years he has lived there.  “In 1994, the lake dried up completely but came back in 1998 following heavy rains,” he told IPS. “We used to catch very big tilapia but now they are quite tiny even though they are adult fish.”

Scientists and researchers argue that the causes of lake shrinking include water evaporation, increased cultivation on banks, cutting down of trees and destruction of wetlands, while the reduction in the size of tilapia has been linked to increased lake water temperature as a result of global warming.

Dr Richard Ogutu-Ohwayo, senior research officer at the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute (NaFFIRI) told IPS that the response to the impacts of climate change in Uganda had been concentrated on crops, livestock and forestry with almost no concern for the fisheries sector.

“It is high time government took the bold step to bring aquatic ecosystems and fisheries fully on board in its climate change responses,” he said.

According to Ogutu-Ohwayo, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the East African Community Policy on Climate Change commit states to building capacity, generating knowledge, and identifying adaptation and mitigation measures to reduce the impacts of climate change, however these have barely been implemented.

Ogutu-Ohwayo who was part of the lake study research team, told IPS that Uganda has a water policy which provides for protection and management of water resources, and “we must apply these policies to manage the water resources of lakes Wamala, Kawi and other lakes through integrated approaches such as protecting wetlands, lake shores and river banks and controlling water extraction.”

Like other East African nations, Uganda has relied heavily on capture fisheries, or wild fisheries, with a tendency to marginalise aquaculture as far as resource allocation and manpower development is concerned.

With climate change leading to a decline in the size and stocks of wild fish and capture fisheries, fisheries experts are saying wild fish and capture fisheries from lakes alone can no longer meet the demand for fish, both for local consumption and export.

Fish processing plants around Lake Victoria, for example, are now operating at less than 50 percent capacity, while some have closed down.

Dr Justus Rutaisire, responsible for aquaculture at Uganda’s National Agriculture Research Organisation (NARO), told IPS that aquaculture could be used as one of the adaptation measures to help communities that have depended on fish to supplement capture fisheries.

He noted, however, that the development of aquaculture in most Eastern African countries is constrained by low adoption of appropriate technologies, inadequate investment in research and inadequate aquaculture extension services.

“We need to provide lake-dependent populations with an alternative for them to survive and that is why we are asking government to invest in aquaculture,” said Rutaisire. ”If measures cannot be agreed and implemented quickly, then we are condemning those communities to death,” he warned.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Prospects for Peace in South Sudan Fading Fasthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/prospects-for-peace-in-south-sudan-fading-fast/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=prospects-for-peace-in-south-sudan-fading-fast http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/prospects-for-peace-in-south-sudan-fading-fast/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 13:29:16 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142024 A man at a political rally held by Salva Kiir, President of the Republic of South Sudan, in Juba, March 18, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy

A man at a political rally held by Salva Kiir, President of the Republic of South Sudan, in Juba, March 18, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Isaac Billy

By a Global Information Network correspondent
JUBA, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

Dismissing efforts, including those of U.S. President Barack Obama, to sign off on a peace agreement and end the 20-month-long civil war in the world’s newest nation, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir declined to sign, saying he needed more time for consultations.

President Kiir’s team reportedly had “reservations” over the deal and wanted an additional 15 days before returning to sign, Seyoum Mesfin, mediator for IGAD, a regional group, told the media.

Rebel leader and former Vice-President Riek Machar did sign the agreement.

Among the issues in dispute were the structure of the government, the powers of the president, and the vice president, power-sharing percentages, security issues, and the demilitarisation of Juba and other places.

Then, in a move that would add fuel to the fire, President Kiir on Monday removed four elected state governors and arrested one of them.

The actions by the South Sudanese leader threw the U.S. strategy into a tailspin. A State Department release expressed “deep regret” for the failure to sign a peace proposal by Monday’s deadline.

“The United States deeply regrets that the government of South Sudan chose not to sign … We call on the government to sign the agreement within the 15-day period it requested for consultations,” State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters at his daily briefing.

Meanwhile, a film that shows that cost of war and colonial exploitation in South Sudan, opened in New York on Monday. The film, “We Come As Friends” is a work by Austrian-born filmmaker Hubert Sauper who previously made the film “Darwin’s Nightmare,” a film about Uganda.

That film, nominated for the Academy Award, “sifted through the wreckage of globalization by way of the fishing export industry in Lake Victoria, the impact on local Tanzanians, and a fast-and-loose subculture of Russian cargo-plane pilots.

“We Come as Friends” is firmly rooted in reality, wrote The New York Times in a review. “The ‘land grab’ confirmed in the nighttime scene with the tribal leader has occurred frequently, in Sudan and elsewhere, said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the think tank Oakland Institute, which has studied such issues.

“It’s not one of a kind — it’s not a small trend; it’s widespread,” Ms. Mittal said of the kind of “resource theft” that Sauper depicts.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Chief, Seeking Accountability, Shatters Myth of Lifetime Jobshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-seeking-accountability-shatters-myth-of-lifetime-jobs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-chief-seeking-accountability-shatters-myth-of-lifetime-jobs http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-chief-seeking-accountability-shatters-myth-of-lifetime-jobs/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 21:21:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142000 Babacar Gaye resigned his post as Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) this week. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Babacar Gaye resigned his post as Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) this week. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stopped short of telling one his high-ranking Special Representatives: “You’re fired.”

If he did, he was only echoing the now-famous words of a U.S. presidential candidate, Donald Trump, who is best known for frequently dismissing his staffers, using that catch phrase, in a long-running reality TV show.

Following the alleged outrageous rape of a 12-year girl by peacekeeping troops in the Central African Republic (CAR) — adding to 11 other cases of sexual abuse in the battle-scarred country — the secretary-general unceremoniously forced the resignation of his highest-ranking official, Babacar Gaye of Senegal.

The dismissal has been described as “unprecedented” in the 70-year history of the United Nations.

As U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told reporters: “It is not something that I have seen in terms of Special Representatives in the field in the 15 years that I’ve been here, an action taken like this by a Secretary‑General.”

An "Unprecedented" Sacking

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general and head of the Department of Public Information, told IPS firing of a Special Envoy is exceptional.

In this particular case, the Secretary General made his point in an unprecedented manner.

In previous cases, he said, a Secretary General would send a discreet message about the need to resign “for personal reasons” or transferred elsewhere until a contract expired.

Envoys usually have different, more limited contracts than regular staff.

For a long period, and in order to build a dedicated international civil service that would withstand taking instructions from those other than the Secretary General, a “career contract” was offered, normally after five to 10 years of proven competence.

Appointment and Promotion bodies jointly selected by the Administration and staff would review and ensure a valid transparent competitive process.

“I had served for years as Chairman after Kofi Annan left to take over Peacekeeping,” he said.

Regrettably, these bodies were abolished after Annan became Secretary General --apparently to give senior manager more leeway in selecting their own staff.

Also contractual arrangements were changed mainly under pressures that sought to influence staff policy attitudes.

That substantive shift eroded the spirit of International Civil Servants who habitually were drawn from the widest cultural and geographic backgrounds, demoralising the existing staff and leading to weakening the main base of the Secretary General's authority.

But in a bygone era, U.N. jobs, like most dictatorial Third World presidencies, were for life – until you hit the retirement age of 60 (or 62 now, and 65 in the future).

The most that would happen for any infractions is a U.N. staffer taking early retirement – either gracefully or disgracefully.

The rule is best exemplified in a long running anecdote here of a secretary, enraged at her boss, who picked up her typewriter and threw it at him, many moons ago. But because she held a life-time job, so the story goes, she couldn’t be fired from her job.

However, the end result was a memo from the human resources department to all divisional heads at the U.N. urging them to nail all typewriters to their desks.

The story may be apocryphal but it reflected the long standing professional lifestyle at the 39-storeyed glass house by the East River.

Ian Richards, President of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), told IPS: “I cannot recall a political appointee being fired.”

The usual practice, even for incompetent assistant secretaries-general (ASGs) or under-secretaries-general (USGs), has been to let their contracts lapse, or ease them out by retiring them or moving them sideways to a non-job, he said.

“Cases of staff being terminated are very rare and usually for disciplinary reasons. However, there have been cases where contracts have not been renewed, usually citing performance difficulties, but which we believe to have been abusive circumstances. But it’s thankfully rare,” said Richards.

Where there is a big concern going forward is the General Assembly’s approval of a new mobility policy under which appointments and moves of D-1 and D-2 staff – both at director levels — will be managed by the Secretary-General’s office (making them virtually political appointments and not regular staffers).

“This could have serious repercussions as those who don’t toe the line could be threatened with a move to an undesirable duty station,” he added.

In closed-door consultations with the 15-member Security Council Thursday, the secretary general said: “I cannot express strongly enough my distress and shame over reports of sexual exploitation and the abuse of power by U.N. forces, police or civilian personnel.”

With respect to the allegations and cases in the Central African Republic, the time had come for a strong signal that leaders will be held responsible, he said.

“This is why I asked for the resignation of General Babacar Gaye despite his long and illustrious service to the United Nations.”

Ban said an effective response demands accountability — individual, leadership, command level, as well accountability by the Organisation and by Member States.

“In the case of peacekeeping missions, accountability begins at the top, with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and carries through each level of management and command.”

On Friday, he convened an extraordinary meeting of his Special Representatives, Force Commanders and Police Commissioners in all 16 peacekeeping missions to send the unequivocal message that they are obligated – every day and every night – to enforce the highest standards of conduct for all.

He also said it is critical that Troop Contributing Countries take swift action to appoint national investigation officers, conclude investigations and hold perpetrators accountable.

It is squarely their responsibility to ensure justice and to communicate to the Secretariat the results of their actions.

“All too often this is not done quickly enough – and in the most frustrating cases, it is not done at all,” Ban said.

“When the Secretariat does receive information about the actions taken in substantiated cases of sexual exploitation and abuse, I am frustrated by what appear to be far too lenient sanctions for such grave acts affecting men, women and, all too often, children.”

A failure to pursue criminal accountability for sexual crimes is tantamount to impunity, he warned.

“That injustice is a second blow to the victims – and a tacit pass for the crimes we are trying so hard to end.”

Referring to the firing of the Special Representative, Dujarric told reporters: “As you know, the Secretary-General did not take this action based on one particular case.”

He took it based on the repeated number of cases of sexual abuse and misconduct that have taken place in the Central African Republic.

“According to our numbers, we had 57 allegations of possible misconduct in the Central African Republic reported since the beginning of the mission in April 2014. And that includes 11 cases of sexual abuse, possible sexual abuse. Those cases are being investigated,” he added.

Deployed in early 2014, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the CAR, known by the French acronym MINUSCA and headed by the dismissed Gaye, has been trying to defuse sectarian tensions across that country.

More than two years of civil war and violence have displaced thousands of people amid ongoing clashes between the mainly Muslim Séléka alliance and anti-Balaka militia, which are mostly Christian, according to the United Nations.

In addition, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a militant group, continues to operate in the south-eastern part of the country.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Zimbabwe’s Forest Carbon Programme Not All It Seemshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/zimbabwes-forest-carbon-programme-not-all-it-seems/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 10:47:42 +0000 Ignatius Banda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141986 Rain forest in Zimbabwe, where the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding, and comes down to the question of land and whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land. Credit: By Ninara/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Rain forest in Zimbabwe, where the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding, and comes down to the question of land and whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land. Credit: By Ninara/CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Ignatius Banda
BULAWAYO, Zimbabwe, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

The efficacy of attempts to sustainably manage forests and conserve and enhance forest carbon stocks in Zimbabwe is increasingly coming under scrutiny as new research warns that the politics of access and control over forests and their carbon is challenging conventional understanding.

It all comes down to the question of land and of whether local rural communities can benefit if they are not the owners of land.

Even where they do “own” land, say researchers, these communities often find themselves competing with other players driven by different economic considerations, nullifying the very ideals being pushed under the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

“Carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected … multiple conflicts have emerged between landowners, forest users and project developers” – Ian Scones
Despite the country’s agrarian reform programme, under which land was redistributed to millions of landless local communities, the state remains the biggest landowner, raising questions about community empowerment and the ownership of forests.

With researchers pointing to a spike in the demand for land based not only on rural population growth but also on people reportedly moving to rural areas, there is no doubt that any increase in the rural population brings with it increased demand for natural resources.

“The demand on natural resources for land is growing year on year at a rate which is not sustainable,” says Steve Wentzel, director of Carbon Green Africa, and this will mean reforestation in the millions, with these trees being planted on plots that do not belong to local communities at a time when some farmers are decimating forest cover by using firewood to cure their tobacco.

The promise held out by REDD+ was that through reforestation and by reducing emissions, communities would then have access to or earn certified emission reduction credits to be sold to or traded with the worst polluters to meet their own emission reduction targets, yet it is clear that like any economic transaction, those who owns the means of production profit most.

Land is still owned either by the state or big business, with little cascading to the “bottom billion” as some economists have called the world’s poor, and landowners and the rich industrialised countries benefit at the expense of rural communities.

According to Ian Scoones, co-editor with Melissa Leach of a recently published book titled Carbon Conflicts and Forest Landscapes in Africa, “carbon forestry projects – as previous interventions in forest use, ownership and management – have not been the panacea some had expected.”

Scoones says that “multiple conflicts have emerged between landowners, forest users and project developers. Achieving a neat market-based solution to climate mitigation through forest carbon projects is not straightforward.”

On Zimbabwe’s REDD+ project, which has covered 1.4 million hectares under Carbon Green Africa, Scoones says that “as notional ‘traditional’ and ‘administrative’ owners of the land, they [rural communities] should have the authority. But they are pitched against powerful forces with other ideas about resource and economic priorities.”

Civil society organisations (CSOs) here argue that this explains why rural communities get the shorter end of the stick.

Meanwhile, a recent brief from Zimbabwe’s climate ministry noted that “rich countries have barely kept the promise” of meeting their pledges, casting doubts on whether rural communities will in fact trade any anticipated carbon credits for cash.

The rural poor could well be saying “show us the money” by 2020, the year targeted in Cancun, Mexico, for emission reduction pledges.

Climate and environment ministry officials agree that land ownership under REDD+ has remained a sticking point in its dialogue with CSOs on how local communities may derive premium dividend from forest carbon projects.

“CSOs represent the interests of local communities and lack of safeguards has made this issue an area of divergence between governments and CSOs,” says Veronica Gundu, acting deputy director in the Climate Change Management Department of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate.

“They (CSOs) are pushing for clarity on land ownership and the benefits to the local communities because they view the current regime of implementation to be beneficial only to the project implementers and leaving out the locals,” Gundu told IPS.

However, Wentzel of Carbon Green Africa which is implementing Zimbabwe’s sole REDD+ project in the Zambezi valley, told IPS: “As it stands the people of these districts are the rightful beneficiaries of revenue generated from their natural resources even if they are not titled land owners.”

Edited by Phil Harris 

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U.N. Launches Second Abuse Probe of Peacekeepers in CARhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-launches-second-abuse-probe-of-peacekeepers-in-car/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-launches-second-abuse-probe-of-peacekeepers-in-car http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-launches-second-abuse-probe-of-peacekeepers-in-car/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 16:39:47 +0000 Aruna Dutt http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141978 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists Aug. 12 on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians by UN forces, particularly in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists Aug. 12 on allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse of civilians by UN forces, particularly in the Central African Republic. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Aruna Dutt
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

It was two a.m. on Aug. 2 as peacekeeping forces from the U.N. Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) searched for a criminal suspect in the PK5 Muslim enclave of the capital city of Bangui.

As one house was searched, the men were taken away, the women and crying children were brought together by yelling troops, and a 12-year-old girl hid in the bathroom out of fear, according to accounts by the girl and her family."It is a small minority of troops who are directly responsible. However it is a system-wide problem. The people who commit these abuses think they can get away with them." -- Joanne Mariner

The girl was allegedly dragged out of the bathroom by one of the blue-helmet troops, where she says she was groped, taken behind a truck and raped. A medical examination later found evidence of sexual assault.

“When I cried, he slapped me hard and put his hand over my mouth,” the girl told Amnesty International.

One of her sisters recalled: “When she returned from the back of the courtyard, she cried ‘mama’ and fainted. We brought her inside the house and splashed water on her to revive her.”

“I had her sit in a pan of hot water,” the mother explained — a traditional method of treating sexual abuse.

Amnesty International heard about the incident almost immediately, and spent the past week conducting an intensive investigation.

If the allegations prove to be true, it would not be the first incident of misconduct and abuse by U.N. peacekeepers in the Central African Republic (CAR). In May, leaked documents showed that high-level U.N. staff knew of sexual abuses by soldiers in CAR and failed to act, all while planning the removal of U.N. whistleblower Anders Kompass.

The documents showed that the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had evidence of abuse by the soldiers on May 19, 2014. Then, during a June 18 interview, a 13-year-old boy said he couldn’t number all the times he’d been forced to perform oral sex on soldiers but the most recent had been between June 8 and 12, 2014 – several weeks after the first UNICEF interview.

Twenty-three soldiers from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea were implicated in the abuse, according to one of the reports. In June, the U.N. set up an External Independent Review (EIR) to probe the allegations.

In addition to the alleged rape of the 12-year-old girl, the more recent incident included the fatal shootings of two civilians, a young boy and his father.

Balla Hadji, 61, and his son Souleimane Hadji, 16, were struck by bullets in front of their house. Balla was apparently shot in the back, while Souleimane was shot in the chest. A neighbour who witnessed the killings told Amnesty International that “they [the peacekeepers] were going to shoot at anything that moved.”

On Wednesday, U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon announced that the U.N. envoy to CAR, Babacar Gaye, had resigned his post.

“The initial response of the U.N. was very lackadaisical,” Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Response Advisor, Joanne Mariner, told IPS. “It wasn’t until we issued a press release and it got international attention that suddenly the system kicked in and action was taken.”

“It is a small minority of troops who are directly responsible. However it is a system-wide problem. The people who commit these abuses think they can get away with them. They are not trained well enough to carry out their duties in the appropriate way.”

She noted that “The U.N. has no power to prosecute them, and that does create a structural tension. It’s the U.N.’s responsibility to put pressure on its Member States to prosecute these individuals.”

“We have not seen the U.N. being vigilant or active enough on these issues. There has been much more talk than real action,” Mariner said. “We are just trying to make sure that the UN is doing what it should be doing.”

U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon said, “I want to be clear that this problem goes far beyond one mission or one conflict or one person. Sexual exploitation and abuse is a global scourge and a systemic challenge that demands a systemic response.”

He said sexual abuse and exploitation in Central African Republic would be investigated further by a high-level external independent panel, and he urged victims to feel safe in coming forward.

“I have been often asking Member States to provide more female police officers, because many victims feel very shamed in coming out to bring these crimes, so we really need to have these victims come out.”

“I will not tolerate any action that causes people to replace trust with fear. Those who work for the United Nations must uphold our highest ideals,” Ban said, adding that the forces are not completely accountable to the U.N., but to their home countries.

“I want Member States to know that I cannot do this alone,” Ban added. “They have the ultimate responsibility to hold individual uniformed personnel to account and they must take decisive preventive and punitive action. They should be brought to justice in accordance with their national laws.”

“Before [troops] are being deployed, [Member States] should educate and train them properly for the importance of human rights and human dignity.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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South African Women’s Day Highlights Need for More Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/south-african-womens-day-highlights-need-for-more-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-african-womens-day-highlights-need-for-more-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/south-african-womens-day-highlights-need-for-more-change/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 17:10:07 +0000 a Global Information Network correspondent http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141950 By a Global Information Network correspondent
JOHANNESBURG, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

Recognition of the indispensable role played by women in defeating apartheid was the focus of countless speeches, film showings and even fashion shows as the country paused this week for National Women’s Day, a public holiday.

Women’s Affairs Minister Susan Shabangu kicked off the activities with a speech on Pan African Women’s Day, celebrated on the last day of July.

“This year marks 59 years since the 1956 Women’s march to the Union Buildings where women protested against the pass laws which among other things restricted their freedom of movement,” she began.

“The march by 20,000 women challenged an oppressive system that deepened inequalities in terms of race and gender, and contributed to the current triple challenges of inequality, unemployment, and poverty.”

The Minister urged citizens to “take a journey” beginning from the era of Manthatise (the female warrior), Princess Mnkabayi, Princess Mantsopa, Queen Modjadji, Charlotte Maxeke and her ilk through to the generation of 1956 and beyond.

“This journey depicts the leadership role that these foremothers provided in the various stages of the evolution of our society and links it to the 21st Anniversary of the democratic South Africa and the impact of the policies of the country in changing the quality of life of South African women.”

Women have made major strides and are no longer “at the bottom, almost slaves,” observed the former ANC leader Dr. Ruth Mompati, who passed earlier this year in May. “Now women are in Parliament, at all educational levels, holding positions in business.”

Still, more needed to be done, she said at the time. “We should ask what our country should be doing – particularly a country that has been liberated by both men and women.”

Media activist Gugulethu Mhlungu picked up the challenge, citing a report released by President Jacob Zuma during his National Women’s Day address.

“Earlier this week, the 2015 Women’s Report confirmed what we already knew,” she said. “Women in South Africa are still, on average, paid 15 percent less than men in the same positions. And that’s a conservative estimate.

During Women’s Month, she said, the issue of gender inequality is seen as a special cause and worse, it gives men a free pass.

“Much like Youth Month, where only black youths are expected to do something about fixing society, the work of ending female oppression in South Africa is largely seen as the work of women themselves.

Even the Department of Women’s theme for 2015 – Women united in moving South Africa forward – suggests this is a job just for the women. “It’s catchy and has the right sentiment – but for another year we will focus on what women must do, which women are already doing.”

Pres. Zuma, in his speech, acknowledged the legacy of white privilege which still discriminates against black women today.

“If we are to succeed economically as a country, women must participate at both the micro and macro levels of the economy. They must not be relegated to micro operations and the informal economy as has been the case.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Head of State Who Keeps U.N. Guessing in Annual Ritualhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/head-of-state-who-keeps-u-n-guessing-in-annual-ritual/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=head-of-state-who-keeps-u-n-guessing-in-annual-ritual http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/head-of-state-who-keeps-u-n-guessing-in-annual-ritual/#comments Fri, 07 Aug 2015 16:09:39 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141907 Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, President of the Republic of the Sudan, addresses the general debate of the sixty-first session of the General Assembly, at UN Headquarters in New York in 2006, prior to his indictment by the ICC. Credit: UN Photo/Marco Castro

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 7 2015 (IPS)

As part of a politically-amusing annual ritual, the guessing game is on at the United Nations: will he, or will he not, address the General Assembly, along with more than 150 heads of state who are due in New York next month?

Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who has been indicted on war crimes charges by the International Criminal Court (ICC), is reportedly toying with the idea of defying the international community once again – as he did in South Africa in June — and appearing before the U.N.’s highest policy making body when it begins its general debate, come Sep. 28.“Even though we’re not a party to the Rome statute of the ICC, we have strongly supported the ICC’s efforts to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. So I’ll just leave it at that.” -- U.S. State Department deputy spokesperson Mark Toner

This will be his third attempt to address the General Assembly, the last two being aborted.

However, his proposed visit to New York this time has been accompanied, as usual, by a rash of widespread rumours: will he be arrested on his way from the airport and handed over to the ICC? Does the United States, which is not a party to the ICC statute, have the legitimate right to do so?

Elise Keppler, Acting Director, International Justice Programme at Human Rights Watch, told IPS, “Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir belongs in one place only, the International Criminal Court, where he faces outstanding warrants for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur.”

“A visit by al-Bashir to the U.N. would not only be an affront to Darfuri victims, but a brazen challenge to the U.N. Security Council, which was responsible for sending Darfur to the ICC for investigation in the first place in 2005,” she added.

Still, will the U.S. Embassy in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum provide him with an entry visa which the United States has rarely denied to visiting heads of state because it is mandated to facilitate the working of the United Nations under what is called the Headquarters Agreement with the host country?

But so far neither the United Nations nor the U.S. State Department is willing to provide any answers.

Asked about the proposed visit, Mark Toner, the U.S. State Department’s deputy spokesperson told reporters: “We’ve seen reports that President Bashir plans to speak at the U.N. summit in September – Summit for Development. We don’t have any further information at this time.”

“We can’t, frankly, talk about individual visa cases or disclose any details from it. We’re prohibited by law from doing so,” he said.

More broadly, “Even though we’re not a party to the Rome statute of the ICC, we have strongly supported the ICC’s efforts to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity and genocide in Darfur. So I’ll just leave it at that.”

Asked if the Sudanese president will be arrested if he arrived in New York, Toner said: “Again, I’m not going to get out and speak to hypotheticals. We haven’t received any word that he’s intending to go there. And frankly, if we did, I couldn’t speak to it from here. Sorry about that.”

Addressing the U.N.’s Legal Committee last year, Hassan Ali, a senior Sudanese diplomat, told delegates, “The democratically-elected president of Sudan, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, had been deprived of the opportunity to participate in the General Assembly (last year) because the host country, the United States, had denied him a visa, in violation of the U.N.-U.S. Headquarters Agreement.”

Furthermore, he complained, the host country also applied arbitrary pressures on foreign missions, “depending on how close a country’s foreign policy is to that of the United States.”

“It was a great and deliberate violation of the Headquarters Agreement,” he said, also pointing to the closing of bank accounts of foreign missions and diplomats as another violation.

“Those missions have now been without bank accounts for some three years,” he added.

A denial of a U.S. visa amounts to violations of specific international agreements such as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, and particularly the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, entered into by the U.S. and the U.N. in 1947 and unanimously ratified by Congress.

In response to the U.S. refusal to grant a visa to Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat in 1988, the General Assembly had to move its meeting to Geneva at huge expense and inconvenience.

In June al-Bashir, in complete defiance of the international community, participated in an African Union (AU) summit meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa.

But he left the country hours before a South African court issued an interim order to prevent the president from leaving the country.

Peppered with questions early this week, U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq, was non-committal.

“Well, I don’t speak on behalf of the ICC, but what is clear and what the Secretary-General has said repeatedly is that he believes that the Member States of the U.N. system need to take the warrant issued by the International Criminal Court seriously, and, of course, as you know, there are relevant resolutions of the Security Council also about this matter, which we expect the Member States will abide by.”

Asked if al-Bashir will be visiting the U.N., Haq said “Well…at this stage, I’m not… I’m not aware that this is confirmed. I am aware of what the (Sudanese) Permanent Mission has said on this, but at this stage, I’m not aware of what the arrangements are for this.”

“And we’ll have to see how that goes. But certainly, we have continued to treat the matter of the ICC prosecutions regarding Darfur seriously, and we believe all Member States should do so,” he added.

Pressed further on the issue of a U.S. visa, Haq said the basic understanding is that the Heads of State and Government who come for the general debate will be able to come to the United States in order to speak (at the U.N.)

“As you know, there have been some disputes about this over the years, but the general rule has been that,” he noted.

Asked if the United States could refuse a visa and not let him into the country, or arrest him at the airport, even though the U.S. is not a signatory to the ICC, Haq said: “That would essentially be a matter to ask the United States Government… I wouldn’t comment on what they may or may not do.”

Asked if it is his understanding that immunity would attach to all Heads of State in transit between the arrival point in the United States and the U.N. Headquarters, Haq said, “It is basically a question based on a speculative question, so I wouldn’t go further on that realm of speculation.”

“Regarding the issue of immunity, that is covered in a number of treaties including the Vienna Conventions, and I would just refer you to those,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Ugandan Women Hail Partial Success Over “Bride Price” Systemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/ugandan-women-hail-partial-success-over-bride-price-system/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ugandan-women-hail-partial-success-over-bride-price-system http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/ugandan-women-hail-partial-success-over-bride-price-system/#comments Fri, 07 Aug 2015 09:35:48 +0000 Wambi Michael http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141897 A Ugandan marriage ceremony known as ‘kuhingira’ at which the groom pays a ‘bride price’. The country’s Supreme Court has now ruled that refunding them if the marriage breaks up is unconstitutional. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

A Ugandan marriage ceremony known as ‘kuhingira’ at which the groom pays a ‘bride price’. The country’s Supreme Court has now ruled that refunding them if the marriage breaks up is unconstitutional. Credit: Wambi Michael/IPS

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Aug 7 2015 (IPS)

After years of a protracted battle against Uganda’s “bride price” practice, the country’s Supreme Court this week ruled that husbands can no longer demand that it be returned in the event of dissolution of a customary marriage but has stopped short of declaring the practice itself unconstitutional.

In a country in which most marriages are customary, women’s rights activists have hailed the decision as a step in the right direction for greater equality in the marriage relationship but had hoped that the court would rule the bride price – or dowry – itself unconstitutional.

In Uganda, the bride price is the gift that is given as a token of appreciation by grooms to the families of their brides. Traditionally, it takes the forms of cows or goats, besides money, and some tribes have recently been demanding articles such as sofas and refrigerators among others.

The legal battle over “bride prices” started back in 2007 when MIFUMI, a non-governmental women’s rights organisation based in Kampala, filed a petition to Uganda’s Constitutional Court, seeking to have them declared unconstitutional.“Refund of the bride price connotes that a woman is on loan and can be returned and money recovered. This compromises the dignity of a woman" – Uganda’s Chief Justice Bert Katureebe

MIFUMI, whose work revolves around the protection of women and children experiencing violence and other forms of abuse, argues that if women are empowered they can rise above many of the cultural traditions, such as bride price, that hold them back, blocking their potential contribution to development.

The MIFUMI petition argued that the demand for and payment of bride price by the groom to the parents of the bride, as practised by many communities in Uganda, gives rise to conditions of inequality during marriage contrary to the country’s constitutional provisions which guarantee that men and women be accorded equal rights in marriage and its dissolution.

In 2010, however, the Constitutional Court ruled that the bride price was constitutional, with just one judge, Amos Twinomujuni (who has since died) dissenting, arguing that the main issue at stake was women’s equality and that the bride price was a source of domestic violence.

Undeterred, MIFUMI decided to appeal to the country’s Supreme Court and finally, in a 6-1 decision, the judges have ruled that the act of refunding the bride price is contrary to the country’s constitution regarding equality in contracting marriage, during marriage and in its dissolution.

Lead Justice Jotham Tumwesigye observed that it was unfair for the parents of the woman to be asked to refund the bride price after years of marriage and that it in any case it was unlikely that the parents of the bride would have kept anything involved in the bride price on hand for refunding.

Justice Tumwesigye further argued that one effect of the bride’s parents no longer having bride price goods or cash to refund could force a married woman into a situation of marital abuse for fear that her parents would be in trouble owing to their inability to refund the bride price.

Uganda’s Chief Justice Bert Katureebe, one of the six judges, ruled that “refund of the bride price connotes that a woman is on loan and can be returned and money recovered. This compromises the dignity of a woman.”

The judges of the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that referring to bridal gifts as bride price reduces its significance to a mere market value.

Solomy Awiidi, a legal officer with MIFUMI told IPS after the judgment that she was happy that ruling had partly struck off some of the cultural practice that has held women hostage in abusive marriages.

She said much as MIFUMI had wanted the whole issue of bride price totally abolished, the fact that court had ruled against refund was something to celebrate after 15 years of struggle against the practice.

“There are fathers and brothers of brides facing civil suit because they failed to return the bride price, while thousand if not millions of women across the country who have been abused because of failure to refund the bride price. This ruling will liberate many of them,” said Awiidi.

Kampala-based human rights lawyer Ladislaus Rwakafuzi, who has been the principal lawyer for the MIFUMI petition, told IPS: “We have not got everything we wanted but at least we know that people will start being cautious paying too much when they know there is going to be no refund when there is failure of the marriage.”

Rita Achiro, Executive Director of the Uganda Women’s Network (UWONET), told IPS that the ruling has shown that women of Uganda can use courts of law to fight against laws that oppress them.

Achiro also challenged the Ugandan government and Parliament to come up with a law to enforce the court decision, saying that demand for refund of the bride price will continue if government and Parliament do not enact a law criminalising bride price refunds.

She said there were precedents in which Ugandan courts had nullified laws discriminating against women but Parliament and government had failed to enact the laws needed enforce the judgments.

Achiro cited the March 2004 Constitutional Court ruling that struck down ten sections of the Divorce Law on the grounds that they contravened a clause in the constitution that guaranteed women and men equal rights.

Uganda’s Divorce Law had previously allowed men to leave their wives in cases of adultery, while women were not granted the same right because they had to prove their husbands guilty not only of adultery but also of a range of crimes including bigamy, sodomy, rape and desertion.

A panel of five constitutional judges unanimously upheld the view that grounds for divorce must apply equally to all parties in a marriage.  Women activists had hailed the judgment as a landmark ruling that would bring equality of the sexes but, eleven year later, no law has yet been enacted to enforce the ruling.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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