Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 30 Aug 2015 18:06:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.7 Will New Sri Lankan Government Prioritize Resettlement of War-Displaced?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/will-new-sri-lankan-government-prioritize-resettlement-of-war-displaced/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-new-sri-lankan-government-prioritize-resettlement-of-war-displaced http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/will-new-sri-lankan-government-prioritize-resettlement-of-war-displaced/#comments Sun, 30 Aug 2015 16:43:03 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142192 Despite six years of peace, life is still hard in areas where Sri Lanka's war was at its worst, especially for internally displaced people (IDPs). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Despite six years of peace, life is still hard in areas where Sri Lanka's war was at its worst, especially for internally displaced people (IDPs). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

The new Sri Lankan government that was voted in on Aug. 17 certainly didn’t inherit as much baggage as its predecessors did during the nearly 30 years of conflict that gripped this South Asian island nation.

"Do you know how it feels to live in other people's houses for so long? You are always an outsider. I am getting old [...]. I want to die in my own house, not somewhere else." -- Siva Ariyarathnam, an IDP in northern Sri Lanka
But six years into ‘peacetime’, the second parliament of President Maithripala Sirisena will need to prioritize some of the most painful, unhealed wounds of war – among them, the fate of over 50,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), some of whom have not been home in over two decades.

Though the fighting between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in 2009, closing a 28-year-long chapter of violence, Siva Ariyarathnam is still waiting for a government official to tell him when he can go home.

Like tens of thousands of others, Ariyarathnam fled with his family when the military took over his land in the country’s Northern Province in the 1990s as part of a strategy to defeat the LTTE, who launched an armed campaign for an independent homeland for the country’s minority Tamil population in 1983.

The outgoing government says it plans to give the land back to 50,000 people, but has not indicated when that will happen, and Ariyarathnam says he is running out of time.

“Do you know how it feels to live in other people’s houses for so long? You are always an outsider,” Ariyarathnam told IPS. “I am getting old and I want to live under my own roof with my family. I want to die in my own house, not somewhere else.”

A decades-old problem

Ariyarathnam’s tale is heard too frequently in the former war-zone, a large swath of land in the country’s north comprising the Vanni region, the Jaffna Peninsula and parts of the Eastern Province, which the LTTE ran as a de facto state after riots in 1983 drove thousands of Tamils out of the Sinhala-majority south.

During the war years, displacement was the order of the day, with both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government forcing massive population shifts that would shape ethnic- and communal-based electoral politics.

For ordinary people it meant that the notion of ‘home’ was a luxury that few could maintain.

The cost of the conflict that finally ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the Tigers by government armed forces was enormous.

By conservative accounts over 100,000 perished in the fighting, while a report by the United Nations estimates that as many as 40,000 civilians died during the last bouts of fighting between 2008 and 2009.

According to the Ministry of Resettlement, Sri Lanka’s post-war IDP returnees stood at an impressive 796,081 by the end of June.

But the same data also reveal that an additional 50,000 were still living with host families and in the Thellippali IDP Centre, unable to return to villages still under military occupation.

These militarized zones date back to the 1990s, when the army began appropriating civilian land as a means of thwarting the steadily advancing LTTE.

By 2009, the military had confiscated 11,629 acres of land in the Tamil heartland of Jaffna – located on the northern tip of the island, over 300 km from the capital, Colombo – in order to create the Palaly High Security Zone (HSZ).

This was the area Ariyarathnam and his family, like thousands of others, had once called home.

New government, new policies?

Many hoped that the war’s end would see a return to their ancestral lands, but the war-victorious government, helmed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was slow to release civilian areas, prioritizing national security and continued deployment of troops in the North over resettlement of the displaced.

A new government led by President Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa’s former health minister who took power in a surprise January election, promised to accelerate land release, and turned over a 1,000-acre area from the Palaly HSZ in April.

But top officials tell IPS that genuine government efforts are stymied by the lack of public land onto which to move military camps in order to make way for returning civilians.

“The return of the IDPs is our number one priority,” Ranjini Nadarajapillai, the outgoing secretary to the Ministry of Resettlement, explained to IPS. “There is no timetable right now, everything depends on how the remaining high security zones are removed.”

The slow pace of land reform has kept IDPs mired in poverty, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), an arm of the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugee Council.

“The main reasons why there are higher poverty levels among IDPs include the lack of access to land during displacement to carry out livelihood activities, [and] the lack of compensation for lost or destroyed land and property during the war, which was acquired by the military or government as security or economic zones,” Marita Swain, an analyst with IDMC, told IPS.

An IDMC report released in July put the number of IDPs at 73,700, far higher than the government statistic. Most of them are living with host families, while 4,700 are housed in a long-term welfare center in Jaffna, the capital of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.

The lingering effects of the policies of the previous administration led by Rajapaksa, which prioritized infrastructure development over genuine economic growth for the war-weary population, has compounded the IDPs’ plight, according to the IDMC.

Despite the Sirisena government taking office in January, it has been hamstrung over issues like resettlement for the past eight months as it prepared to face parliamentary elections that pitted Rajapaksa-era policies against those of the new president.

Nadarajapillai of the Ministry of Resettlement said the new government is taking a different approach and reaching out to international agencies and donors to resolve the issue.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping the government devise a plan to resolve the IDP crisis, added Dushanthi Fernando, a UNHCR official in Colombo.

Still, these promises mean little to people like Ariyarathnam, whose displacement is now entering its third decade with no firm signs of ending anytime soon.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Disarmament Conference Ends with Ambitious Goal – But How to Get There?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/disarmament-conference-ends-with-ambitious-goal-but-how-to-get-there/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=disarmament-conference-ends-with-ambitious-goal-but-how-to-get-there http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/disarmament-conference-ends-with-ambitious-goal-but-how-to-get-there/#comments Fri, 28 Aug 2015 13:00:18 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142177 Cloud from an atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, in November 1952. Photo credit: US Government

Cloud from an atmospheric nuclear test conducted by the United States at Enewetak Atoll, Marshall Islands, in November 1952. Photo credit: US Government

By Ramesh Jaura
HIROSHIMA, Aug 28 2015 (IPS)

A three-day landmark U.N. Conference on Disarmament Issues has ended here – one day ahead of the International Day Against Nuclear Tests – stressing the need for ushering in a world free of nuclear weapons, but without a consensus on how to move towards that goal.

The Aug. 26-28 conference, organised by the Bangkok-based United Nations Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific (UNRCPD) in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan and the city and Prefecture of Hiroshima, was attended by more than 80 government officials and experts, also from beyond the region.

It was the twenty-fifth annual meeting of its kind held in Japan, which acquired a particular importance against the backdrop of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the founding of the United Nations.“In order to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, it is extremely important for political leaders, young people and others worldwide to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and see for themselves the reality of atomic bombings. Through this, I am convinced that we will be able to share our aspirations for a world free of nuclear weapons” – Fumio Kishida, Japanese Foreign Minister

Summing up the deliberations, UNRCPD Director Yuriy Kryvonos said the discussions on “the opportunities and challenges in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation” had been “candid and dynamic”.

The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) Review Conference from Apr. 27 to May 22 at the U.N. headquarters drew the focus in presentations and panel discussions.

Ambassador Taous Feroukhi of Algeria, who presided over the NPT Review Conference, explained at length why the gathering had failed to agree on a universally acceptable draft final text, despite a far-reaching consensus on a wide range of crucial issues: refusal of the United States, Britain and Canada to accept the proposal for convening a conference by Mar. 1, 2016, for a Middle East Zone Free of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs).

Addressing the issue, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida joined several government officials and experts in expressing his regrets that the draft final document was not adopted due to the issue of WMDs.

Kishida noted that the failure to establish a new Action Plan at the Review Conference had led to a debate over the viability of the NPT. “However,” he added, “I would like to make one thing crystal clear. The NPT regime has played an extremely important role for peace and stability in the international community; a role that remains unchanged even today.”

The Hiroshima conference not only discussed divergent views on measures to preserve the effective implementation of the NPT, but also the role of the yet-to-be finalised Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in achieving the goal of elimination of nuclear weapons, humanitarian consequences of the use of atomic weapons, and the significance of nuclear weapon free zones (NWFZs) for strengthening the non-proliferation regime and nuclear disarmament.

Speakers attached particular attention to the increasing role of local municipalities, civil society and nuclear disarmament education, including testimonies from ‘hibakusha’ (survivors of atomic bombings mostly in their 80s and above) in consolidating common understanding of the threat posed by nuclear weapons for people from all countries around the world regardless whether or not their governments possess nuclear weapons.

UNRCPD Director Kryvonos said the Hiroshima conference had given “a good start for searching new fresh ideas on how we should move towards our goal – protecting our planet from a risk of using nuclear weapons.”

Hiroshima Prefecture Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki, the city’s Mayor Karzumi Matsui – son of a ‘hibakusha’ father and president of the Mayors for Peace organisation comprising 6,779 cities in 161 countries and regions – as well as his counterpart from Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, pleaded for strengthening a concerted campaign for a nuclear free world. Taue is also the president of the National Council of Japan’s Nuclear-Free Local Authorities.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki city leaders welcomed suggestions for a nuclear disarmament summit next year in Hiroshima, which they said would lend added thrust to awareness raising for a world free of nuclear weapons.

Though foreign ministry officials refused to identify themselves publicly with the proposal, Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who hails from Hiroshima, emphasised the need for nuclear-weapon and non-nuclear weapon states to “work together in steadily advancing practical and concrete measures in order to make real progress in nuclear disarmament.”

Kishida said that Japan will submit a “new draft resolution on the total elimination of nuclear weapons” to the forthcoming meeting of the U.N. General Assembly. Such a resolution, he said, was “appropriate to the 70th year since the atomic bombings and could serve as guidelines for the international community for the next five years, on the basis of the Review Conference”.

The next NPT Review Conference is expected to be held in 2020.

Mayors for Peace has launched a 2020 Vision Campaign as the main vehicle for advancing their agenda – a nuclear-weapon-free world by the year 2020.

The campaign was initiated on a provisional basis by the Executive Cities of Mayors for Peace at their meeting in Manchester, Britain, in October 2003. It was launched under the name ‘Emergency Campaign to Ban Nuclear Weapons’ in November of that year at the 2nd Citizens Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons held in Nagasaki, Japan.

In August 2005, the World Conference endorsed continuation of the campaign under the title of the ‘2020 Vision Campaign’.

Foreign Minister Kishida expressed the views of the inhabitants of the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki when he pointed out in a message to the UNRCPD conference: “… the reality of atomic bombings is far from being sufficiently understood worldwide.”

He added: “In order to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons, it is extremely important for political leaders, young people and others worldwide to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki and see for themselves the reality of atomic bombings. Through this, I am convinced that we will be able to share our aspirations for a world free of nuclear weapons.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Emerging Industrial Power Rises From Aid Beneficiary to Donor Nationhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/emerging-industrial-power-rises-from-aid-beneficiary-to-donor-nation/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 18:12:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142165 In the past two decades South Korea has made such vibrant progress that it now counts itself as one of the world’s leading economies. Credit: Anton Strogonoff/CC-BY-2.0

In the past two decades South Korea has made such vibrant progress that it now counts itself as one of the world’s leading economies. Credit: Anton Strogonoff/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

Back in 1996, when South Korea voluntarily quit the 132-member Group of 77 (G77) – described as the largest single coalition of developing nations — it joined the 34-member Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), long known as the “rich man’s club” based in Paris.

As one of only three countries to leave the G77 for the OECD – the other two being Mexico and Chile – Korea elevated itself from the ranks of developing nations to the privileged industrial world.

Perhaps more significantly, Korea also swapped places at the negotiation table: from an aid recipient to a donor nation.

“To play a greater role in the global community and fulfill its responsibility as one of the important donors, Korea will continue to increase its ODA [official development assistance]." -- Ambassador Choong-Hee Hahn, South Korea’s deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations
Since then, the Korean government has made a significant contribution to development aid, providing assistance to some 26 developing nations.

Ambassador Choong-Hee Hahn, South Korea’s deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations, told IPS Korea has selected 26 priority partner countries – out of 130 partner countries – for development assistance.

The countries have been singled out based on their income level, political situation, diplomatic relations with Korea, and economic cooperation potential.

To enhance aid effectiveness, he pointed out, the Korean government provides 70 percent of its Official Development Assistance (ODA) to 26 countries, namely, Ghana, Nigeria, Nepal, East Timor, Laos, Rwanda, Mozambique, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Viet Nam, Bolivia, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Ethiopia, Uganda, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Cameroon, Cambodia, Colombia, DRC, Paraguay, Pakistan, Peru, and the Philippines.

In 2014, Korea’s net ODA amounted to 1.85 billion dollars, ranking 16th in volume among OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members.

Korea’s ODA-Gross National Income (GNI) ratio reached 0.13 percent, ranking 23rd among the OECD DAC members.

“To play a greater role in the global community and fulfill its responsibility as one of the important donors, Korea will continue to increase its ODA,” the Korean envoy said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a former foreign minister of South Korea, points out that the international community must make progress on the three pillars of United Nations engagement.

First:  sustainable development. Second: conflict prevention and resolution. And third:  advancing human rights and democracy.

“Korea has unique lessons to share on all three pillars and can be an active catalyst in bringing the world together on these issues,” the U.N. chief said.

He said Korea evolved from a developing to a developed country within the span of a single generation, and successfully hosted the Group of 20 (G20) Summit in 2010.

“The international community is looking to Korea with high expectations,” said Ban praising his home country “for rising from a beneficiary to a donor.”

As it continues to enhance its international profile, Korea is now home to the Global Green Growth Institute and also host to the new secretariat of the Green Climate Fund.

Over the last 20 to 30 years, Korea has made such vibrant economic progress that it is now one of the world’s, if not Asia’s, leading economies, with global brand names such as Samsung, Hyundai, Kia, LG and Daewoo.

Asked about the secret of his country’s economic success, Ambassador Hahn told IPS Korea went through an unprecedented transformation from one of the least developed countries to a member of the OECD within a generation. Such economic success can be explained by several key factors.

First, Korea set ambitious yet realistic goals based on sustainable economic development plans.

He said this was achieved through the implementation of five-year economic development plans in the initial stage, even as Korea has made steady progress from the light industry to heavy industry, then to the service industry.

Second, human capital secured through quality education has been another major factor.

In sync with economic development, he pointed out, mandatory primary and secondary education was phased in.

“The strong will of the Korean people to educate also led to the establishment of high quality higher education infrastructure.”

Third, traits such as diligence, self-help, and cooperation contributed to the improvement in the ownership of the country’s development.

Especially, the concept of ‘Saemaul Undong’, which decisively contributed to poverty eradication and development of rural areas in the 1970s, created systematic cooperation between the central and local governments and motivated local governments and communities to foster leadership and ownership of poverty eradication.

These elements, he said, can be seen as the key characteristics of the Korean rural development model, which continues to be a good role model for developing countries today.

Lastly, securing efficiency and accountability through the establishment of democratic and efficient governance led to successful poverty eradication and democratization.

“I believe inclusive institutions, rule of law, and a healthy civil society played a significant role in progressing towards a democratic and open society that is respectful of justice and human rights, considerate of the vulnerable, and that emphasizes human dignity.”

Asked if North and South Korea will one day join into a single union – as East and West Germany did decades ago – Ambassador Hahn said this year marks the 70th anniversary of the division of Korea.

Just as South Korean President Park Geun-hye repeatedly called for bringing down the barriers dividing the Korean peninsula, “it is our sincere hope that conditions for a peaceful unification of the Korean peninsula are created in the near future, and that the Korean peninsula becomes a foothold to realize a ‘world free from nuclear weapons’,” he stated.

“Based on the Trust-building Process on the Korean Peninsula, we currently make efforts to lay the ground for unification by further developing inter-Korea relations, building confidence and easing tensions in the Korean peninsula,” he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Call for Global Ban on Nuclear Weapons Testinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/call-for-global-ban-on-nuclear-weapons-testing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=call-for-global-ban-on-nuclear-weapons-testing http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/call-for-global-ban-on-nuclear-weapons-testing/#comments Thu, 27 Aug 2015 09:58:00 +0000 Katsuhiro Asagiri and Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142157 A group of eminent persons (GEM) launched a concerted campaign on Aug. 25, 2015, for entry into force of a global ban on nuclear weapon tests such as this one at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

A group of eminent persons (GEM) launched a concerted campaign on Aug. 25, 2015, for entry into force of a global ban on nuclear weapon tests such as this one at Bikini Atoll in 1946. Credit: United States Department of Defense via Wikimedia Commons

By Katsuhiro Asagiri and Ramesh Jaura
HIROSHIMA, Aug 27 2015 (IPS)

As the international community gears up to commemorate the 20th anniversary next year of the opening up of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) for signature, a group of eminent persons (GEM) has launched a concerted campaign for entry into force of a global ban on nuclear weapon testing.

GEM, which was set up by Lassina Zerbo, the Executive Secretary of the September 2013 Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) at the United Nations headquarters in New York, met on Aug. 24-25 in Hiroshima, a modern city on Japan’s Honshu Island, which was largely destroyed by an atomic bomb during the Second World War in 1945.

“Multilateralism in arms control and international security is not only possible, but the most effective way of addressing the complex and multi-layered challenges of the 21st century” – CTBTO Executive Secretary Lassina Zerbo
Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only two cities in the world which have suffered the devastating and brutal atomic bombs that brought profound suffering to innocent children, women and men, the tales of which continue to be told by the ‘hibakusha’ (survivors of atomic bombings).

“There is nowhere other than this region where the urgency of achieving the Treaty’s entry into force is more evident, and there is no group better equipped with the experience and expertise to help further this cause than the Group of Eminent Persons,” CTBTO Executive Secretary Zerbo told participants.

The GEM is a high-level group comprising eminent personalities and internationally recognised experts whose aim is to promote the global ban on nuclear weapons testing, support and complement efforts to promote the entry into force of the Treaty, as well as reinvigorate international endeavours to achieve this goal.

The two-day meeting was hosted by the government of Japan and the city of Hiroshima, where CTBTO Executive Secretary Zerbo participated in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing early August.

On the eve of the meeting, Zerbo joined former United States Secretary of Defence and GEM Member William Perry and Hiroshima Governor Hidehiko Yuzaki as a panellist in a public lecture on nuclear disarmament which was attended by around 100 persons, including many students.

In an opening statement, Zerbo urged global leaders to use the momentum created by the recently reached agreement between the E3+3 (China, France, Germany, the Russian Federation, United Kingdom and the United States) and Iran to inject a much needed dose of hope and positivity in the current discussions on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament.

“What the Iran deal teaches us is that multilateralism in arms control and international security is not only possible, but the most effective way of addressing the complex and multi-layered challenges of the 21st century. [It] also teaches us that the measure of worth in any security agreement or arms control treaty is in the credibility of its verification provisions. As with the Iran deal, the utility of the CTBT must be judged on the effectiveness of its verification and enforcement mechanisms. In this area, there can be no question,” Zerbo said.

Also speaking at the opening session, Perry expressed his firm belief that ratification of the CTBT served U.S. national interests, not only at the international level but also at the strictly domestic level for national security measures. He considered that the current geopolitical climate constituted a risk for the prospects of entry into force and reiterated the importance of maintaining the moratoria on nuclear testing.

Participating GEM members included Nobuyasu Abe, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs, Japan; Des Browne, former Secretary of State for Defence, United Kingdom; Jayantha Dhanapala, former U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Disarmament Affairs; Sérgio Duarte, former U.N. High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, Brazil; Michel Duclos, Senior Counsellor to the Policy Planning Department at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Wolfgang Hoffmann, former Executive Secretary of the CTBTO, Germany; Ho-Jin Lee, Ambassador, Republic of Korea; and William Perry, former Secretary of Defence, United States.

István Mikola, Minister of State, Hungary; Yusron Ihza Mahendra, Ambassador of Indonesia to Japan; Mitsuru Kitano, Permanent Representative, Ambassador of Japan to the International Organisations in Vienna; and Yerzhan N. Ashikbayev, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Kazakhstan, participated as ex-officio members.

The GEM took stock of the Plan of Action agreed in its meetings in New York (Sep. 2013), Stockholm (Apr. 2014) and Seoul (Jun. 2015). The Group considered the current international climate and determined that, with the upcoming 20th anniversary of the opening for signature of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, there was an urgency to unite the international community in support of preventing the proliferation and further development of nuclear weapons with the aim of their total elimination.

Participants in the meeting discussed a wide range of relevant issues and debated practical measures that could be undertaken to further advance the entry into force of the Treaty, especially in the run-up to the Article XIV Conference on Facilitating Entry into Force of the CTBT, which will take place at the end of September in New York, with Japan and Kazakhstan as co-chairs.

One hundred and eighty-three countries have signed the Treaty, of which 163 have also ratified it, including three of the nuclear weapon states: France, Russia and the United Kingdom. But 44 specific nuclear technology holder countries must sign and ratify before the CTBT can enter into force. Of these, eight are still missing: China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan and the United States. India, North Korea and Pakistan have yet to sign the CTBT.

The GEM adopted the Hiroshima Declaration, which reaffirmed the group’s commitment to achieving the global elimination of nuclear weapons and, in particular, to the entry into force of the CTBT as “one of the most essential practical measures for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation”, and, among others, called for “a multilateral approach to engage the leadership of the remaining . . . eight States with the aim of facilitating their respective ratification processes.”

The GEM called on “political leaders, governments, civil society and the international scientific community to raise awareness of the essential role of the CTBT in nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and in the prevention of the catastrophic consequences of the use of nuclear weapons for humankind.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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U.N. Aid Agencies Launch Emergency Hotline for Displaced Iraqishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-aid-agencies-launch-emergency-hotline-for-displaced-iraqis/#comments Tue, 25 Aug 2015 04:58:39 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142125 Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

Children have born the brunt of Iraq’s on-going conflict. Credit: DFID – UK Department for International Development/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 25 2015 (IPS)

In the hopes of better responding to the needs of over three million displaced Iraqis, United Nations aid agencies today launched a national hotline to provide information on emergency humanitarian services like food distribution, healthcare and shelter.

The ongoing crisis in Iraq has spurred a refugee crisis of “unprecedented” proportions, with over 3.1 million forced into displacement since January 2014 alone, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

IDPs are scattered across 3,000 locations around the country, with many thousands in remote areas inaccessible by aid workers, said a joint statement released Monday by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In total, 8.2 million Iraqis – nearly 25 percent of this population of 33 million – are in need of humanitarian assistance.

Speaking to IPS over the phone from the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, Kareem Elbayar, programme manager at the U.N. Office of Project Services (UNOPS), which is running the call center, explained that the new service aims to provide life-saving data on almost all relief operations being carried out by U.N. agencies and humanitarian NGOs.

Still in its pilot phase, the Erbil-based center can be reached via any Iraqi mobile phone by dialing 6999.

“We have a total of seven operators who are working a standard working day, from 8:30am to 5:30pm [Sunday through Thursday]. They speak Arabic, English and both Sorani and Badini forms of Kurdish,” Elbayar told IPS.

The number of calls that can be routed through the information hub at any given time depends on each individual user’s phone network: for instance, Korek, the main mobile phone provider in northern Iraq, has made 20 lines available.

“That means 20 people can call in at the same time, but the 21st caller will get a busy signal,” Elbayar said.

Other phone providers, however, can provide only a handful of lines at one time.

Quoting statistics from an August 2014 report by the Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities (CDAC) network, Elbayar said mobile phone penetration in the war-ravaged country is over 90 percent, meaning “nearly every IDP has access to a cell phone” – if not their own, then one belonging to a friend or family member.

Incidentally, it was a recommendation made in the CDAC report that first planted the idea of a centralized helpline in the minds of aid agencies, made possible by financial contributions from UNHCR, the WFP, and OCHA.

Elbayar says pilot-phase funding, which touched 750,000 dollars, enabled UNOPS to procure the necessary staff and equipment to get a basic, yearlong operation underway.

It was built with “expandability in mind”, he says – the center has the capacity to hold 250 operators at a time – but additional funding will be needed to extend the initiative.

Establishing the hotline is only a first step – the harder part is getting word out about its existence.

Relief agencies are putting up flyers and stickers in camps, but 90 percent of IDPs live outside the camps in communities doing their best to protect and provide for war-weary civilians on the run, according to OCHA’s latest Humanitarian Response Plan for Iraq.

“Both the Federal Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government have offered to do a mass SMS blast to all the mobile phone holders in certain areas,” Elbayar explained, “so we hope to be able to send a message to every cell phone in Iraq with information about the call center.”

Violence and fighting linked to the territorial advance of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the government’s counter-insurgency operations have created a humanitarian crisis in Iraq.

The 2015 Humanitarian Response Plan estimates that close to 6.7 million people do not have access to health services, and 4.1 million of the 7.1 million people who currently require water, sanitation and hygiene services are in “dire need”.

Children have been among the hardest hit, with scores of kids injured, abused, traumatized or on the verge of starving. Almost three million children and adolescents affected by the conflict have been cut off from schools.

Fifty percent of displaced people are urgently in need of shelter, and 700,000 are languishing in makeshift tents or abandoned buildings.

In June OCHA reported, “A large part of Iraq’s cereal belt is now directly under the control of armed groups. Infrastructure has been destroyed and crop production significantly reduced.”

As a result, some 4.4 million people require emergency food assistance. Many are malnourished and tens of thousands skip at least one meal daily, while too many people often go an entire day without anything at all to eat.

Whether or not the helpline will significantly reduce the woes of the displaced in the long term remains to be seen, as aid agencies grapple with major funding shortfalls and the number of people in need shows no sign of declining.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Shifting Sands: How Rural Women in India Took Mining into their Own Handshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/shifting-sands-how-rural-women-in-india-took-mining-into-their-own-hands/#comments Mon, 24 Aug 2015 03:16:37 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142117 At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

At dawn women miners gather at allocated sites along riverbanks in India’s coastal Andhra Pradesh state to oversee the process of dredging, loading and shipping sand. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
GUNTUR, India, Aug 24 2015 (IPS)

Thirty-seven-year-old Kode Sujatha stands in front of a hut with a palm-thatched roof, surrounded by a group of men shouting angrily and jostling one another for a spot at the front of the crowd.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer. Here, I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.” -- Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli women's mining group in Andhra Pradesh
Each of the boatmen, who carry sand mined from a nearby river to the shore every day, wants to be paid before the others.

Sujatha stares hard at them, holds up a piece of paper and says, “If you have a printed receipt of payment, come, stand in the queue. We will pay one by one. Shouting will not help you.”

This hard talk and show of nerves is a recurring part of the workday for Sujatha, a farm labourer-turned sand miner in Undavalli, a village situated on the banks of the Krishna River that flows through the coastal Guntur District of the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

She is one of the 18 women who run the Undavalli Mutually Aided Cooperative Society, an all-women’s collective in charge of dredging, mining, loading and selling sand.

Dealing with a few angry boatmen is not the last of her problems. Powerful ‘sand mafias’ that operate throughout the state are another force to be reckoned with, as are the lurking threats of environmental degradation and poverty in this largely rural state.

But Sujatha is determined to make this enterprise work. Overseeing the sustainable extraction and transportation of sand in this village has been her ticket to a decent wage and a degree of decision-making power over her own life.

She also knows that having women like her in charge of this operation is the best chance of avoiding the environmental catastrophes associated with unregulated sand mining, such as depletion of groundwater sources, erosion of river beds, increased flooding and a loss of biodiversity.

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Rural women who have taken over sand mining operations in the southeastern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh are learning to use computers for the first time. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

‘Rarer than one thinks’

Hard as it may be to fathom, sand is increasingly becoming a rare commodity as a result of the massive scale of its extraction and consumption worldwide.

In a 2014 report entitled ‘Sand: rarer than one thinks’, the United Nation’s Environment Programme (UNEP) revealed that sand and gravel (called aggregates) account for the largest share of the roughly 59 billion tonnes of material mined annually across the globe.

Combined aggregate use globally, including 29.5 billion tonnes of sand used annually in the production of cement for concrete, and the 180 million tonnes of sand guzzled by other industries every year, exceeds 40 billion tonnes per annum – twice the yearly amount of sediment carried by all the rivers of the world, according to the UNEP.

The most severe environmental consequences of the world’s insatiable appetite for sand include loss of land through river and coastal erosion resulting in the heightened risk of floods, especially around heavily mined areas; depletion of the world’s water tables; and a reduction in sediment supply.

Transporting aggregates is also a hugely carbon-heavy process, while the production of a single tonne of cement using sand and gravel releases 0.9 tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Estimates from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) suggest that the year 2010 saw 1.65 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from cement production – nearly five percent of total greenhouse gas emissions that year.

In India, a decades-long construction boom has driven a rapid increase in demand for sand, particularly in cement and concrete production.

The country currently boasts the third largest construction industry in the world, and huge sand mining operations, many of them unlawful or unregulated, are stripping the natural carpets of major riverbeds, deepening rivers and widening their mouths, and contaminating ground water sources.

Thus sand mining is contributing to India’s twin problems of flooding and water scarcity.

A grassroots solution to a global problem

For many years a quiet grassroots movement around the country had unwittingly been laying the foundation of what is now an entrenched network capable of fighting illicit mining: women-led self-help groups (SHGs) that have come together over a period of decades to pool their meager savings and generate interest-free micro loans to jump-start small businesses.

In Andhra Pradesh alone, an estimated 850,000 SHGs involving over 10.2 million poor, rural women have generated over 19 billion rupees (287 million dollars) in savings over the past decade.

Solomon Arokiyaraj, chief executive officer of the state-run Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP) tells IPS that SHGs’ proven track record of community finance and business management made them ideal partners in larger government schemes to both crack down on unsustainable natural resource extraction and alleviate rural poverty.

According to Arokiyaraj, women are now running 300 different mining sites (called ‘reaches’) across this state of 49 million people. A team comprising 10 or 12 people, who previously earned less than a dollar a day, runs each site on behalf of the government.

Venketeshwara Rao, a government official in Guntur District who oversees the project, tells IPS that the women of Undavalli village are licensed to operate within an eight-hectare area identified by federal environment authorities as part of de-siltation efforts around the reservoir.

At dawn every day the women gather at mining sites and at six am the mechanized dredging begins. Extracted sand is stockpiled on boats and then shifted to a fleet of waiting trucks, while excess water is pumped back into the river

“It takes three hours for the dredger to fill a boat. Each of the boats can carry 10 cubic meters of sand, enough to fill 20 large trucks,” Malleshwari Yepuri, a sand miner, tells IPS.

By Rao’s estimation, the women-led groups in the eight sand reaches in Guntur District alone have sold over a million cubic meters of sand since November 2014, amounting to some 70 million rupees (over a million dollars).

Prior to taking over management of the mines, the women had earned, on average, just under a dollar each a day as farm labourers. Now every woman miner takes home six dollars a day, and their respective cooperatives receive five rupees (0.07 dollars) for every cubic meter of sand mined under their leadership – a total of about 70,000 rupees (a thousand dollars) every year.

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

These illegal sand mining boats in India’s populous Andhra Pradesh state are becoming a rare sight after women’s self-groups took over mining operations last year. Credit: Stella Paul

Laws and loopholes

Blessed with two major river systems, the Krishna and the Godavari, Andhra Pradesh boasts a stunning range of biodiversity, from the unique flora and fauna found on the coastal mountain range of the Eastern Ghats to the tremendously fertile plains formed in the rivers’ basins.

But its biggest asset has also been a curse, and has long attracted the gaze of major players in the sand mining industry – many of them operating outside the ambit of the law.

Considered a ‘minor’ mineral, sand falls outside of the jurisdiction of the federal government, which limits its authority to the extraction and sale of ‘major’ minerals like coal, iron and copper.

Numerous Indian laws – from a February 2012 Supreme Court order to an August 2013 ruling by the National Green Tribunal, a federal environment conservation agency – have banned river sand mining without the necessary permit.

These orders notwithstanding, media reports have consistently drawn attention to the extraction activities of organised syndicates referred to as the ‘sand mafia’, allegedly responsible for removing truckloads of sand for a nifty profit from Andhra Pradhesh and elsewhere.

Many have reportedly mined without any government permission; others have systematically exceeded the volume specified, or encroached on areas outside the scope of their permits.

In April 2015, Andhra Pradesh Finance Minister Yanamala Ramakrishnudu told the local press that illicit sand miners had robbed the state of 10 billion rupees (150 million dollars) in the past 10 years.

Even with ample evidence on the destructive environmental impacts of sand mining, including a report by the Geological Survey of India warning against damages to in-stream flora and fauna and devastation of vegetative cover, the state government has been either unable or unwilling to curb the practice.

It was not until 2014, following an outcry by the federal government’s own mining ministry about the “menace” of illegal sand extraction, that Andhra Pradhesh cancelled all licenses issued under the 2002 Water, Land and Tree Act and handed power over to the women’s self-help groups.

SHGs, meanwhile, are under strict orders to ensure that mining happens only in those areas where massive silt-deposits are causing environmental stress, including over-sedimentation resulting in a reduction of the river’s holding capacity.

There are about 40 reservoirs in the state, some over a century old, which hold massive build-ups of sand. Undavalli village falls within one of these reservoirs – the Prakasam barrage, built in 1855, over the Krishna River – where sedimentation has been increasing at the rate of 0.5 percent to 0.9 percent every year, according to officials from the state’s irrigation department.

Still, licenses are not granted indefinitely – their duration fluctuates between two and 12 months, depending on the extent of sedimentation and the specific ecology of the area.

The work is not without its challenges. Women are learning how to digitize their operations (with some using computers for the first time), keep their proceeds safe and vigilantly monitor environmental degradation, all under the threat of reprisals from the sand mafia.

Add to this a full working day in 40-degrees-Celsius heat with little shade and no security and you have a task that not many would voluntarily sign up for; yet, few are complaining.

“When I worked in the farm, I was just another labourer,” Yepuri Mani of the Undavalli mining group tells IPS. “I was almost invisible. Here, I am showing others what to do. I am in charge. People see my work and they also see me. It is a great feeling.”

Putting women in charge is not a magic bullet for the ills of sand mining: the move does not tackle the looming issue of unsustainable global demand for sand that is driving major environmental destruction in India, and elsewhere in the world.

But having rural women at the helm of a hitherto male-dominated industry is certainly a major first step towards a more sustainable, grassroots-based economic model of carefully managing a limited and vital natural resource.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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China’s Economy Has Sounded the Alert; Will Latin America Listen?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/chinas-economy-has-sounded-the-alert-will-latin-america-listen/#comments Fri, 21 Aug 2015 23:00:08 +0000 Diego Arguedas Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142093 Costa Rica’s National Stadium, donated by China as a gift for the reestablishment of bilateral ties in 2007, and built in 2009-2010 by a Chinese company with Chinese labour. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Costa Rica’s National Stadium, donated by China as a gift for the reestablishment of bilateral ties in 2007, and built in 2009-2010 by a Chinese company with Chinese labour. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Diego Arguedas Ortiz
SAN JOSE, Aug 21 2015 (IPS)

For years, Latin America has exported its raw materials to China’s voracious factories, fuelling economic growth. But now that the Asian giant is putting a priority on domestic consumption over industrial production, how will this region react?

China’s dizzying growth gave a boost to the economies of Latin America, and in exchange, this region received manufactured products, credits, and heavy investment in infrastructure.

Given the slowdown in China’s growth, the countries of Latin America have two options: move toward a more value-added economy or lose relevance with an obsolete economic model inherited from the 20th century, said several experts consulted by IPS.

“Over the last five years, the relationship between Latin America and China has been dominated by Latin America sending China a few raw materials and China sending Latin America manufactured goods,” U.S. academic Rebecca Ray told IPS.“In simple terms, China’s rebalancing is aimed at reducing the relative importance of investment and exports in its economic growth, relying on household consumption playing a larger role.” -- Keiji Inoue and Sebastián Herreros

“But this may be about to change,” added the research fellow at the Boston University Global Economic Governance Initiative, where she coordinates the Working Group on Development and the Environment in the Americas’ China in Latin America project and coauthors the China-Latin America Economic Bulletin.

According to Ray, China’s leaders are shifting toward a development strategy with an emphasis on slower but steady growth, which prioritises internal consumption over factory production, thus opening up opportunities for importing manufactured goods from other countries.

The path toward that future was one of the central focuses of the Forum for East Asia-Latin America Cooperation (FEALAC) meeting in the Costa Rican capital from Tuesday, Aug. 18 to Friday, Aug. 21, which brought together foreign ministers and other senior officials from 36 countries under the theme “Two Regions, One Vision”.

The experts who spoke to IPS all agreed that given China’s slowdown, decision-makers in Latin America must take the initiative and propose economic alternatives based on more value added.

But the region has been slow to make the leap. Just five commodities – soy, iron, oil and unrefined and refined copper – account for 75 percent of exports to China, only a tiny share of which are manufactured goods.

But the other major economic flow between China and Latin America, investment in infrastructure, could paradoxically benefit from the slowdown and the shift in direction of the Chinese economy, the experts said.

The deceleration in the engine of the global economy since 2014, when China’s growth stood at 7.4 percent, the lowest level in 24 years, “May hurt Latin American economies that have become dependent on exporting those few commodities. In contrast, China’s infrastructure investments can help all industries do well,” Ray said.

Ponta da Madeira, a port in northeast Brazil where ships carrying iron ore set out, mainly for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Ponta da Madeira, a port in northeast Brazil where ships carrying iron ore set out, mainly for China. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Well-administered, she said, Chinese-financed projects could close the region’s historic gap in infrastructure and serve as a platform for the development of other industries that would benefit from investment in transport and energy, two main areas of interest for China.

“Hopefully, policy makers will make use of this opportunity to spur development in non-traditional industries,” Ray said.

Keiji Inoue and Sebastián Herreros, with the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean’s (ECLAC) International Trade and Integration Division, concurred.

“To the extent that these projects are aligned with the priorities of countries in the region, a greater Chinese presence could help gradually close Latin America’s infrastructure gap, thus strengthening regional integration and improving the region’s international competitiveness,” they stated in a joint analysis for IPS.

One of the aims of China’s investments in infrastructure in Latin America, they noted, is for that country’s to invest people’s savings.

But the direction taken by the growing links between Latin America and China do not leave much room for optimism.

Up to now, the region’s exports to China “Support fewer jobs, generate more net greenhouse gas emissions, and use more water than other LAC (Latin American and Caribbean) exports,” according to a study by GEGI.

China, meanwhile, has been promoting and financing controversial megaprojects in the region, like the “great inter-oceanic canal” in Nicaragua, to be built by the Chinese consortium Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development (HKDN-Group) at an estimated cost of 50 billion dollars, and the projected 5,000-km Transcontinental Railway, which would connect Brazil and Peru.

Chinese investment has also fuelled trade ties based on raw materials. According to ECLAC, between 2010 and 2013 nearly 90 percent of China’s investment in the region went into the extractive industry, mainly mining and fossil fuels.

Executives of the Chinese consortium HKDN-Group behind a big sign on Dec. 22, 2014 in the town of Brito Rivas on the Pacific ocean coast, at the ceremony for the formal start of construction of the Great Canal of Nicaragua, which will cut across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

Executives of the Chinese consortium HKDN-Group behind a big banner on Dec. 22, 2014 in the town of Brito Rivas on the Pacific ocean coast, at the ceremony for the formal start of construction of the Great Canal of Nicaragua, which will cut across the country. Credit: Mario Moncada/IPS

“From that perspective, China’s high level of demand for raw materials at a global level has effectively consolidated and reinforced the specialisation of these processes, also known as ‘re-primarisation’ of the economy,” Enrique Dussel, director of the Centre for China-Mexico Studies of the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told IPS.

But Dussel said emphatically that the countries of Latin America will have to respond, given the signals. “It is Latin America and the Caribbean that have the responsibility – and need – to make a decision, not China,” he stated.

This refocusing of the economies of the region on the production of primary commodities for export happened when Latin America was seduced by last decade’s high commodities prices and prioritised exports of raw materials over exports of greater added value.

Raw materials represent more than 60 percent of the region’s exports – the highest proportion seen since the early 1990s, according to ECLAC studies – up from 44 percent at the start of the century.

Manufactured goods like machinery and electronic devices, meanwhile, make up 64 percent of China’s exports to this region, and are less sensitive to price swings.

Between 2000 and 2014, imports from China rose from two to 14 percent of the regional total.

Dussel said China’s growth highlighted the serious problems faced by the region’s exports. In his view, the problems do not necessarily lie in the predominance of raw materials, but in the fact that these industries have “very little value added and technology.”

ECLAC’s Inoue and Herreros say the shift in focus of China’s development presents an opportunity.

They said that “in simple terms, China’s rebalancing is aimed at reducing the relative importance of investment and exports in its economic growth, relying on household consumption playing a larger role.”

“To the extent that this process has an effect, it should favour the diversification of Latin America’s exports to China,” they said.

They expect sectors like agribusiness and processed food to become more important in the region, although they warn that it could take years for the effects to be felt, and say that in order for that to happen, decision-makers would have to take ambitious steps toward consolidating the region as a trade bloc.

“We must also make more decisive progress towards a truly integrated regional market,” Inoue and Herreros wrote. “That would make Latin America more attractive and increase its bargaining power vis-à-vis China, the rest of Asia and other big global economic actors.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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U.N. Relief Agency Pledges to Open Schools ‘On Time’ for Half a Million Palestinian Refugeeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-relief-agency-pledges-to-open-schools-on-time-for-half-a-million-palestinian-refugees/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-relief-agency-pledges-to-open-schools-on-time-for-half-a-million-palestinian-refugees http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/u-n-relief-agency-pledges-to-open-schools-on-time-for-half-a-million-palestinian-refugees/#comments Wed, 19 Aug 2015 21:19:16 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142054 Schoolgirls play with each other in Gaza. Scores of Palestinian children and refugees are dependent on the international humanitarian community for their education needs. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

Schoolgirls play with each other in Gaza. Scores of Palestinian children and refugees are dependent on the international humanitarian community for their education needs. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 2015 (IPS)

Overcoming a serious funding shortfall, and caught between numerous regional conflicts, the United Nation’s humanitarian agency for Palestinian refugees announced on Aug. 19 that it would nevertheless open schools on time for the roughly half-a-million children who rely on the international community for their education.

In a statement released today, the cash-strapped U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) promised to start the school year on schedule, allowing over 500,000 kids in Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria to return to their classrooms between Aug. 24 and Sept. 13.

Established in 1949 to address the needs of some five million Palestinian refugees, UNRWA runs 685 schools across Gaza, the West Bank and neighboring Arab countries.

“It is on the benches and behind the desks of UNRWA classrooms that millions of Palestine refugees, deprived for so long of a just and lasting solution, have built the capabilities and shaped the determination that enabled them to become actors of their own destinies,” the agency said in a press release issued Wednesday.

For months both UNRWA and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have stressed the importance of uninterrupted schooling for Palestinian refugees, and warned of the risks of allowing a generation of young people to be forgotten.

Congratulating UNRWA on its tireless efforts, Ban said in a statement Wednesday, “This achievement cannot be underestimated at a time of rising extremism in one of the world’s most unstable regions”, adding: “[For Palestine refugees] education is a passport to dignity. We must stand by them and the agency that serves them.”

Ban thanked member states for their contributions to UNRWA’s coffers, which include a 19-million-dollar contribution from Saudi Arabia and 15 million dollars each from Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and the United States.

To date, the agency has received contributions amounting to 78.9 billion dollars, or just over 75 percent of the 101-million-dollar deficit. The money will go towards fulfilling UNRWA’s mandate of providing health care, relief and social services, camp improvement and education.

Numerous obstacles stand between Palestinian children and their classrooms. In documenting some of these challenges, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) lists such issues as military incursions; demolitions of schools buildings; restrictions on movement or limited access to school premises; and damage and destruction of school property.

A 2013 UNICEF report entitled Education Under Occupation revealed that 38 schools serving approximately 3,000 children in Area C of the West Bank and East Jerusalem “have been issued either verbal and/or written stop-work or demolition orders by the Israeli Civil Administration (ICA).”

In the 2011-2012 period, UNICEF recorded 63 instances of “denial of access” to education in the Occupied Territories, which affected over 34,000 Palestinian students.

During the seven-week-long conflict in Gaza last summer some 327 schools were partially or completely obliterated, according to a 2015 UNICEF update, stripping thousands of kids of their only protective environment.

The situation is even more precarious for Palestinian refugees, who are often closer to the frontlines of conflict and thereby face greater risks in their quest to gain a decent education.

For instance in the besieged Yarmouk refugee camp in Syria, home to an estimated 16,000 Palestinians, all 28 schools have been closed and the only education opportunities exist in the form of informal classes conducted by volunteer teachers in 10 “safe spaces”, according to a report by the Guardian.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Humanitarian Response in Afghanistan Falters in the Face of Intensifying Conflicthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/humanitarian-response-in-afghanistan-falters-in-the-face-of-intensifying-conflict/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 23:40:58 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142041 This little boy, an Afghan refugee, eats a piece of candy outside his family’s makeshift tent. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

This little boy, an Afghan refugee, eats a piece of candy outside his family’s makeshift tent. Credit: DVIDSHUB/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

As the number of civilians impacted by the intensifying conflict in Afghanistan rises along with the fighting, humanitarian agencies are struggling to meet the needs of the wounded, hungry and displaced.

The first half of 2015 has seen “record high levels” of civilian casualties, the United Nations relief agency said Tuesday, with civilian deaths touching 1,592 and total non-combatant casualties standing at over 4,900 – a one-percent increase compared to the number of casualties in the same period in 2014.

Fresh fighting in the provinces of Helmand, Kunduz, Faryab and Nangarhar are indicative of the geographic spread of the conflict, while tensions and sporadic clashes all across the central regions are forcing huge numbers of civilians from their homes.

An estimated 103,000 people have been displaced by the conflict in 2015 alone, including from locations hitherto untouched by forced population movements including Badakshan, Sar-i-Pul, Baghlan, Takhar and Badgis, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in its mid-year review released on Aug. 18.

Clashes between the Taliban and other armed opposition groups are becoming more frequent, and the fragmentation of these groups only means that both the complexity and geographic extent of the conflict will continue to worsen.

Having received only 195 million dollars, or 48 percent of its 406 million-dollar funding requirement as of July, the U.N.’s humanitarian response plan is faltering.

Funding for every single relief “cluster” identified by OCHA is failing to keep pace with civilians’ needs. So far, the U.N. has received only 3.5 million dollars of the required 40 million dollars for provision of emergency housing, while funding for food security and health are falling short by 56 million and 29 millions dollars respectively.

Far more refugees have returned to the country, primarily from Pakistan, in the first half of 2015 compared to the same period last year, with 43,695 returnees as of July 2015 compared to 9,323 in 2014.

OCHA noted, “Overall return and deportee rates of undocumented Afghans from Iran and Pakistan stand at 319,818 people. At the same time, over 73,000 undocumented Afghans returned from Pakistan, which is on average six times higher per day than in 2014.”

U.N. officials say they need at least 89 million dollars to adequately meet the needs of refugees, but so far only 22.5 million dollars have been pledged.

As is always the case, providing adequate water and sanitation facilities is one of the top priorities of the humanitarian plan in order to prevent the outbreak of disease, but though the U.N. has put forward a figure of 25 million dollars for this purpose, only 15 million dollars are currently available.

“An increase in people requiring humanitarian assistance coupled with insufficient funding for food security agencies, particularly WFP [the World Food Programme], means that programmes for conflict IDPs, vulnerable returnees, refugees and malnourished children are all seriously under-resourced and in some cases have been terminated,” the report revealed.

Data on affected populations are believed to be incomplete owing largely to inaccessibility of the most heavily embattled regions, prompting U.N. officials to warn that the real number of people in need of critical, lifesaving services and supplies could be even higher than current estimates.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that civilian casualties in the first six months of 2015 saw an increase of 43 percent compared to the same period in 2014.

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Iran Deal a ‘Net-Plus’ for Nuclear Non-Proliferation Worldwidehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/iran-deal-a-net-plus-for-nuclear-non-proliferation-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iran-deal-a-net-plus-for-nuclear-non-proliferation-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/iran-deal-a-net-plus-for-nuclear-non-proliferation-worldwide/#comments Tue, 18 Aug 2015 21:17:28 +0000 S. Chandra http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142040 By S. Chandra
WASHINGTON, Aug 18 2015 (IPS)

As the U.S. Congress prepares to vote next month on the landmark Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which was agreed on July 14 between the world’s leading powers and Iran, and has been approved by the U.N. Security Council, eminent nuclear non-proliferation experts are mobilising international support for its immediate implementation.

In a joint statement, more than 70 of the world’s leading nuclear non-proliferation specialists outline why the JCPOA “is a strong, long-term, and verifiable agreement that will be a net-plus for international nuclear non-proliferation efforts.”

The non-proliferation specialists’ statement, organised by Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, point out that the July 14 agreement, “ … advances the security interests of the P5+1 nations (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), the European Union, their allies and partners in the Middle East, and the international community.”

The joint statement is endorsed by former U.S. nuclear negotiators, former senior U.S. non-proliferation officials, a former director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a former member of the U.N. Panel of Experts on Iran, and leading nuclear specialists from the United States and around the globe.

The experts “… urge the leaders of the P5+1 states, the European Union, and Iran to take the steps necessary to ensure timely implementation and rigorous compliance with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”

The statement concludes: “… we believe the JCPOA meets key nonproliferation and security objectives and see no realistic prospect for a better nuclear agreement.”

“This statement … underscores, as President Barack Obama recently noted, the majority of arms control and non-proliferation experts support the P5+1 and Iran nuclear deal,” said the Arms Control Association’s executive director Daryl G. Kimball in a new release on Tuesday.

It said: “The JCPOA will establish long-term, verifiable restrictions on Iran’s sensitive nuclear fuel cycle activities, many of which will last for 10 years, some for 15 years, some for 25 years, with enhanced IAEA monitoring under Iran’s additional protocol agreement with the IAEA and modified code 3.1 safeguards provisions lasting indefinitely.”

When implemented, eminent nuclear non-proliferation experts say, the JCPOA will establish long-term, verifiable restrictions on Iran’s enrichment facilities and research and development, including advanced centrifuge research and deployment.

“Taken in combination with stringent limitations on Iran’s low-enriched uranium stockpile, these restrictions ensure that Iran’s capability to produce enough bomb-grade uranium sufficient for one weapon would be extended to approximately 12 months for a decade or more,” they add.

“Moreover,” the experts say in a joint statement, “the JCPOA will effectively eliminate Iran’s ability to produce and separate plutonium for a nuclear weapon for at least 15 years, including by permanently modifying the Arak reactor, Iran’s major potential source for weapons grade plutonium, committing Iran not to reprocess spent fuel, and shipping spent fuel out of the country.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Kashmir: Where a Pilgrimage Threatens a Delicate Ecosystemhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kashmir-where-a-pilgrimage-threatens-a-delicate-ecosystem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kashmir-where-a-pilgrimage-threatens-a-delicate-ecosystem http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/kashmir-where-a-pilgrimage-threatens-a-delicate-ecosystem/#comments Mon, 17 Aug 2015 15:52:30 +0000 Athar Parvaiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=142013 Plastic bags and bottles comprise a major part of the rubbish that clogs this delicate mountain ecosystem when scores of Hindu devotees flock to the Amarnath cave in Kashmir to worship a representation of the god Shiva. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Plastic bags and bottles comprise a major part of the rubbish that clogs this delicate mountain ecosystem when scores of Hindu devotees flock to the Amarnath cave in Kashmir to worship a representation of the god Shiva. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

By Athar Parvaiz
PAHALGAM, India, Aug 17 2015 (IPS)

As he struggled to find a section of the stream clean enough to rinse off his muddy shoes, Mohan Kumar, a Hindu pilgrim on his way to the holy Amarnath shrine in Indian-administered Kashmir, gazed with despair over the filth that lay thick on the landscape.

“I fail to understand how our journey of faith can reconcile with all this filth." -- Mohan Kumar, a Hindu pilgrim on his way to the holy Amarnath shrine in Kashmir
What should have been a well-maintained track leading to one of the world’s most visited religious sites was instead clogged with human excrement and plastic waste, much of it contaminating the stream that runs alongside the path.

Standing at over 3,800 metres above sea level, the 40-metre-high Amarnath cave houses a stalagmite that is believed to be a representation of the god Shiva. For two months each year, between July and August, over half-a-million devotees make the perilous five-day trek, known as the Amarnath Yatra, to pay homage to one of the supreme deities of the Hindu pantheon.

But in their rush to reach sacred ground the devotees leave behind a sorry sight: piles of trash that blot the scenic views of the foothills and valleys of Jammu and Kashmir, a mountainous Himalayan state of exceptional natural beauty.

“I fail to understand how our journey of faith can reconcile with all this filth along the track,” Kumar told IPS. “I have come for a spiritual journey, but what I see along the way disgusts me. If this vandalism continues for another few years, it will mean an end to the pilgrimage.”

Ten metric tons of trash a day

He is not the only one with strong concerns about the future of this delicate ecosystem.

A steep rise in the number of visitors to the shrine in recent years also has environmental experts and public health officials on edge: government data indicate that the number of worshippers has sharply increased from 4,500 in 1950 to 650,000 in 2012, while tourist arrivals shot up from 15,000 in 1950 to two million in 2012.

The logistics involved in the yatra place a huge burden on the authorities. For the duration of the pilgrimage, which lasts 60 days, 7,000 security personnel are deployed on the mountain, along with 1,500 ponies and as many men for carrying worshippers and their belongings.

“Based on these numbers our modest estimates suggest that [at an average] a minimum of 10,000 people visit the Amarnath cave every day,” an official of the Pollution Control Board (PCB) of Srinagar told IPS on the condition of anonymity.

“An average person generates about a kilogram of waste everyday; this means that 10 metric tons of waste are left behind every day for 60 days.”

Despite a government ban on polythene use in the state, much of the debris left behind by the pilgrims, or yatris as they are called, comprises plastic bags and bottles.

Furthermore, according to Riyaz Ahmed Lone, an environmentalist who heads the Pahalgam Peoples’ Welfare Organisation (PPWO), the garbage disposal and sanitation facilities provided by the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board (SASB) are inadequate to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of devotees, who are forced to defecate in the open on the mountainside.

Added to the mix of plastic and human feces is gotka (chewing tobacco) and the excrement of ponies and donkeys, all of which eventually gets washed away into nearby streams that feed into the Lidder and Sindh rivers.

Other PCB officials who did not wish to be named told IPS that at least half a dozen fully functional Sewage Treatment Plants (STPs) need to be set up to facilitate the proper functioning of several hundred toilets that serve the tourists and worshippers.

Currently there are only two STPs, which, environmental activists say, do not function properly, allowing effluent to flow untreated into larger water bodies.

These rivers subsequently provide water to roughly two million people throughout Kashmir, explained Shakil Romshoo, who heads the Earth Sciences Department at Kashmir University.

Kashmir’s Public Health Engineering (PHE) Chief Ghulam Mohammad Bhat added that 85 percent of the state’s drinking water needs are met by surface water sources in the mountains.

“But, it is a common knowledge that we have no healthy arrangements for sanitation here,” he told IPS.

“Not only the waste from open defecation areas, but also the sewer systems [from tourist hotels] are connecting with our rivers and contaminating our water bodies,” Bhat stressed.

An official at his office added that if people could see “what kind of water we treat at our treatment plants, they would not drink even a drop of it.”

According to India’s Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS), Jammu & Kashmir ranks 23rd rank on a list of 30 states surveyed, with only 41.7 percent sanitation coverage as per the 2011 census.

Human waste left behind by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during the Amarnath Yatra in Indian-administered Kashmir flow untreated into nearby rivers. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Human waste left behind by hundreds of thousands of pilgrims during the Amarnath Yatra in Indian-administered Kashmir flow untreated into nearby rivers. Credit: Athar Parvaiz/IPS

Limiting arrivals and beefing up logistics

Lone told IPS that activists and experts “want the organizers to ensure environmental protection and proper regulation of the pilgrimage, by reducing the number of pilgrims to the permissible limit as per the carrying capacity of the fragile mountain ecology on a single day.”

Until the late 1990s, official data reveals, the pilgrimage had never crossed the 100,000 mark. Noted Indian human rights activist Gautam Navlakha says that the numbers started multiplying only after the establishment of the SASB in 2002 – an all-Hindu body with no representation from the majority Muslim population.

A few years after its formation, Navlakha says, the SASB extended the pilgrimage from 30 to 60 days, a move that is still mired in controversy, with environmental activists arguing strongly against the longer duration.

Pointing to tough restrictions on the number of pilgrims allowed into ecologically fragile zones like Mansarovar in Tibet and Gomukh – the snout of the Gangotri Glacier that forms the source of the Ganges River – in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, Navlakha has called for similar rules to govern the Amarnath Yatra.

Quoting the landmark 1996 Nitish Sengupta Committee report, he told IPS, “Along with the regulation of the total number of pilgrims to about 100,000, we could lay down a ceiling of 3,000 pilgrims permitted to travel in a single day.”

Nearly two decades after the report was released, these recommendations have been wantonly disregarded. Figures on the 2015 Yatra available on the SASB website indicate that the daily average between Jul. 2 and Aug. 13 far exceeded 3,000, with Jul. 6 alone witnessing over 20,000 worshippers on the mountains.

A May 2015 study on sustainable tourism in Kashmir published in the journal Elsevier revealed that the tourist flow in July for Pahalgam alone was almost fourfold the Tourism Carrying Capacity (TCC) of the mountain.

Shakil Qalandar, a member of the Kashmir Centre for Development and Social Studies (KCDS), said that civil society would continue to press for necessary restrictions on the number of pilgrims to better reflect the area’s carrying capacity until their demands are met.

“We have formally presented this demand to the government saying we are in full support of an ecologically-friendly pilgrimage for our Hindu brethren,” Qalandar told IPS.

The environmental implications of not dealing with the situation are enormous.

Hindu religious scholar and social activist Swami Agnivesh has even suggested that the growing number of pilgrims might have been the catalyst for the devastating floods that swept Kashmir in September 2014, resulting in a death toll of 600 and incurring economic losses of some 18 billion dollars.

According to an assessment report prepared by Kashmir’s Department of Environment, Ecology and Remote Sensing (DEERS) after the September 2014 floods, ecological degradation across the state is a major catalyst of natural disasters.

The study revealed that since 1992 Kashmir has lost 10 percent of its forest cover as tourism infrastructure encroached into wooded areas. It added that in the last century, the state’s total extent of water bodies plummeted from 356 square km in 1911 to just 158 square km in 2011.

Dealing with the challenges of sustainable religious tourism has been a concern all over the globe with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimating that 300 to 330 million tourists visit the world’s key religious sites every year.

Kashmir is in a unique position to set a global example, but it will have to overcome numerous political hurdles and religious sensitivities in order to do so.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Nuclear Deal Could Offer Glimmer of Hope for Jailed Journalist in Iranhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/nuclear-deal-could-offer-glimmer-of-hope-for-jailed-journalist-in-iran/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-deal-could-offer-glimmer-of-hope-for-jailed-journalist-in-iran http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/nuclear-deal-could-offer-glimmer-of-hope-for-jailed-journalist-in-iran/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 17:22:40 +0000 Nora Happel http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141998 Iranian-American Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post's Tehran Bureau Chief, has been detained in Iran since July 22, 2014. Credit: http://freejasonandyegi.com/

By Nora Happel
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

As Iranian-American journalist Jason Rezaian awaits his verdict, human rights advocates and press freedom groups continue to condemn the trial and call for his immediate release.

It has been over a year since the Washington Post’s Tehran Bureau Chief, Jason Rezaian, was jailed on charges including espionage for the United States and anti-Iranian propaganda. On Monday, Rezaian spoke in his own defence at a final closed-door hearing. His verdict is expected to be announced next week.“Mr. Rezaian’s case exemplifies the challenges facing journalists in Iran. At least 40 journalists are currently detained in the country not including at least 12 Facebook and social media activists who were either recently arrested or sentenced." -- Special Rapporteur Ahmed Shaheed

Following a midnight raid on July 22, 2014, Rezaian and his Iranian wife, Yeganeh Salehi, a journalist for the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National, were detained along with two American photojournalists. Unlike his wife and the two journalists, who were released after a short time, Rezaian remained in custody at Tehran’s Evin Prison where he was “subjected to months of interrogation, isolation, and threats”, his brother Ali Rezaian told The Atlantic.

In a previous article on Jason Rezaian’s incarceration, Ali Rezaian told IPS about his brother’s endeavour to show his readers a different side of Iran and encourage people to visit the country.

Indeed, Jason Rezaian, who is also a former IPS correspondent for Iran, used to move beyond the typical coverage of the most critical topics such as the Iranian nuclear programme, focusing instead on social and cultural issues. This is why his detention was all the more met with astonishment and dismay.

Iranian-American academic Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Programme at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, who was herself detained by Iranian security authorities in 2007, told IPS: “I truly cannot understand why they went after Rezaian because he avoided critical issues and kept to social issues. But as a foreign journalist in Iran, he must have been under surveillance and they were following him.

“When the judiciary decided to arrest him, it was a way for hardliners to do harm to the government who was negotiating the Iranian nuclear deal. So my understanding is that Jason’s detention is due to domestic issues rather than to Jason having done something outrageous.”

In a recent New York Times article, Esfandiari considered Rezaian’s detention in the context of negotiations between the Iranian government and the P5+1 (the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany) on the Iranian nuclear programme “a ploy to weaken Rouhani”.

A moderate reformer, President Hassan Rouhani has sought to improve American-Iranian relations and facilitate the reintegration of Iran into the international community, she explained. However, since Rouhani’s election, hardliners including Iran’s intelligence services, the judiciary and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps have been critical of Rouhani’s reforms and – regarding the nuclear programme – have been pushing for confrontation with Western governments instead of concessions, she added.

Esfandiari told IPS: “The detention of Rezaian probably came as much of a surprise to Rouhani and his cabinet members as to all of us and I’m sure that behind the scenes, his government tries to pressure the judiciary to release Rezaian.”

The Washington Post editorial board also evoked the context of the nuclear negotiations as a major reason for Rezaian’s custody, but rather considers Rezaian a means of pressure for the regime: “It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that he is being used as a human pawn in the regime’s attempt to gain leverage in the negotiations.”

Hopes have been expressed that the Iran nuclear deal could prove helpful in achieving Rezaian’s release as Iran’s image abroad would be even more at stake and the supposed reasons for Rezaian’s arrest no longer relevant.

Yet, despite the international accord on Iran’s nuclear programme achieved last month and currently awaiting approval by the U.S. Congress, Rezaian has remained in prison.

All eyes are now on the verdict which might be delivered as early as next week, according to Rezaian’s lawyer Leila Ahsan. Iranian law provides for verdicts to be announced within one week of the last hearing. However, no official date for the verdict has been released yet.

Esfandiari mentioned three possible outcomes. The luckiest scenario would be for Jason Rezaian to get sentenced to time served, meaning he will be freed immediately either on bail or on his own recognizance. Other possibilities involve a sentence of 15 or 16 months, meaning two additional months in prison or, in the worst case, a much longer sentence which he will be able to appeal.

Human rights advocates and press freedom groups condemn not only the unjustified and politically motivated incarceration itself but also the entire conduct of the trial and especially the delays in the judicial proceedings.

Sherif Mansour, MENA Programme Coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), told IPS, “According to Iranian law, no person may be detained at an Iranian prison for more than a year, unless charged with murder. This means Rezaian should have been released by July 22, 2015. This did not happen. We continue to condemn the trial and call for Rezaian’s unconditional release.”

Last month, The Washington Post formally appealed to the U.N. for urgent action in the Rezaian case by filing a petition with the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions. The petition denounces the unlawful trial, including Rezaian’s solitary confinement, strenuous interrogations and insufficient medical treatment.

Earlier this year, Ahmed Shaheed, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, along with other high-profile human rights experts, also expressed serious concerns about the trial.

“In May… [we] recalled that Mr. Rezaian’s trial on charges of ‘espionage, collaboration with hostile governments, gathering classified information and disseminating propaganda against the Islamic Republic’ began behind closed doors following his detainment for nearly 10 months without formal charges, and following a number of months in solitary confinement.”

“Concerns, therefore, about fair trial standards in this case persist, and I continue to hope that the arbitrary nature of Mr. Rezaian’s detention and charges will be confirmed by the court,” Shaheed told IPS.

According to Shaheed, the human rights situation in Iran, especially regarding freedom of expression, continues to be worrisome.

“Mr. Rezaian’s case exemplifies the challenges facing journalists in Iran. At least 40 journalists are currently detained in the country not including at least 12 Facebook and social media activists who were either recently arrested or sentenced.

“Journalists, writers, netizens, and human rights defenders continued to be interrogated and arrested by government agencies during the first half of 2015, and the Judiciary reportedly continues to impose heavy prison sentences on individuals for the legitimate exercise of expression. Thirty of those currently detained are charged with ‘propaganda against the system,’ 25 with ‘insulting’ either a political leader or religious concept, and 12 are charged with harming ‘national security’,” he said.

“The human rights situation in Iran remains quite concerning. Despite small steps forward in some areas of concern, the fundamental issues repeatedly raised by the international human rights mechanisms for the past three decades persist. This includes issues with the independence of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s judiciary and its legal community.”

“Of particular alarm is the surge in executions, which amounted to 694 hangings as of early last months, a rate unseen in 25 years. The majority of these executions were for offense not considered capital crimes under international human rights laws.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Clan Wars Increase Displacement, Hinder Development in Papua New Guineahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/clan-wars-increase-displacement-hinder-development-in-papua-new-guinea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clan-wars-increase-displacement-hinder-development-in-papua-new-guinea http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/clan-wars-increase-displacement-hinder-development-in-papua-new-guinea/#comments Fri, 14 Aug 2015 16:27:46 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141993 Tribal warriors who have been fighting a clan war for two months in Kenemote village say they want peace in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Tribal warriors who have been fighting a clan war for two months in Kenemote village say they want peace in the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
GOROKA, Papua New Guinea, Aug 14 2015 (IPS)

The charred foundations are all that is left of the homes that made up Kenemote village in the mountainous Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea in the southwest Pacific Islands.

For the past four and a half months a tribal war has raged between four clans of the Kintex tribe who are armed with high-powered guns, as well as bows and arrows. Nine people are dead, including a small boy, and most dwellings have been burned to the ground, while women and children are traumatised.

“We [the women] are really affected because our lives are at risk, we are not free to go to the garden to look for food and the children cannot go to school; there is no freedom and no safety.” Aulo Nareo, a resident of Kenemote
“We [the women] are really affected because our lives are at risk, we are not free to go to the garden to look for food and the children cannot go to school; there is no freedom and no safety,” Aulo Nareo, a resident of Kenemote, told IPS.

Fighting erupted at the beginning of April after one clan accused another of using poison or sorcery to cause a death in the community. The victorious clan, still brandishing their weapons, are encamped among the ruins. The other three clans, numbering three quarters of Kenemote’s population of 1,500, have fled and are staying in squatter settlements in the nearby town of Goroka or with relatives scattered in other villages.

“We want peace when we see the houses burning and properties destroyed, but the other clans’ people continue to come and provoke us. It will take years to recover the loss we have gone through, so we want peace, but we don’t know who can bring this peace,” Chief Lim Nareo declared to IPS on Jul. 30.

A police mediation team and the Eastern Highlands branch of the Red Cross are attempting to broker a ceasefire. But until that happens, Chief Nareo’s people won’t leave the area because of the risk of further attacks, and those displaced are unable to return.

For the past two years, the Red Cross has devoted enormous quantities of resources to helping people caught up in ongoing fighting in at least four of the province’s eight districts, providing temporary shelter, access to medical care, water and food supplies.

Meanwhile, in a province of about 579,000 people, the local police say they are trying to address at least 30 separate conflicts.

Women and children have suffered fear, insecurity and lack of food since a clan war started two months ago in Kenemote village in Eastern Highlands Province in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Women and children have suffered fear, insecurity and lack of food since a clan war started two months ago in Kenemote village in Eastern Highlands Province in Papua New Guinea. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Age-old conflicts bring new challenges

The human toll and suffering due to tribal fighting has escalated in the last 20-30 years with greater access to modern high-powered weapons. Today international and local gun smuggling networks provide villagers with a supply of M-16s, AK-47s, 0.22 rifles and grenades.

Many highlanders claim that guns are needed for their personal security and that of their businesses and communities because of lack of reach of the state, particularly law enforcement, in rural areas where more than 80 percent of the country’s population live.

However, guns have also become a major symbol of status and power for men and youth.

The consequences are increasingly tragic, Robin Kukuni of the Eastern Highlands Red Cross said, because most villagers “haven’t had any firearms training, so they just fire their guns indiscriminately and a lot of women and children are dying.”

Traditional warfare has existed in Papua New Guinea, home to a population of 7.3 million and an estimated 1,000 different ethnic and linguistic groups, for thousands of years.

Hostilities can be triggered by disputes over land, pigs (the most prized livestock animal), or ‘payback’ for a wrong committed by one clan against another.

Even after 40 years of modern statehood, most citizens are still bound by clan allegiances, and customary ways of dealing with disputes remain paramount, particularly in rural communities.

But today conflicts are also complicated by grievances over access to royalties, benefits and compensation associated with resource extraction projects in the country, whether mining, gas extraction or logging. And the ritualised nature of traditional combat, which included rules such as a ban on violating women and children, has given way to guerrilla tactics with worsening atrocities fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse.

The long-term impacts include protracted internal displacement, in many cases for up to 10 years.

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) estimates there are about 22,500 people displaced within Papua New Guinea as a result of tribal warfare and natural disasters. But the International Committee of the Red Cross believes the true figure could be more than five times that estimate, or more than 110,000 people.

Children caught up in tribal fighting in Kenemote village in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands Province are unable to go to school. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Children caught up in tribal fighting in Kenemote village in Papua New Guinea’s Eastern Highlands Province are unable to go to school. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Women peacemakers take on warring tribes

Lilly Be’Soer, leader of Voice for Change, a women-led non-governmental human rights and sustainable livelihoods organisation involved in conflict resolution in nearby Jiwaka Province, emphasises that the process of peace mediation, reconciliation, resettlement and integration is a very long one.

In 2012, Voice for Change brokered a peace agreement in the province between two clans of the Kondika tribe who had been warring since 2009 when a clansman was killed during New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Be’Soer says that a number of strategies contributed to the success of their peace negotiations following four previous attempts by other parties, which failed.

But a significant breakthrough was made when the organisation brought together and mentored women from the displaced communities, so that they could speak in public to gatherings of the men, village chiefs and police about their hardships, such as increasing poverty and insecurity.

Ultimately they “told the men [who had been fighting] that this situation has happened and you have caused this problem […]. This was one of the strategies we used that impacted and moved the men, who then said they would move forward [and support peace],” Be’Soer recounted.

But resettlement of the 500 people who were displaced due to hostilities is an ongoing challenge.

“When we were interviewing the [displaced] women, the bottom line was that they wanted to go back to their husbands’ traditional land, because when you are on your husband’s land you have a certain status and security. And the women felt that if they continued to live on other people’s land, the land might not be available for their sons,” she continued.

After lengthy consultations between all the stakeholders, an agreement between the displaced people and those occupying their land was reached. The resettlement plan entailed a set of conditions to be adhered to by both clans, such as vacation of the occupied territory within six months and a ban on either clan being derogatory toward the other.

But “the conditions were not honoured and then law enforcement [of the conditions] didn’t work,” Be’Soer said.

The suffering is now prolonged for the displaced families.

According to Be’Soer, “Children are very [badly] affected; they don’t have proper meals and are unable to go to school. The women cannot walk around freely and it is very difficult for them to access money and food.”

And there are heightened risks of sexual violence against women, a grim reality in a country that is ranked 135 out of 187 nations for gender inequality.

“The men in the host communities are the main perpetrators; or the man who is taking care of the family, he might want the daughter and you don’t have security,” Be’Soer said.

A second attempt at returning the families will be made within the next month, but, even if that succeeds, there are further cultural obligations to be met before the process is complete.

“In the final stage compensation has to be paid for the people who have been killed. Once this has been done in about four or five years, then the clans will have to find enough pigs to slaughter to give to the people they stayed with when they were displaced. So it takes a long time, another four, five, or even ten years,” Be’Soer told IPS.

Voice for Change, a human rights NGO led by Lilly Be'Soer, has worked tirelessly for at least six years to bring peace and resettle displaced people following a clan war in the Jiwaka Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Courtesy Catherine Wilson

Voice for Change, a human rights NGO led by Lilly Be’Soer, has worked tirelessly for at least six years to bring peace and resettle displaced people following a clan war in the Jiwaka Province of Papua New Guinea. Credit: Courtesy Catherine Wilson

Small-scale wars incur large costs

The cumulative cost of both the destruction and displacement from dozens of small-scale clan wars occurring across the country includes the undermining of human development and entrenchment of hardship and inequality in rural families and communities.

In Eastern Highlands, life expectancy is about 55 years and the under-five mortality rate is 73 per 1,000 births, compared to the capital, Port Moresby, where life expectancy is estimated at 59 years and there are some 27 deaths of under-five infants per 1,000 births.

Looking to the future, Kukuni at the Red Cross believes there is a need to prevent the escalation of violence in the first place, adding, “The village courts and community leaders could do more to stop a conflict in the early stages before it grows bigger.”

Voice for Change also emphasises the importance of aiming for generational change by educating the country’s youth to fully understand the long-term impacts of violence on their lives and empowering them with the ability to intervene and implement alternative ways of resolving disputes.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Tiny Island Nation Pleads for Global Moratorium on New Coal Mineshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/tiny-island-nation-pleads-for-global-moratorium-on-new-coal-mines/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tiny-island-nation-pleads-for-global-moratorium-on-new-coal-mines http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/tiny-island-nation-pleads-for-global-moratorium-on-new-coal-mines/#comments Thu, 13 Aug 2015 16:03:21 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141976 Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati, addresses the High-level Event on climate change in July 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati, addresses the High-level Event on climate change in July 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 13 2015 (IPS)

The tiny island of Kiribati in the Central Pacific, with a population of about 103,000, has long been identified as one of the U.N. member states threatened with physical extinction due to sea-level rise triggered largely by climate change.

Expressing these fears, Kiribati President Anote Tong has called on world leaders, on the eve of a summit meeting at the United Nations next month, for “a global and immediate moratorium on all new coal mines and coal mine expansions.”“I have now seen first-hand what a sea level rise means for the people of Kiribati. It is not some scientific modelling or projection - it is real, it is happening now and it will only get worse." -- Kumi Naidoo

In a letter to the leaders of the 193 member states, he has urged them to back his call to action in the lead-up to the Paris climate talks in December.

Speaking on behalf of “a nation faced with a very uncertain future”, he says: “It would be one positive step towards our collective global action against climate change and it is my sincere hope that you and your people would add your positive support in this endeavour.”

“The construction of each new coal mine undermines the spirit and intent of any agreement we may reach, particularly in the upcoming COP 21 (Conference of Parties) in Paris, whilst stopping new coal mine constructions now will make any agreement reached in Paris truly historical,” he says in the letter.

The president, who is scheduled to address the U.N. General Assembly on September 30, already has strong backing from Greenpeace International,

Asked how coal and coal mining impacts on climate change, Leanne Minshull, Senior Portfolio Manager, Climate and Energy at Greenpeace International, told IPS a third of all carbon dioxide emissions come from burning coal.

“And it’s used to produce nearly 40 percent of the world’s power,” she pointed out.

Coal mining, the first step in the dirty lifecycle of coal, causes deforestation and releases toxic amounts of minerals and heavy metals into the soil and water, she said.

“Coal mining’s effects persist for years after coal is removed. Coal also causes damage to people’s health and communities around the world. While the coal industry itself isn’t paying for the damage it causes, the world at large is,” said Minshull.

To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, including widespread drought, flooding and massive population displacement caused by rising sea levels, she noted, “we need to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees C (compared to pre-industrial levels). To do this, global greenhouse gas emissions must peak by 2015 and from there go down to zero.”

The world’s top hard coal producers include China, the United States, India, Australia and South Africa.

Speaking from Kiribati, where is currently on a visit, the Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Dr. Kumi Naidoo, said the people of Kiribati are refusing to be silenced by reckless governments and corporations that are perpetuating climate change, and which in turn is causing rising sea levels.

“I join President Tong in calling on all leaders of similarly threatened islands to stand together and demand climate justice,” Naidoo said.

“I have now seen first-hand what a sea level rise means for the people of Kiribati. It is not some scientific modelling or projection – it is real, it is happening now and it will only get worse,” he added.

Asked about the power wielded by the coal mining lobby and corporations that are in the coal mining business, Minshull told IPS the fossil fuel industry as a whole has a long history in the U.S. of disseminating misinformation on the impacts of climate change and using underhanded tactics to gain positive legislative outcomes for their industry.

She said Greenpeace put out an excellent report last year exposing the influence of the fossil fuel industry including coal.

The Union of Concerned Scientists says “for nearly three decades, many of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies have knowingly worked to deceive the public about the realities and risks of climate change.”

Their deceptive tactics are now highlighted in seven “deception dossiers“— collections of internal company and trade association documents that have either been leaked to the public, come to light through lawsuits, or been disclosed through Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests.

Naidoo said, “We know the science and we know the end of the age of coal is coming. Scrambling to dig up more dirty coal can only be driven by ignorance or sheer disregard for the millions of people at risk from burning it.”

“We need international leadership on this issue and a planned retreat from coal involving a just transition for existing workers and developed in consultation with affected communities,” he declared.

An assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stressed that the sea level rise projected for this century will present ‘severe flood and erosion risks’ for low-lying islands, with the potential also for degradation of freshwater resources.

Every high tide now carries with it the potential for damage and flooding. In some places the sea level is rising by 1.2 centimetres a year, four times faster than the global average.

This means that 80 per cent of coal reserves must remain unused if we are to have any chance at protecting nations like Kiribati, the Marshall Islands and the Philippines, according to Greenpeace.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Impressive Relief Effort Alleviating Hardship in Flood-Affected Myanmarhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/impressive-relief-effort-alleviating-hardship-in-flood-affected-myanmar/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=impressive-relief-effort-alleviating-hardship-in-flood-affected-myanmar http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/impressive-relief-effort-alleviating-hardship-in-flood-affected-myanmar/#comments Wed, 12 Aug 2015 22:48:12 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141968 By Kanya D'Almeida
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 12 2015 (IPS)

With the rainy season still far from over, flood-affected communities in the Sagaing Region and other parts of northern and western Myanmar are preparing for more hardships, while the government continues what the United Nations has called an “incredible” relief effort.

In a statement released on Aug. 12 upon her return from the Kale Township in Sagaing, U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar Renata Dessallien referred to the people in this Southeast Asian nation of 53 million as being among “the most generous in the world”, adding she was “humbled by the spontaneous public outpouring of solidarity and assistance to flood-affected communities.”

Everyone from ordinary citizen volunteers and residents to NGO workers and celebrities have lent their hand to communities whose homes have been buried under mud and debris, and to families who have lost houses, crops, livestock and most of their belongings.

A situation report issued by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on Aug. 11 revealed that 1.1 million people have been “critically affected” by monsoonal floods and landslides since mid-July, while 689,000 acres of farmland have been damaged.

The death toll as of Aug. 10, according to Myanmar’s National Natural Disaster Management Committee (NDMC), stands at 103, but on-going search and rescue operations led by the government may push the number higher.

An estimated 240,000 households have been displaced. Those living in makeshift shelters, cut away from their farmland, are now completely reliant on emergency relief supplies, from food and medicines to shelter and alternative livelihood options.

Aid workers say the biggest priority is ensuring displaced communities have access to healthcare and sanitation facilities, and the government is leading efforts to provide the necessary services and supplies.

Quoting government statistics, OCHA noted that the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has so far provided over 390,000 dollars worth of food supplies, relief items and cash assistance.

“Civil society organisations, individual donors and the private sector have provided in kind and cash assistance, contributing over 435,000 dollars as of Aug. 9,” the agency added.

In a bid to ensure longer-term food security in affected areas, the government has announced plans to distribute paddy seeds and other farm machinery and equipment that will help agricultural communities to get back on their feet.

Waters are now receding in many areas, but mud and debris left behind by the floods will need to be cleared; to this end the government will issue specialized equipment, including pumps, to families who rely on the land for subsistence.

The U.N. has already poured 10 million dollars into the effort, representing half the total international response thus far. Among other things, the funds are being used to construct 10,000 emergency shelters, while an estimated 213,000 people have already benefited from food aid.

But increased financing is needed to provide additional services such as psychological counseling for people who have been deeply traumatized by the disaster, and education facilities for children impacted by the closure of roughly 1,200 schools.

While the challenge is daunting, Dessallien expressed optimism that it can be surmounted, stating that the “caring and generosity, dedication and courage” shown by both government officials and civil society “are showing the true spirit of Myanmar.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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Widowhood in Papua New Guinea Brings an Uncertain Futurehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/widowhood-in-papua-new-guinea-brings-an-uncertain-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=widowhood-in-papua-new-guinea-brings-an-uncertain-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/widowhood-in-papua-new-guinea-brings-an-uncertain-future/#comments Tue, 11 Aug 2015 23:23:51 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141956 Significant numbers of women, such as members of the Mt Hagen Handicraft Group in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea, have been impacted by HIV/AIDS with consequences including widowhood and hardship. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Significant numbers of women, such as members of the Mt Hagen Handicraft Group in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea, have been impacted by HIV/AIDS with consequences including widowhood and hardship. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
GOROKA, Papua New Guinea, Aug 11 2015 (IPS)

It has only been six months since Iveti, 37, lost her husband of 18 years, but already she is facing hardship and worry about the future.

Similar to many married women in the rural highlands region of Papua New Guinea, a southwest Pacific Island state of seven million people, she stayed at home to look after their two children, a daughter aged 11 and a son now in his early twenties, while her husband’s income paid for the family’s needs.

“There was always food to serve to my children, but now the man who provided the food has gone. On the days we don’t have food I make ice-blocks and sell them at the market for 20 or 30 kina [seven to 10 dollars]." -- Iveti, a 37-year-old widow
“I worry about food; I worry about bills and the children. I worry about the relatives who come and visit to mourn with us, because we have to kill a pig [for a feast] or give them something. Who is going to come and say they have the money for all this?” Iveti frets as she sits in her modest home on the outskirts of Goroka, a town in Eastern Highlands Province.

She is surrounded by her children, and her husband’s mother and sister who also live with her.

“There was always food there to serve my children, but now the man who provided the food has gone. On the days we don’t have food I make ice-blocks and sell them at the market. We get 20 kina (seven dollars) or 30 kina (10 dollars). Every two days we pay about 20 kina for the power and with the 10 kina (about 3.60 dollars) which is left, we buy a tin of fish.

“My daughter goes to school and we budget 4 kina (just over a dollar) for her lunch,” she continued.

There is a diversity of widows’ experiences in Papua New Guinea. Those who have completed secondary or tertiary education and have an independent source of income are in a strong socio-economic position to look after themselves and their children.

However, more than 80 percent of the population resides in rural areas where many women have limited access to education and employment.

Female literacy in the Eastern Highlands, for example, is about 36.5 percent. Gender inequality in the country is exacerbated by social practices, such as early and forced marriage, bride price and widespread domestic and sexual violence experienced by two-thirds of women in the country.

While there are no accurate statistics available about widows in Papua New Guinea, the national Widows Association claims that most have been in widowhood for between five and 30 years.

For women in the highlands, the risk of losing a husband is increased due to the prevalence of tribal warfare. Outbreaks of fighting between different clan groups can be triggered by disputes over landownership or pigs, the most prized livestock, or ‘payback’ for a wrong committed against a community.

And, in most cases, the death of a male warrior plunges the wife and children into a precarious existence.

Families are also being impacted by the HIV/AIDS epidemic. By 2010, 31,609 cases of the virus had been reported with the highest prevalence of 0.91 percent recorded in the Highlands, slightly higher than the national rate of 0.8 percent, which is estimated to have decreased to about 0.7 percent last year.

When a husband dies, the widow and children usually have the right to remain on the husband’s land and property. But this is often not the case if AIDS, which is accompanied by social stigma, has been the cause of death.

Agatha Omanefa, Women’s Project Officer at Eastern Highlands Family Voice, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to counselling and supporting families, told IPS that while extended families were traditionally very protective of vulnerable members, she had witnessed rising cases of brothers of the deceased husband making moves to claim the land.

When “the husband’s relatives come in to share the properties the widow becomes a loser with her children […]. Sometimes they come up with stories, history, such as: ‘you are from there, your husband is from here’ and then she [the widow] needs someone to support her to secure the land,” she explained.

“It is having a big impact on widows’ lives, especially when they have small children. So they often keep little food gardens to try and maintain the children’s welfare as well as themselves.”

Families in Papua New Guinea are traditionally large with up to eight or 10 offspring, and the struggle includes paying for children to complete education, especially to secondary level. Female headed households are several times more likely to be below the absolute poverty line, according to government reports.

But one of the greatest threats to a widow’s welfare is the risk of being accused of sorcery. In nearby Simbu Province, women aged 40-65 years are six times more likely than men to be blamed for using witchcraft to cause a death or misfortune in the community, reports Oxfam, and the consequences, including torture and murder, can be tragic.

“There is growing concern that sorcery accusations that lead to killings, injuries or exile are often economically or personally motivated and used to deprive women of their land or property,” the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Rashida Manjoo, reported in 2013.

Widows with sons, however, have a source of protection.

“In our culture in the Highlands, when you have a son, no-one will chase you out, because you will gain strength from your son, but if a woman does not bear any child then she is more vulnerable,” Irish Kokara, treasurer of the Eastern Highlands Provincial Council of Women, explained.

President Jenny Gunure added that there was also a lack of awareness about women’s rights and the law at the village level, a situation the women’s council is working to rectify through a bottom-up education programme aimed at rural women, which was begun last year.

However, Kokara believes that the risk of violence will not diminish until the behaviour of young men, who often perpetrate such crimes as part of vigilante gangs, is addressed.

“It is the youths who take drugs, like marijuana, who are the ones burning the women and hanging them on trees. So we need to change the youths first, then we can change the community,” she declared.

In recent weeks widows across the country have called through the local media for the government to introduce legislation to better support recognition of their rights.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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Protests Greet Japan’s Relaunch of Nuke Powerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/protests-greet-japans-relaunch-of-nuke-power/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=protests-greet-japans-relaunch-of-nuke-power http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/protests-greet-japans-relaunch-of-nuke-power/#comments Mon, 10 Aug 2015 22:41:50 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141937 A reporter stands at a roadblock outside Fukushima's 20 kilometre exclusive zone in March 2011. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS

A reporter stands at a roadblock outside Fukushima's 20 kilometre exclusive zone in March 2011. Credit: Suvendrini Kakuchi/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Aug 10 2015 (IPS)

Protesters rallied outside Japan’s Sendai nuclear plant a day ahead of its planned opening and four years after the Fukushima disaster galvanised opposition to nuclear power in the country.

In a statement, Kyushu Electric Power Co. said it will begin bringing online the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai facility on Aug. 11, start power generation as early as Aug. 14 and return it to normal operations next month.

“We will continue to seriously and carefully cooperate with the country’s inspections, making safety our top priority, cautiously advancing the restart process,” the company said in the statement.

However, local activists say that there is no adequate plan in place to quickly evacuate tens of thousands of residents in the event of a Fukushima-style meltdown.

Triggered by a massive March 2011 earthquake, Fukushima was the largest nuclear disaster since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the second disaster (along with Chernobyl) to measure Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

It led to a complete shutdown of Japan’s nuclear power plants in 2013, which will end Tuesday, if the Sendai facility opens as planned.

Nuclear power had previously provided 30 percent of Japan’s electricity.

Although the new plant meets overhauled safety regulations, opponents point out that Japan records more earthquakes than any other country — and the reactor that opens tomorrow is 60 kilometres from an active volcano in the country’s northwest.

“There are schools and hospitals near the plant, but no one has told us how children and the elderly would be evacuated,” Yoshitaka Mukohara, a representative of a group opposing the Sendai restart, told the Guardian.

“Naturally there will be gridlock caused by the sheer number of vehicles, landslides, and damaged roads and bridges.”

The Shinzo Abe government’s energy plan relies heavily on nuclear power, setting a goal to have it meet more than 20 per cent of the country’s energy needs by 2030.

“We believe it is important for our energy policy to push forward restarts of reactors that are deemed safe,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.

But Jan Vande Putte, a specialist in radiation safety and an energy campaigner with Greenpeace Belgium, notes that, “Japan has been nuclear-free for over a year, and no electricity blackouts have occurred. The Japanese government should turn its back on nuclear power and instead opt for an energy policy based on improving energy efficiency and expanding renewable energy.

“This would protect its citizens from a repetition of the horrors of Fukushima and set the country on track to meet its climate commitments by 2020.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Fair Justice Requires Incontrovertible Evidence in Airline Tragedyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-fair-justice-requires-incontrovertible-evidence-in-airline-tragedy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-fair-justice-requires-incontrovertible-evidence-in-airline-tragedy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-fair-justice-requires-incontrovertible-evidence-in-airline-tragedy/#comments Mon, 10 Aug 2015 16:49:53 +0000 Andrey Klishas and Aslan Abashidze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141934 Liow Tiong Lai, Minister of Transport of Malaysia, addresses the U.N. Security Council on July 29, 2015. The Council failed to establish a tribunal on the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 due to a veto by Russia. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

Liow Tiong Lai, Minister of Transport of Malaysia, addresses the U.N. Security Council on July 29, 2015. The Council failed to establish a tribunal on the downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 due to a veto by Russia. Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Andrey Klishas and Aslan Abashidze
MOSCOW, Aug 10 2015 (IPS)

We refer to the IPS article posted by Mr. Somar Wijayadasa, a former Representative at the United Nations.

Now that the tribunal fiasco is over, let us examine the legal aspects of the inquiry into the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 still being conducted by Dutch experts.Here the question arises: why demand the establishment of an international tribunal, when results of the investigations are still not complete?

As Mr. Wijayadasa correctly pointed out, the toxic game of political football has, unfortunately, dragged this on for over a year without any honest attempt to find out what happened.

The United States and its allies are ever ready to use any excuse to blame Russia. They often abhor any moral imperatives.

There are many questions that demand clarification from a legal point of view.

(a) What rules should be applied in situations of such tragic incidents?
(b) What legal steps should be taken by the State in whose airspace the tragedy took place?
(c) What is the legal status of ongoing investigations?

First, the tragic incident (in which all 298 people on board were killed) took place in the Ukrainian airspace. Therefore, the Ukrainian authorities must bear full responsibility for whatever happened in Ukrainian airspace and/or inside its territory.

From an international law perspective, the incident affected the interests of the State of Ukraine, in whose airspace the tragedy took place; the State of Malaysia as owner of Malaysia Airlines; the Netherlands and other States whose nationals died in the tragic incident. Thus, it should be stressed that this tragedy does not affect Russia at all.

In such tragic situations the rules of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, adopted on 7 December 1944 in Chicago, U.S. (Chicago Convention) are to be applied. All U.N. Member States are parties to this Convention, including those affected by this tragedy.

Article 9 of the Convention states that “each contracting State may, for reasons of military necessity or public safety, restrict or prohibit uniformly the aircraft of other States from flying over certain areas of its territory.”

A vivid example is the tragedy that occurred in 2001 in international airspace over the Black Sea, when Ukrainian air defence forces fired a missile and shot down a Russian plane TU-154 with passengers on board.

In this case, the Ukrainian authorities were obliged to follow the Convention requirements of preventive character by immediately providing the description of restricted areas to other contracting States and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

Article 9 of the Convention further requires each contracting State establishing such restricted area to require any aircraft entering such areas to effect a landing at a designated airport within its territory.

But the Ukrainian authorities announced a no-fly zone only after this tragic event occurred on 17 July 2014.

Article 26 of the Convention states that “In the event of an accident to an aircraft of a contracting State occurring in the territory of another contracting State, and involving death…, the State in which the accident occurs will institute an inquiry into the circumstances of the accident, in accordance, so far as its laws permit, with the procedure which may be recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).”

However, the Ukrainian authorities did not initiate an inquiry into the circumstances of the accident, and they did not appeal to ICAO regarding the procedure for the investigation into the tragedy.

Article 26 further states that “The State in which the aircraft is registered shall be given the opportunity to appoint observers to be present at the inquiry, and the State holding the inquiry shall communicate the report and findings in the matter to that State.”

It is evident that Malaysian authorities could not appoint observers because the Ukrainian authorities failed to establish an investigation into the tragedy.

Also, the Convention does not provide for another State the right (other than the State in which the tragedy occurred) to conduct inquiry into its circumstances. If so, what is the legal basis for Netherlands to make any investigation into the Malaysian Airline tragedy?

Furthermore, Article 82 of the Convention states: “The contracting States accept this Convention as abrogating all obligations and understandings between them which are inconsistent with its terms, and undertake not to enter into any such obligations and understandings.”

Therefore, any agreements between the authorities of the Ukraine and the Dutch authorities, including those related to the inquiry into the circumstances of the catastrophe of the Malaysian airplane – inside Ukraine’s airspace – are contrary to the rules of the Convention.

Article 83 of the Convention states that even arrangements “not inconsistent with the provisions of this Convention shall be forthwith registered with the ICAO Council, which shall make it public as soon as possible.”

Notably, the ICAO Council did not publicise any such agreement. We wish to stress that even with such “secret” agreement between the Ukrainian and the Dutch authorities, the latter do not have the right to investigate the circumstances of the tragedy.

The whole irony of the situation lies in the fact that visiting the crash site by experts from the Netherlands and other countries, picking up debris and other evidence to shed light on the causes of the tragedy was made possible only thanks to the support of the militia of Donetsk People’s Republic.

What is surprising here is the lack of professionalism on the side of the Dutch experts who selectively chose some wreckage, dismembered it into several parts, and took them to study, which is categorically unacceptable in terms of the methods of collecting and studying of material evidence of a catastrophe.

This case is further complicated by the fact that many important aspects of the investigation are not conducted by the Dutch experts (who lack appropriate qualification), but in the laboratories of the UK, which has no relation to the case.

Here the question arises: why demand the establishment of an international tribunal, when results of the investigations are still not complete? And how is it possible to rely on the findings of the investigation, if the process itself raises concerns regarding the controversial actions (and omissions) of those who have usurped the right to investigate the circumstances of the disaster?

Against the background of the hypocritical policy exercised by the U.S. and its allies, what surprises us most is that the Dutch authorities, acting under the written scenario of the United States, are not being shy of their mockery targeting the victims of the disaster of the Malaysian airlines in the airspace of Ukraine.

It should be remembered that such actions commensurate not only with the imperatives of international law and morality, but also the canons of God.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Hiroshima and Nagasaki Mayors Plead for a Nuclear Weapons Free Worldhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/hiroshima-and-nagasaki-mayors-plead-for-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=hiroshima-and-nagasaki-mayors-plead-for-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/hiroshima-and-nagasaki-mayors-plead-for-a-nuclear-weapons-free-world/#comments Mon, 10 Aug 2015 09:49:20 +0000 Ramesh Jaura http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141930 The mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, presents the Nagasaki Peace Declaration, saying that “rather than envisioning a nuclear-free world as a faraway dream, we must quickly decide to solve this issue by working towards the abolition of these weapons, fulfilling the promise made to global society”. Credit: YouTube

The mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, presents the Nagasaki Peace Declaration, saying that “rather than envisioning a nuclear-free world as a faraway dream, we must quickly decide to solve this issue by working towards the abolition of these weapons, fulfilling the promise made to global society”. Credit: YouTube

By Ramesh Jaura
BERLIN/TOKYO, Aug 10 2015 (IPS)

Seventy years after the brutal and militarily unwarranted atomic bombings of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, a nuclear weapons free world is far from within reach.

Commemorating the two events, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki made impassioned pleas for heeding the experiences of the survivors of the atomic bombings and the growing worldwide awareness of the compelling need for complete abolition of such weapons.

The atomic bombings in 1945 destroyed the two cities, and more than 200,000 people died of nuclear radiation, shockwaves from the blasts and thermal radiation. Over 400,000 have died since the end of the war, from the after-effects of the bombs.

As of Mar. 31, 2015, the Japanese government had recognised 183,519 as ‘hibakusha’ (explosion-affected people), most of them living in Japan. Japan’s Atomic Bomb Survivors Relief Law defines hibakusha as people who were: within a few kilometres of the hypocentres of the bombs; within 2 km of the hypocentres within two weeks of the bombings; exposed to radiation from fallout; or not yet born but carried by pregnant women in any of these categories.“Our world still bristles with more than 15,000 nuclear weapons, and policy-makers in the nuclear-armed states remain trapped in provincial thinking, repeating by word and deed their nuclear intimidation” – Kazumi Matsui, mayor of Hiroshima

During the commemorative events in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, reports in several newspapers confirmed that those bombings were militarily unwarranted.

Gar Alperovitz, formerly Lionel R. Bauman Professor of Political Economy at the University of Maryland, wrote in The Nation that that “the war was won before Hiroshima – and the generals who dropped the bomb knew it.”

He quoted Adm. William Leahy, President Harry S. Truman’s Chief of Staff, who wrote in his 1950 memoir ‘I Was There’ [that] “the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender …”

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the U.S. president from 1953 until 1961, shared this view. He was a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe.

Eisenhower stated in his memoirs that when notified by Secretary of War Henry Stimson of the decision to use atomic weapons, he “voiced to him my grave misgivings, first on the basis of my belief that Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”

Even the famous “hawk” Maj. Gen. Curtis LeMay, head of the Twenty-First Bomber Command, went public the month after the bombing, telling the press that “the atomic bomb had nothing to do with the end of the war at all,” wrote Alperovitz.

“The peoples of this world must unite or they will perish,” warned Robert Oppenheimer, widely considered the father of the bomb, as he called on politicians to place the terrifying power of the atom under strict international control.

Oppenheimer’s call has yet to be followed.

In his fervent address on Aug. 6, Kazumi Matsui, mayor of the City of Hiroshima, said: “Our world still bristles with more than 15,000 nuclear weapons, and policy-makers in the nuclear-armed states remain trapped in provincial thinking, repeating by word and deed their nuclear intimidation.”

He added: “We now know about the many incidents and accidents that have taken us to the brink of nuclear war or nuclear explosions. Today, we worry as well about nuclear terrorism.”

As long as nuclear weapons exist, he warned, anyone could become a hibakusha at any time. If that happens, the damage would reach indiscriminately beyond national borders. “People of the world, please listen carefully to the words of the hibakusha and, profoundly accepting the spirit of Hiroshima, contemplate the nuclear problem as your own,” he exhorted.

As president of Mayors for Peace, comprising mayors from more than 6,700 member cities, Kazumi Matsui vowed: “Hiroshima will act with determination, doing everything in our power to accelerate the international trend toward negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention and abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020.”

This, he said, was the first step toward nuclear weapons abolition. The next step would be to create, through the trust thus won, broadly versatile security systems that do not depend on military might.

“Working with patience and perseverance to achieve those systems will be vital, and will require that we promote throughout the world the path to true peace revealed by the pacifism of the Japanese Constitution,” he added.

“We call on the Japanese government, in its role as bridge between the nuclear- and non-nuclear-weapon states, to guide all states toward these discussions, and we offer Hiroshima as the venue for dialogue and outreach,” the mayor of Hiroshima said.

In the Nagasaki Peace Declaration issued on Aug. 9, Nagasaki mayor Tomihisa Taue asked the Japanese government and Parliament to “fix your sights on the future, and please consider a conversion from a ‘nuclear umbrella’ to a ‘non-nuclear umbrella’.”

Japan does not possess any atomic weapons and is protected, like South Korea and Germany, as well as most of the NATO member states, by the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

He appealed to the Japanese government to explore national security measures, which do not rely on nuclear deterrence. “The establishment of a ‘Northeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NEA-NWFZ),’ as advocated by researchers in America, Japan, Korea, China, and many other countries, would make this possible,” he said.

Referring to the Japanese Parliament “currently deliberating a bill, which will determine how our country guarantees its security”, he said: “There is widespread unease and concern that the oath which was engraved onto our hearts 70 years ago and the peaceful ideology of the Constitution of Japan are now wavering. I urge the Government and the Diet to listen to these voices of unease and concern, concentrate their wisdom, and conduct careful and sincere deliberations.”

The Nagasaki Peace Declaration noted that the peaceful ideology of the Constitution of Japan was born from painful and harsh experiences, and from reflection on the war. “Since the war, our country has walked the path of a peaceful nation. For the sake of Nagasaki, and for the sake of all of Japan, we must never change the peaceful principle that we renounce war,” the declaration said.

The Nagasaki mayor regretted that the Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) held at the United Nations earlier this year had struggled with reaching agreement on a Final Document.

However, said Taue, the efforts of those countries which were attempting to ban nuclear weapons had made possible a draft Final Document “which incorporated steps towards nuclear disarmament.”

He urged the heads of NPT member states not to allow the NPT Review Conference “to have been a waste”. Instead, they should continue their efforts to debate a legal framework, such as a ‘Nuclear Weapons Convention (NWC),’ at every opportunity, including at the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Many countries at the Review Conference were in agreement that it was important to visit the atomic-bombed cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Against this backdrop, the Nagasaki mayor appealed to “President [Barack] Obama, heads of state, including the heads of the nuclear weapon states, and all the people of the world … (to) please come to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, and see for yourself exactly what happened under those mushroom clouds 70 years ago.”

No U.S. president has ever attended the any event to commemorate the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller was the highest-ranking U.S. official at the Aug. 6 ceremony. She was reported as saying that nuclear weapons should never be used again.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: The Road to Paris and the Path to Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-the-road-to-paris-and-the-path-to-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-road-to-paris-and-the-path-to-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/08/opinion-the-road-to-paris-and-the-path-to-renewable-energy/#comments Fri, 07 Aug 2015 20:33:25 +0000 Jed Alegado http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=141917

Jed Alegado (@jedalegado) is a climate campaigner based in the Philippines. He holds a master's degree in Public Management from the Ateneo School of Government and is also one of the climate trackers for Adopt a Negotiator's #Call4Climate campaign.

By Jed Alegado
MANILA, Aug 7 2015 (IPS)

Renewable energy is now being seen by many people around the world as a cost-effective development solution both for developed and developing nations. Countries have slowly been realising that the use of coal and the huge amount of carbon emissions it generates harms the environment and impacts our daily activities.

Jed Alegado

Jed Alegado

In fact, according to Christine Lins, Executive Secretary of the Renewable Energy Network for the 21st Century, “last year, for the first time in 40 years, economic and emissions growth have decoupled”.

“If you look back 10 years ago, renewable energies were providing 3 per cent of global energy, and now they provide something close to 22 per cent, so that has really sky-rocketed,” noted Lins.

This is being led most obviously by countries like Uruguay, which aims to generate 90 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2015, and Costa Rica, which maintained 100 percent renewable energy generation for the first 100 days of this year.

These countries are not alone and are fast becoming the norm rather than the ‘alternative’. Even small developing countries such as Burundi, Jordan and Kenya are leading the world in investments in renewable energies as a percentage of GDP.Recently, the Philippine government gave the go-ahead for the construction of 21 coal-powered projects despite President Aquino’s promise in 2011 to “nearly triple the country’s renewables-based capacity."

Philippines’ dependence on coal

In 2008, the Philippines has enacted the Renewable Energy Act of 2008 aiming to “increase the utilization of renewable energy by institutionalizing the development of national and local capabilities in the use of renewable energy system…and reduce the country’s dependence on fossil fuels.”

However, after seven years of its implementation, the Philippines hasn’t yet fully maximised the use of renewable energy, according to Advocates of Science and Technology for the People (AGHAM), an NGO based in the Philippines promoting the use of local science and technology practices.

Recently, the Philippine government gave the go-ahead for the construction of 21 coal-powered projects despite President Aquino’s promise in 2011 during the launch of the Philippine government’s National Renewable Energy Plan to “nearly triple the country’s renewables-based capacity from around 5,400 MW in 2010 to 15,300 MW in 2030.”

In the next five years, the new coal plants that are expected to be constructed are the following: Aboitiz company Therma South Inc.’s 300-megawatt(MW) plant in Davao City (2016); the 400-MW expansion of Team Energy’s Pagbilao coal-fired power plant in Quezon (2017); the 600-MW Redondo Peninsula Energy, Inc. plant in Subic, Zambales (2018); San Miguel Corp. Global’s 300-MW plant in Davao (2017) and a 600-MW plant in Bataan (2016).

While the government has provided incentives to companies to make use of renewable energy, the private sector is not keen on doing so because of the profit generated by coal. Furthermore, they are also looking at the short-term gain of using it – the relatively cheaper price of harnessing the so-called “dirty energy.”

The path to low-carbon development

A report titled “Powering up against Poverty: Why Renewable Energy is the Future” released last week by the international development organisation Oxfam argues that renewable energy is in fact a more affordable energy source than coal for poor people in developing countries.

The report argues that as a result of the changing energy landscape around the world, the decreasing price of renewable energies, and the often remote location of the majority of people who don’t have access to electricity, renewable energy may actually offer a more reliable and effective energy source.

Furthermore, the report stated that, “Four out of five people without electricity live in rural areas that are often not connected to a centralized energy grid, so local, renewable energy solutions offer a much more affordable, practical and healthy solution than coal.”

“But as well as failing to improve energy access for the world’s poorest people, burning coal contributes to hundreds of thousands of premature deaths each year due to air pollution and is the single biggest contributor to climate change.”

This supports statements made this year by the World Bank, IMF and former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, who have all argued that renewable energy and not fossil fuels are key to improving energy access and reducing inequality, especially in developing countries.

The road to Paris and beyond

If the Philippines wants to show to the world that our country is the rallying point against climate change especially in the global climate talks, our government needs to walk the talk on renewable energy. Indeed, climate adaptation practices are not enough. We need to show other countries and lead the way towards climate change mitigation by leading the path to sustainable development and use of renewable energy.

Similarly, countries under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)’s Conference of the Parties must agree on a fair and legally binding agreement in Paris on December. We cannot afford another failed climate negotiations like the one in Copenhagen in 2009 to happen again.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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