Inter Press Service » Asia-Pacific http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Fri, 19 Dec 2014 20:20:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.3 Uzbekistan Gears Up to Vote for Rubberstamp Parliamenthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/uzbekistan-gears-up-to-vote-for-rubberstamp-parliament/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uzbekistan-gears-up-to-vote-for-rubberstamp-parliament http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/uzbekistan-gears-up-to-vote-for-rubberstamp-parliament/#comments Fri, 19 Dec 2014 15:02:14 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138344 The chairman of a Tashkent polling station opens a curtain to a voting booth during the Uzbek presidential election of December 2007. Uzbekistan’s Dec. 21 parliamentary elections feature only four staunchly pro-regime parties to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber. No opposition parties are permitted to legally exist in Uzbekistan, and independent candidates are barred from standing. Credit: OSCE

The chairman of a Tashkent polling station opens a curtain to a voting booth during the Uzbek presidential election of December 2007. Uzbekistan’s Dec. 21 parliamentary elections feature only four staunchly pro-regime parties to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber. No opposition parties are permitted to legally exist in Uzbekistan, and independent candidates are barred from standing. Credit: OSCE

By Joanna Lillis
TASHKENT, Dec 19 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Uzbekistan’s parliamentary elections on Dec. 21 will offer voters a choice, but no hope for change.

Only four staunchly pro-regime parties – the Liberal Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, the People’s Democratic Party of Uzbekistan, as well as the National Revival and the Justice parties – can field candidates for the elections to fill the 150-seat lower house, or the Legislative Chamber.“People have gotten used to all these elections as something staged, and they don’t really care what the outcome will be, because most people think it will all be the way the authorities want it to be." -- A Tashkent-based businessman

They will be joined by representatives of the Ecological Movement of Uzbekistan, which has a “green” quota of 15 seats reserved under electoral law.

No opposition parties are permitted to legally exist in Uzbekistan, and independent candidates are barred from standing.

“The state of political freedoms [in Uzbekistan] is non-existent,” Steve Swerdlow, Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch, told EurasiaNet.org. “Genuinely independent voices have not been allowed to register and participate in this election, as in all previous ones.”

HRW and other watchdog groups routinely rank Uzbekistan as among the most repressive states on earth. That reputation is not stopping strongman President Islam Karimov from touting this election as evidence that Uzbekistan – which he has led for over two decades, brooking no opposition to his iron rule – is on the path to democracy.

Uzbekistan is “building an independent democratic state” and “creating a civil society” that prioritises “human interests, rights, and freedoms and the supremacy of the law,” he claimed in his Constitution Day speech earlier in December.

Critics say Karimov is merely attempting to add a democratic veneer to a dictatorial system. Thousands of political prisoners are languishing in jail, the media is muzzled, and most civil society activists are “either in prison or in exile,” said Nadejda Atayeva, a France-based human rights campaigner exiled from Uzbekistan.

“The Uzbek government is doing all it can to portray this election as legitimate, without actually making it legitimate – without making the election free and fair,” Swerdlow says, adding that Tashkent is harnessing the vote “as an act of consolidation and public mobilisation around the regime.”

Observers expect a high turnout. “Uzbekistan has never had free and fair elections, but the government will ensure that the turnout is sufficiently high,” Alexander Melikishvili, a Washington-based analyst at the IHS Country Risk think-tank, told EurasiaNet.org.

“The government will organise voting drives among public sector employees, and local administrations will compel people to vote through the community (mahalla) councils.”

Voters in Uzbekistan readily acknowledge that mahallas – state-sponsored residents’ councils that control local affairs – rely on coercive measures to get out the vote.

“Mahalla committees will be going round the houses asking people to go to vote,” one Tashkent-based businessman told EurasiaNet.org on condition of anonymity. “That’s exactly what happened last time there were parliamentary elections.”

The public will dutifully turn up at polling booths to avoid reprisals, he added, but will cast their votes without enthusiasm. “People have gotten used to all these elections as something staged, and they don’t really care what the outcome will be, because most people think it will all be the way the authorities want it to be,” he said.

In practical terms, the parliamentary elections mean little for day-to-day affairs in Uzbekistan. As David Dalton, an Uzbekistan analyst at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, points out, “Voting to parliament is heavily controlled, and the real levers of power are anyway located elsewhere.”

International observers will be in Uzbekistan on election day, but the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, or ODIHR, the election-monitoring arm of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will field only a limited mission, partly due to what it describes as “the limited nature of the competition” in the election.

ODIHR has never deemed conditions conducive to sending a full observation mission to Uzbekistan, or judged an election in the Central Asian nation to be free and fair.

Meanwhile, Karimov has been on what Swerdlow describes as a “media blitz” in an attempt to legitimise “an electoral process that’s genuine in form, but not in substance.”

That may be designed to help bolster the legitimacy of another, far more important vote next year: a presidential election due in the spring, in which Karimov has not stated if he will stand, although he has hinted he will.

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specialises in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/uzbekistan-gears-up-to-vote-for-rubberstamp-parliament/feed/ 0
Aboriginal Knowledge Could Unlock Climate Solutionshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 01:43:45 +0000 Neena Bhandari http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138306 William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

William Clark Enoch of Queensland. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
CAIRNS, Queensland, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

As a child growing up in Far North Queensland, William Clark Enoch would know the crabs were on the bite when certain trees blossomed, but now, at age 51, he is noticing visible changes in his environment such as frequent storms, soil erosion, salinity in fresh water and ocean acidification.

“The land cannot support us anymore. The flowering cycles are less predictable. We have to now go much further into the sea to catch fish,” said Enoch, whose father was from North Stradbroke Island, home to the Noonuccal, Nughie and Goenpul Aboriginal people."Our communities don't have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity." -- Kelly Mackenzie

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who comprise only 2.5 per cent (548,400) of Australia’s nearly 24 million population, are part of the oldest continuing culture in the world. They have lived in harmony with the land for generations.

“But now pesticides from sugarcane and banana farms are getting washed into the rivers and sea and ending up in the food chain. We need to check the wild pig and turtles we kill for contaminants before eating,” Enoch told IPS.

With soaring temperatures and rising sea levels, indigenous people face the risk of being further disadvantaged and potentially dislocated from their traditional lands.

“We have already seen environmental refugees in this country during the Second World War. In the 1940s, Torres Strait Islander people were removed from the low-lying Saibai Island near New Guinea to the Australian mainland as king tides flooded the island”, said Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Global sea levels have increased by 1.7 millimeters per year over the 20th century. Since the early 1990s, northern Australia has experienced increases of around 7.1 millimetres per year, while eastern Australia has experienced increases of around 2.0 to 3.3 millimetres per year.

For indigenous people, their heart and soul belongs to the land of their ancestors. “Any dislocation has dramatic effects on our social and emotional wellbeing. Maybe these are some of the reasons why we are seeing great increases in self-harm,” Gooda, who is a descendant of the Gangulu people from the Dawson Valley in central Queensland, told IPS.

Displacement from the land also significantly impacts on culture, health, and access to food and water resources. Water has been very important for Aboriginal people for 60,000 years, but Australia is becoming hotter and drier.

2013 was Australia’s warmest year on record, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s Annual Climate Report. The Australian area-averaged mean temperature was +1.20 degree Centigrade above the 1961–1990 average. Maximum temperatures were +1.45 degree Centigrade above average, and minimum temperatures +0.94 degree Centigrade above average.

“On the other side, during the wet season, it is getting wetter. One small town, Mission Beach in Queensland, recently received 300mm of rain in one night. These extreme climatic changes in the wet tropics are definitely impacting on Indigenous lifestyle,” said Gooda.

Researchers warn that climate change will have a range of negative impacts on liveability of communities, cultural practices, health and wellbeing.

Dr. Rosemary Hill, a research scientist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (Ecosystem Sciences) in Cairns said, “The existing poor state of infrastructure in indigenous communities such as housing, water, energy, sewerage, and roads is likely to further deteriorate. Chronic health disabilities, including asthma, cardiovascular illness and infections, and water, air and food-borne diseases are likely to be exacerbated.”

Environmental and Indigenous groups are urging the government to create new partnerships with indigenous Australians in climate adaptation and mitigation policies and also to tap into indigenous knowledge of natural resource management.

“There is so much we can learn from our ancestors about tackling climate change and protecting country. We have to transition Australia to clean energy and leave fossil fuels in the ground. Our communities don’t have to rely on handouts from mining companies, we can power our homes with the sun and the wind, and build economies based on caring for communities, land and culture that is central to our identity,” says the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) communications director, Kelly Mackenzie.

AYCC is calling on the Australian government to move beyond fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy.

Indigenous elder in residence at Griffith University’s Nathan and Logan campuses in Brisbane, Togiab McRose Elu, said, “Global warming isn’t just a theory in Torres Strait, it’s lapping at people’s doorsteps. The world desperately needs a binding international agreement including an end to fossil fuel subsidies.”

According to a new analysis by Climate Action Tracker (CAT), Australia’s emissions are set to increase to more than 50 per cent above 1990 levels by 2020 under the current Liberal-National Coalition Government’s climate policies.

The Copenhagen pledge (cutting emissions by five per cent below 2000 levels by 2020), even if fully achieved, would allow emissions to be 26 per cent above 1990 levels of energy and industry global greenhouse gases (GHGs).

It is to be noted that coal is Australia’s second largest export, catering to around 30 per cent of the world’s coal trade. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared that coal is good for humanity. His government has dumped the carbon tax and it is scaling back the renewable energy target.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth and final report has said that use of renewable energy needs to increase from 30 per cent to 80 per cent of the world’s energy supply.

Dr. Hill sees new economic opportunities for indigenous communities in energy production, carbon sequestration, GHG abatement and aquaculture. “Climate adaptation provides opportunities to strengthen indigenous ecological knowledge and cultural practices which provide a wealth of experience, understanding and resilience in the face of environmental change,” she told IPS.

With the predicted change in sea level, traditional hunting and fishing will be lost across significant areas. A number of indigenous communities live in low-lying areas near wetlands, estuaries and river systems.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

Elaine Price. Credit: Neena Bhandari/IPS

“These areas are important culturally and provide a valuable subsistence source of food, particularly protein, unmet by the mainstream market,” said Andrew Picone, Australian Conservation Foundation’s Northern Australia Programme Officer.

Picone suggests combined application of cultural knowledge and scientific skill as the best opportunity to address the declining health of northern Australia’s ecosystems. Recently, traditional owners on the Queensland coast and WWF-Australia signed a partnership to help tackle illegal poaching, conduct species research and conserve threatened turtles, dugongs and inshore dolphins along the Great Barrier Reef.

The Girringun Aboriginal Corporation and Gudjuda Aboriginal Reference Group together represent custodians of about a third of the Great Barrier Reef.

Elaine Price, a 58-year-old Olkola woman who hails from Cape York, would like more job opportunities in sustainable industries and ecotourism for her people closer to home.

“Our younger generation is losing the knowledge of indigenous plants and birds. This knowledge is vital to preserving and protecting our ecosystem,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/aboriginal-knowledge-could-unlock-climate-solutions/feed/ 2
UNIDO Development Initiative Gains Momentum in ACP Nationshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/#comments Wed, 17 Dec 2014 00:48:32 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138303 By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Dec 17 2014 (IPS)

The inclusive and sustainable industrial development (ISID) initiative of the U.N. Industrial Development Organisation to promote industrial development for poverty reduction, inclusive globalisation and environmental sustainability is gaining momentum in the countries of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) group. 

A concrete sign of this trend came on the occasion of last week’s ACP Council of Ministers meeting in the Belgian capital where UNIDO Director-General Li Yong met with ACP representatives to explore how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in their countries and possible ways of scaling up investment in developing countries.

UNIDO Director-General Li Yong at the !00th ACP Council of Ministers  meeting in Brussels, where he explored how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in ACP countries. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

UNIDO Director-General Li Yong at the !00th ACP Council of Ministers meeting in Brussels, where he explored how to further promote inclusive and sustainable industrialisation in ACP countries. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

During the opening session of the ministers’ meeting, outgoing ACP Secretary-General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni had already highlighted the key role of the ISID programme in promoting investment and stimulating competitive industries in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries.

In December last year in Lima, Peru, the 172 countries belonging to UNIDO – including ACP countries – unanimously approved the Lima Declaration calling for “inclusive and sustainable industrial development”.

The Lima Declaration clearly acknowledged that industrialisation is an important landmark on the global agenda and, for the first time, the spectacular industrial successes of several countries in the last 40 years, particularly in Asia, was globally recognised.

According to UNIDO statistics, industrialised countries add 70% of value to their products and recent research by the organisation shows how industrial development is intrinsically correlated with improvements in sectors such as poverty reduction, health, education and food security.“We need to move away from traditional models of industrialisation, which have had serious effects on the environment and the health of people” – UNIDO Director-General Li Yong

One major issue that the concept of ISID addresses is the environmental sustainability of industrial development. “We need to move away from traditional models of industrialisation, which have had serious effects on the environment and the health of people,” said Li.

Economic growth objectives should be pursued while protecting the environment and health, and by making business more environmentally sustainable, they become more profitable and societies more resilient.

ISID in the Post-2015 Agenda

“For ISID to be achieved,” said Li, “appropriate policies are essential as well as partnerships among all stakeholders involved.” This highlights the importance of including ISID in major development frameworks, particularly in the post-2015 development agenda that will guide international development in the coming decades.

With strong and solid support from the ACP countries, ISID has already been recognised as one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) proposed by the U.N. Open Working Group on SDGs – to take the place of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) whose deadline is December 2015 – and confirmed last week by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in ‘The Road to Dignity By 2030’, his synthesis report on the post-2015 agenda.

In fact, goal 9 is specifically devoted to “building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialisation and fostering innovation.”

In this context, Mumuni told the Brussels meeting of ACP ministers that “in building the competitiveness of our industries and facilitating the access of ACP brands to regional and international markets, UNIDO is regarded by ACP Secretariat as a strategic ally.”

ACP-UNIDO – A Strategic Partnership

A Memorandum of Understanding approved in March 2011 and a Relationship Agreement signed in November 2011 represent the solid strategic framework underlying the strategic partnership between ACP and UNIDO, and highlight how the two partners can work together to support the implementation of ISID in ACP countries.

Key is the establishment and reinforcement of the capacity of the public and private sectors in ACP countries and regions for the development of inclusive, competitive, transparent and environmentally-friendly industries in line with national and regional development strategies.

On the basis of these agreements, ACP and UNIDO have intensified their policy dialogue and concrete cooperation. One example reported during the ministers’ meeting was the development of a pilot programme entitled “Investment Monitoring Platform” (IMP), funded under the intra-ACP envelope of the 9th European Development Fund (EDF) with the support of other donors.

This programme is aimed at managing the impact of foreign direct investments (FDI) on development, combining investment promotion with private sector development, designing and reforming policies that attract quality investment, and enhancing coordination between the public and private sector, among others.

This programme has already reinforced the capacity of investment promotion agencies and statistical offices in more than 20 African countries, which have been trained on methodologies to assess the private sector at country level.

Implementing ISID in ACP Countries

In Africa, the strategy for the Accelerated Industrial Development of Africa (AIDA) prepared with UNIDO expertise, is a key priority of Agenda 2063  – a “global strategy to optimise use of Africa’s resources for the benefit of all Africans” – and of the Joint Africa-European Union Strategy.

In the Caribbean, high priority is being given to private sector development, climate change, renewable energy and energy efficiency, and value addition in agri-business value chains, trade and tourism.

The CARIFORUM-EU Business Forum in London in 2013 clearly articulated the need for more innovation, reliable markets and private sector information, access to markets through quality and the improvement of agro-processing and creative industries.

In the Pacific, the 2nd Pacific-EU Business Forum held in Vanuatu in June this year called for stronger engagement in supporting the private sector and ensuring that innovation would produce tangible socio-economic benefits.

Finally, in all three ACP regions, interventions related to quality and value chain development are being backed in view of supporting the private sector and commodity strategies.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/unido-development-initiative-gains-momentum-in-acp-nations/feed/ 0
CORRECTION/Filipino Children Make Gains on Paper, But Reality Lags Behindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind/#comments Mon, 15 Dec 2014 00:38:52 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138277 Teenage pregnancy affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19. Credit: Stella Estremera/IPS

Teenage pregnancy affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19. Credit: Stella Estremera/IPS

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Dec 15 2014 (IPS)

Mae Baez sees some of the darkest sides of communications technology.

A child rights advocate with the secretariat of the Philippine NGO Coalition on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Baez says, “Teenage pregnancies continue to rise, street children are treated like criminals who are punished, children in conflict with the law and those affected by disasters are not taken care of, and now, with the prevalence of child porn, children know how to video call.”“The government has not intervened in protecting children from early marriage and in ending the decades-long war between Muslims and Christians to achieve true and lasting peace." -- Mark Timbang

The most notable case of this last scourge was early this year in the island of Cebu, 570 kilometres south of Manila, where the Philippine National Police arrested and tried foreign nationals for pedophilia and child pornography in a large-scale cybersex business.

While the Philippines is praised by international human rights groups as having an advanced legal framework for children, child rights advocates like Baez said “violations continue to persist,” including widespread corporal punishment at home, in schools and in other settings.

The Bata Muna (Child First), a nationwide movement that monitors the implementation of children’s rights in the Philippines consisting of 23 children’s organisations jointly convened by Save the Children, Zone One Tondo Organization consisting of urban poor communities, and Children Talk to Children (C2C), said these violations were contained in the United Nations reviews and expert recommendations to the Philippine government.

The movement listed the gains on the realisation of children’s rights with the existence of the Juvenile Justice Welfare Act, Anti-Child Trafficking, Anti-Pornography Act and Foster Care Act, among other policies protecting children.

There is also the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), a social welfare programme intended to eradicate extreme poverty by investing in children’s education and health; the National Strategic Framework for the Development of Children 2001-2025; the Philippine Plan of Action for Children; and the growing collective efforts of civil society to claim children’s rights.

But Baez said these laws have not been fully implemented, and are in fact clouded by current legislative proposals such as amending the country’s Revised Penal Code to raise the age of statutory rape from the current 12 to 16 to align the country’s laws to internationally-accepted standard of age of consent.

The recently-enacted Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, which endured 15 years of being filed, re-filed and debated on in the Philippine Congress, has yet to be implemented. Many civil society groups have pinned their hopes on this law on the education of young people on sexual responsibility and life skills.

Teenage pregnancy, which affects 1.4 million Filipino girls aged 15 to 19, is widespread in the country, according to the University of the Philippines Population Institute that conducted the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey in 2013.

There are 43 million young Filipinos under 18, according to 2014 estimates of the National Statistics Office, and these youth, especially those in the poorest households and with limited education, need to be informed about their bodies, their health and their rights to prevent early pregnancies.

The child advocates said early pregnancies deny young girls their basic human rights and prevent them from continuing their schooling. The advocates said if the Reproductive Health Law is implemented immediately, many girls and boys will be able to receive correct information on how to protect and care for their bodies.

On education, Baez said the government’s intention to provide more access has yet to be realised with the introduction in 2011 of the K to 12 program to provide a child ample time to be skilled, develop lifelong learning, and prepare them for tertiary education, middle-level skills development, employment, and entrepreneurship.

“While the programme does not solve the high drop-out rate in primary education, children in remote and poor areas still walk kilometres just to go to school,” Baez said.

This situation was echoed by Mark Timbang, advocacy coordinator of the Mindanao Action Group for Children’s Rights and Protection in the country’s predominantly Muslim south, who said the government has not shown its intentions to provide children a more convenient way of going to school.

Timbang also said “the government has not intervened in protecting children from early marriage and in ending the decades-long war between Muslims and Christians to achieve true and lasting peace” where children can grow safely.

Sheila Carreon, child participation officer of Save the Children, added that another pending bill seeks to raise the age of children who can participate in the Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council), a youth political body that is a mechanism for children’s participation in governance, from the current 15-17 years to 18-24.

“We urged the government not to erase children in the council. Let the children experience the issues that concern them. The council is their only platform,” said Carreon.

Angelica Ramirez, advocacy officer of the Philippine Legislators Committee on Population and Development, said existing laws do not give enough protection to children, citing as an example pending legislative measures that seek positive discipline instead of using corporal punishment on children.

Foremost among them is the Positive Discipline and Anti Corporal Punishment bill that promotes the positive discipline approach that seeks to teach children that violence is not an acceptable and appropriate strategy in resolving conflict.

It promotes non-violent parenting that guides children’s behaviour while respecting their rights to healthy development and participation in learning, develops their positive communication and attention skills, and provides them with opportunities to evaluate the choices they make.

Specifically, the bill suggests immediately correcting a child’s wrongdoing, teaching the child a lesson, giving tools that build self -discipline and emotional control, and building a good relationship with the child by understanding his or her needs and capabilities at each stage of development without the use of violence and by preventing embarrassment and indignity on a child.

Citing a campaign-related slogan that quotes children saying, “You don’t need to hurt us to let us learn,” Ramirez said corporal punishment is “rampant and prevalent,” as it is considered in many Filipino households as a cultural norm.

She cited a 2011 Pulse Asia survey that said eight out of 10 Filipino children experience corporal punishment and two out of three parents know no other means of disciplining their children.

Addressing this issue by stopping the practice can have a good ripple effect on future generations, said Ramirez, because nine out of 10 parents who practice corporal punishment said it was also used by their parents to discipline them.

The U.N. defines corporal punishment as the physical, emotional and psychological punishment of children in the guise of discipline. As one of the cruelest forms of violence against children, corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights. It recommends that all countries, including the Philippines as a signatory to the convention, implement a law prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment in schools, private and public institutions, the juvenile justice system, alternative care system, and the home.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

*The story that moved on Dec. 15 misstated the matter of statutory rape in the Philippines. Child rights advocates are recommending that the age be raised from 12. The government has responded positively to it and legislation on the matter is ongoing. Likewise, the advocates would also like to see the minimum age of criminal responsibility raised higher than the current 15.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/filipino-children-make-gains-on-paper-but-reality-lags-behind/feed/ 1
What Future for the ACP-EU Partnership Post-2015?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015 http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015/#comments Fri, 12 Dec 2014 20:04:37 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138244 The 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers, held in Brussels from Dec. 9 to 12, discussed prospects for a meaningful partnership with the European Union. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

The 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers, held in Brussels from Dec. 9 to 12, discussed prospects for a meaningful partnership with the European Union. Credit: Courtesy of ACP

By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Dec 12 2014 (IPS)

“There are still prospects for a meaningful ACP-EU partnership, capable of contributing and responding concretely and effectively to the objectives of promoting and attaining peace, security, poverty eradication and sustainable development,” according to the top official of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP).

ACP Secretary General Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni was speaking at the 100th session of the ACP Council of Ministers held here from Dec. 9 to 12, during which ACP and European Union representatives took the opportunity to renew their commitment to working closely together, particularly in crafting a common strategy for the post-2015 global development agenda.

Besides discussing trade issues, development finance, humanitarian crises and the current Ebola crisis, the two sides also tackled future perspectives and challenges for the ACP itself and for its partnership with the European Union.“We must speed up our efforts. 2015 will not be the end of the road. The 2015-post development agenda presents us with the chance to go even further. We can play a role together. This is why the Joint ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-2015 Development Agenda … is so valuable” – European Development Commissioner Neven Mimica

It was agreed that comprehensive cooperation built on collaborative approaches, creative methods and innovative interventions in all the countries of the ACP will be the inspiration for a joint initiative in 2015, in the context of the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Lomé Convention, the trade and aid agreement between the ACP and the European Community first signed in February 1075 in Lomé, Togo, and the forerunner to the Cotonou Agreement.

The European Union will also be celebrating European Year for Development in 2015, which is also the deadline year for the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The convergence of these three events, and the anticipated adoption by the international community of the development framework which is to replace the MDGs, “together represent a unique opportunity for the ACP and the European Union to demonstrate in a concrete fashion that they have and continue to strive for impactful relations in the future,” said Bhoendratt Tewarie, Minister of Planning and Sustainable Development of Trinidad and Tobago, who chairs the ACP Ministerial Committee on Development Finance Cooperation.

While acknowledging the current economic and financial difficulties being experienced by the European Union and the efforts under way to address them, it was stressed that these do not undermine the validity and strength of the ACP-EU partnership, that the rationale behind the partnership remains valid and that efforts must be redoubled for mutual benefit.

Proof of the commitment to help ACP countries meet the objectives of the Cotonou Agreement was identified in the concrete efforts being undertaken by both sides to improve the quality of life of the most impoverished and vulnerable countries – as  well as other countries, including middle income and upper middle income countries – of the ACP which continue to experience serious developmental challenges.

European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development Neven Mimica said that the post-2015 development agenda and the post-Cotonou framework – to succeed the current ACP-EC Partnership Agreement signed in Cotonou, Benin, in 2000 – “will shape development policy for the next decade.”

“We can agree on the need for an enhanced approach, building further on our partnership, incorporating overarching principles, such as respect for fundamental values, and taking account of specific realities in countries and regions,” he told the meeting.

The New EU Commission and EDF Programming

The Council of Ministers’ session was also the occasion for ACP members to meet with members of the new European Commission, which took office on Nov. 1, including the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini, Development Commissioner Mimica as well as European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides.

Under the new Commission, the eleventh edition of the European Union’s main instrument for providing development aid to ACP countries, the European Development Fund, has been approved for the period 2014-2020 fora total of 31.5 billion euro, but has not yet entered into force.

Pending a further six ratifications on the European side, which are expected by mid-2015, a “bridging facility” amounting to 1.5 billion euro sourced from unused funds from previous EDFs, will allow priority actions to continue in ACP countries in 2014 and 2015.

To date, 53 national indicative programmes (worth up to 10 billion euro for the period 2014-2020) have been signed, with the remaining programmes to be signed by early 2015.

At the regional level, there is broad agreement on the content – sectors and financial breakdown – of the programmes, which should be signed by the first semester of 2015. The Intra-ACP cooperation strategy will be also be adopted and signed during the first semester of 2015.

“But we must not be complacent,” said Mimica. “We must speed up our efforts. 2015 will not be the end of the road. The 2015-post development agenda presents us with the chance to go even further. We can play a role together. This is why the Joint ACP-EU Declaration on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, which was adopted last June in Nairobi, is so valuable.”

The Joint Declaration represents the springboard for building greater consensus and contributing towards meaningful and ambitious outcomes in July and September next year, looking forward to a post-Cotonou framework.

“Transforming the ACP Group into a Global Player”

Meanwhile, the ACP Group is currently reflecting on its institutional aspects, such as leadership, organizational mandate, and implementation of reforms which aim at making it a more effective and accountable stakeholder in the international political context, while working on reducing poverty and promoting sustainable development in member states.

Newly appointed ACP Secretary General, Ambassador Dr Patrick Gomes from Guyana. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

Newly appointed ACP Secretary General, Ambassador Patrick Gomes from Guyana. Credit: Valentina Gasbarri/IPS

An Eminent Persons Group has been established and a report will be presented to the next ACP Summit with the aim of identifying the most suitable strategic approach for ACP to be more effective, more visible, more accountable in a world of partnership and ownership, incorporating overarching principles such as respect for fundamental values and taking into account the specificities of the realities in countries and regions.

An important sign of the ACP institutional change was also launched during the 100th Council of Ministers with the appointment of the new Secretary General, Patrick Gomes, who will head the ACP Secretariat from 2015 to 2020, a landmark period covering the latest part of the ACP partnership agreement with the European Union.

Appointment of the Secretary General generally follows a principle of rotation among the six ACP regions – West Africa (currently holding the post), East Africa, Central Africa, Southern Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific Islands.

Gomes is the Ambassador of Guyana to the European Union and the Kingdom of Belgium and the country representative to the WTO, FAO, and the IFAD.

Gomes has led various high-level ambassadorial committees in the ACP system, currently serving as Chair of the Working Group on Future Perspectives of the ACP Group, which transmitted a final report on “Transforming the ACP Group into a Global Player” during the ACP Council of Ministers.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/what-future-for-the-acp-eu-partnership-post-2015/feed/ 0
Georgia Confronts Domestic Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/georgia-confronts-domestic-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=georgia-confronts-domestic-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/georgia-confronts-domestic-violence/#comments Thu, 11 Dec 2014 13:11:23 +0000 Giorgi Lomsadze http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138228 Georgians gathered in central Tbilisi on Nov. 25 to rally against domestic violence during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Credit: Giorgi Lomsadze

Georgians gathered in central Tbilisi on Nov. 25 to rally against domestic violence during the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Credit: Giorgi Lomsadze

By Giorgi Lomsadze
TBILISI, Dec 11 2014 (EurasiaNet)

The issue of domestic violence is moving to the forefront of public attention in Georgia after a series of killings of women at the hands of their respective spouses or ex-spouses made headlines in local mass media.

While no quick fix exists for the spike in violence, observers believe that changing the way police respond to abuse complaints is a good place to start.

When 22-year-old model Salome Jorbenadze phoned the police earlier this year in the western town of Zugdidi, she was hoping to receive protection against her abusive former husband. But all she received was a lecture from two policewomen about what a woman has to do to pacify an embittered ex, a source familiar with the case told EurasiaNet.org.”For many, being a man means to show that you've got the power, that you are in charge, and some just flip when they cannot assert that role and they take it out on women.” -- Naniko Vachnadze

Jorbenadze went on to complain to an in-house police-oversight agency. But no restraining order was issued against her former husband, Sergi Satseradze, a police officer. He later shot Jorbenadze dead in a crowded Zugdidi park on Jul. 25.

Twenty-four other women are estimated to have met similar fates this year. One analyst studying the trend asserts police have repeatedly failed to act on women’s reports of receiving threats from their former or current spouses.

“Such cases show that the state is failing to fulfill its ultimate human rights commitment: protecting the lives of its citizens,” said Tamar Dekanosidze, an attorney specialising in human-rights law at the Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association, a civil-rights watchdog.

English teacher Maka Tsivtsivadze also reported death threats she was receiving from her former husband, but he only received a verbal warning from police. Her Oct. 17 murder, taking place in broad daylight inside a centrally located university building in the capital, Tbilisi, shocked city residents.

The number of such killings is believed to be a record for a single year, but the way the police categorise such murders muddies the picture. A killing involving a man and his current or former wife is almost always classified as an unintentional, rather than premeditated murder – even in one 2013 case when an ex-husband fired 24 shots at his ex-wife, Dekanosidze said.

The misclassification of many killings skews official crime statistics and also leads to less severe sentences for those convicted of crimes. Premeditated murders carry a seven-to-15 year prison sentence; death from bodily injuries, six to eight years.

Prosecutors and police did not respond to requests for comment.

Tsivtsivadze’s case may be a tipping point for change. Amid a recent series of protests and rallies designed to heighten awareness of domestic violence, officials have acknowledged that Georgia has a femicide problem. It has set up an ad-hoc commission to collect recommendations from civil society groups and international experts on how to tackle gender-based violence.

UN Women, the United Nations agency that focuses on women’s issues, has advised that simplifying procedures for issuing restraining orders could help. The organisation’s Georgia branch has suggested allowing police to issue a restraining order even without court approval, and using bracelets “to control compliance,” said Irina Japaridze, who runs a gender-equality programme for UN Women.

At the same time, many recent public discussions have tried to put Georgians collectively on the couch to try to gain insight into the motivations behind the violence. Social psychologists worry about a copycat-killing effect, but Georgian society’s patriarchal norms are broadly seen as the root of the problem.

“I think we generally have very wrong ideas about what it means to be a man,” commented Naniko Vachnadze, a female graduate student at the Georgian Institute of Public Affairs in Tbilisi. ”For many, being a man means to show that you’ve got the power, that you are in charge, and some just flip when they cannot assert that role and they take it out on women.”

Thirty-four percent of 2,391 respondents in a 2013 poll run by the UN Women programme said that violence against women “can be justified in certain domestic circumstances, such as neglect of maternal duties or other family cares,” Japaridze said.

Men are often given the benefit of the doubt for such behaviour, an attitude that can result in psychological abuse, Vachnadze said. “Many husbands are telling their wives not to go to work, not to visit friends, stay home and raise the kids,” she elaborated.

The perception of a husband’s role can continue even after a divorce. Many Georgians see an ex-wife leading an independent life as a humiliation for the man.

As elsewhere in the macho Caucasus, male and female frequently are not seen as created equal. The tradition of parents passing on property exclusively to a male heir still exists; a female fetus tends more often to lead to an abortion.

Other underlying psychological issues are believed to contribute to abuse – namely, the traumatizing post-Soviet experience of wars, lawlessness and economic collapse, as well as stress associated with the fast pace of societal change over the past two decades. Some see the violence even as a manifestation of men’s reaction to urban Georgian women’s increasing public prominence, whether as entrepreneurs, politicians, civil-society figures or, even, car drivers.

“Although we say that we live a very traditionalist society, many cultural changes have happened in recent years and it is clashing with ossified views on gender roles,” commented prominent art critic and feminist activist Teo Khatiashvili.

Tackling the cultural aspects of violence against women may be a far greater challenge than improving the police response, but Georgia, as a signatory of the U.N. Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, has international commitments to do so.

Parliament is expected soon to ratify the Istanbul Convention, a treaty that stipulates that a failure to address domestic violence constitutes a human-rights violation. Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili has underlined that Georgia does not shy away from such definitions.

“Respect for women is a lasting tradition in Georgia and the increased acts of violence against women are incompatible with this tradition and are extremely shameful,” he said on Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Editor’s note:  Giorgi Lomsadze is a freelance journalist based in Tbilisi. He is a frequent contributor to EurasiaNet.org’s Tamada Tales blog. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/georgia-confronts-domestic-violence/feed/ 0
Leading Investigative Reporter Detained in Azerbaijanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/leading-investigative-reporter-detained-in-azerbaijan/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=leading-investigative-reporter-detained-in-azerbaijan http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/leading-investigative-reporter-detained-in-azerbaijan/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 12:19:44 +0000 Justin Burke http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138169 Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani investigative journalist critical of the government of President Ilham Aliyev, was detained Dec. 5 in the capital Baku. Credit: Aziz Karimov

Khadija Ismayilova, an Azerbaijani investigative journalist critical of the government of President Ilham Aliyev, was detained Dec. 5 in the capital Baku. Credit: Aziz Karimov

By Justin Burke
BAKU, Dec 9 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Authorities in Azerbaijan took steps Dec. 5 to muzzle Khadija Ismayilova, an investigative journalist who is the country’s most vocal government critic. A Baku court granted a motion to hold Ismayilova in jail pending a criminal trial, while her Facebook page mysteriously went dark.

Observers say the criminal charges against Ismayilova are politically motivated and her detention is widely seen as connected with an ongoing government crackdown on all forms of dissent. The ruling by the Sabail District court in Baku allows for Ismayilova to be held for two months. In the case, she is accused of goading another journalist to commit suicide.Ismayilova had long expected that she would one day end up behind bars. In February, she posted instructions on Facebook to her supporters on what to do if she was taken into custody.

“The arrest of Ismayilova is nothing but orchestrated intimidation, which is a part of the ongoing campaign aimed at silencing her free and critical voice,” Dunja Mijatović, the OSCE’s Representative on Freedom of the Media, said in a written statement.

On the same day as the court hearing, Ismayilova’s Facebook page was “deactivated.” Friends and colleagues of Ismayilova expressed doubt that she herself would have taken down her Facebook page, which had thousands of followers and is widely seen as one of the most comprehensive sources of news about Azerbaijan from an opposition viewpoint.

In the days prior to her detention, Ismayilova posted particularly fierce critiques of news items involving President Ilham Aliyev and Presidential Chief-of-Staff Ramiz Mehdiyev.

On Dec. 4, Mehdiyev, in a lengthy written statement, painted Ismayilova as an enemy of the state, and hinted that she worked in concert with foreign entities to undermine the government.

“She puts on anti-Azerbaijani shows, makes absurd statements, openly demonstrates a destructive attitude towards well-known members of the Azerbaijani community, and spreads insulting lies. It is clear this sort of defiance pleases Ms. Ismayilova’s patrons abroad,” wrote Mehdiyev.

In recent years, Ismayilova has worked mainly as a freelance investigative journalist and radio programme host for such outlets as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. She has also written occasionally for EurasiaNet.org.

Ismayilova’s crusading investigative journalism has long taken aim at Aliyev’s administration. In 2012, for example, she documented various corrupt dealings involving top government officials and construction projects connected with Baku’s hosting the Eurovision song contest. Later, Ismayilova asserted she was subjected to a blackmail attempt.

According to her, when she refused to cease her investigative activities, her unknown, would-be blackmailers posted an illicitly recorded sex video featuring her on social media.

Ismayilova had long expected that she would one day end up behind bars. In February, she posted instructions on Facebook to her supporters on what to do if she was taken into custody. Addressing international diplomats, she expressed skepticism about the utility of quiet diplomacy. Instead, she urged the diplomatic community in Baku to go public.

“I don’t want any private diplomacy for my case. I don’t believe in human rights advocacy behind closed doors,” she wrote. “Please [show] support by standing for freedom of speech and freedom of privacy in this country as loudly as possible. Otherwise, I rather prefer you not to act at all.”

She went on to insist that the criminal cases against her are retribution for her journalistic activities. “Anti-corruption investigations are the reason of my arrest,” she wrote in the February posting.

RFE/RL’s chief editor, Nenad Pejic, characterised Ismayilova’s detention as outrageous. “The arrest and detention of Khadija Ismayilova is the latest attempt in a two-year campaign to silence a journalist who has investigated government corruption and human rights abuses in Azerbaijan,” Pejic said in a written statement.

Editor’s note:  Justin Burke is the Managing Editor of EurasiaNet. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/leading-investigative-reporter-detained-in-azerbaijan/feed/ 0
Civil Society Support for Marshall Islands Against Nuclear Weaponshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons/#comments Tue, 09 Dec 2014 01:41:34 +0000 Julia Rainer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138164 Mushroom cloud over Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands from Castle Bravo, the largest nuclear test ever conducted by the United States. Credit: United States Department of Energy [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

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

By Julia Rainer
VIENNA, Dec 9 2014 (IPS)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Edited by Phil Harris)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/civil-society-support-for-marshall-islands-against-nuclear-weapons/feed/ 0
Indonesia’s New President Promises to Put Peat Before Palm Oilhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indonesias-new-president-puts-rainforests-before-palm-oil-plantations/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indonesias-new-president-puts-rainforests-before-palm-oil-plantations http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indonesias-new-president-puts-rainforests-before-palm-oil-plantations/#comments Fri, 05 Dec 2014 18:33:50 +0000 Jeff Conant http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138120 Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) and Walhi Executive Director Abetnego Tarigan (centre) come to Sungai Tohor village. Credit: Walhi/Friends of the Earth Indonesia

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (right) and Walhi Executive Director Abetnego Tarigan (centre) come to Sungai Tohor village. Credit: Walhi/Friends of the Earth Indonesia

By Jeff Conant
JAKARTA, Dec 5 2014 (IPS)

Last week, Indonesia’s new president, Joko Widodo, ordered the country’s Ministry of Environment and Forestry to review the licenses of all companies that have converted peatlands to oil palm plantations.

If the ministry follows through, this will be one of the most important actions the Indonesian government can take to begin truly reining in the destruction reaped by the palm oil industry there – and to address the severe climate impacts of peatland destruction.“The best thing to do is to give the land to people... They won’t do any harm to nature. However, if we give the land to corporations, they will only switch it to monoculture plantations.” -- President Widodo

The Indonesian Forum on the Environment, known as WALHI/Friends of the Earth Indonesia, has been pushing for this initiative, and the announcement was made in the village of River Tohor, in Riau Province, where WALHI has long worked with the community.

Walhi had invited Jokowi, as the president is casually known, to come to Riau because the province is ground zero for Indonesia’s massive haze crisis that comes from the near-constant burning of carbon-rich peatlands in order to convert these fragile ecosystems to plantations.

“We invited him to River Tohor to demonstrate the community’s success in preserving the peat forest ecosystem,” said Zenzi Suhadi, forest campaigner for Walhi.

“We hoped this visit would show the president that community management can protect forests, and that granting concessions to companies is the wrong approach,” Suhadi said.

The strategy appears to have succeeded, as Walhi hailed President Jokowi’s Riau visit as proof of his commitment to solving ecological problems.

“The best thing to do is to give the land to people,” the president told the Jakarta Globe. “What’s made by people is usually environmentally friendly. They won’t do any harm to nature. However, if we give the land to corporations, they will only switch it to monoculture plantations.”

“I have told the minister of environment and forestry to review the licenses of companies that have converted peatlands into monoculture plantations if they are found damaging the ecosystem,” Jokowi said. “There is no other solution to the issue; everyone understands what must be done.” 

Peatlands – waterlogged vegetable soils that make up a significant portion of Indonesia’s rainforests – are great storehouses of carbon dioxide. The widespread practice of draining and burning peat to develop palm-oil and other plantation crops makes Indonesia the world’s third largest emitter of global warming pollution, after China and the United States.

Taking strong measures to prevent this practice may be the single best action Indonesia can take in the fight to curb the climate crisis.

Palm oil producers have fought long to preserve the ability to clear peatlands. When Wilmar International, among the world’s largest palm oil traders, announced last year that it would stop trading palm oil grown on cleared peatlands, some suppliers pushed back, saying it would not only harm the industry, but would set back the economic development of smallholder farmers.

Jokowi appears to have taken the economic argument to heart: he made the announcement to audit palm oil concession licenses after joining the local community to plant seedlings of sago, a native palm species that is harvested for its starchy tapioca-like pith, a food product that can be sold locally or for export.

“The president’s decision to audit concession licenses to protect peat puts the interests of citizens ahead of the interests of the industry,” said Suhadi.

“This is an acknowledgment that the people of Indonesia have been waiting on for decades,” Suhadi continued. “Finally it is recognized that government must foster trust in people to be the first to protect forests.”

Jokowi’s move came shortly after his government announced a four- to six-month moratorium on all new logging concessions. That prohibition goes beyond the 2011 nationwide moratorium on new concessions across more than 14 million hectares of forests and peatlands

The move also comes on the heels of Jokowi’s announcement that the Ministry of Forests and the Ministry of Environment would be combined into one ministry, headed by Siti Nurbaya – a move that not all see as positive but that does signal a radical effort to restructure the way the government manages lands and resources.

Jokowi has also pledged to clean up Indonesia’s notoriously corrupt forestry sector as a step toward reducing deforestation.

Walhi Executive Director Abetnego Tarigan says the president must soon follow up the visit with “concrete actions” in the form of firm law enforcement.

“Among the concrete actions that President Jokowi can immediately take is ordering the termination concessions for companies proven to have been involved in forest and land fires,” Abetnego said.

“Law enforcement must continue legal action against companies that have been named suspects, as well as develop investigations into companies that civilians have filed reports against,” he added.

The environmental and social degradation caused by the palm oil is founded upon corruption and illegality, Walhi argues.

“In order to begin restoring forests and returning rights to the people,” says Suhadi, “the large companies need to be the first target of the government. President Jokowi needs to streamline the ability of law enforcement to take action against these companies as part of a national movement to reclaim citizen’s rights to lands and livelihoods.

“As it is now, law enforcement agencies are part of the corporate crime wave that undermines peoples’ rights. The first duty of the government is to improve law enforcement in the forest sector.”

It appears that, after decades of growing corruption and the massive deforestation, climate pollution and social conflict that has followed from it, Indonesia’s new president may be serious about bringing much-needed change.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/indonesias-new-president-puts-rainforests-before-palm-oil-plantations/feed/ 0
OPINION: Japan’s Misuse of Climate Funds for Dirty Coal Plants Exposedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-japans-misuse-of-climate-funds-for-dirty-coal-plants-exposed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-japans-misuse-of-climate-funds-for-dirty-coal-plants-exposed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-japans-misuse-of-climate-funds-for-dirty-coal-plants-exposed/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 21:51:07 +0000 Dipti Bhatnagar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138077 Photo courtesy of FoEI

Photo courtesy of FoEI

By Dipti Bhatnagar
LIMA, Dec 3 2014 (IPS)

World governments gathered in Lima, Peru for the latest round of U.N. climate negotiations should have finance on their mind.

Making a just transition to a climate-safe future means helping developing countries to deal with damage from climate change, equipping them with the technology and skills to adapt to new circumstances, and to continue to develop on their own paths in the face of the climate crisis.The GCF still suffers from dismally low finance pledges compared to what is really needed to stop the climate crisis. The lack of rules for what constitutes as climate finance is the most worrying.

This is the repayment of the ‘climate debt’. All this requires money – money which developed countries, as the largest historical contributors to climate change – should provide. Some countries have already made announcements about the finance they are contributing.

But guess what? Some of this funding is being spent on projects which worsen and compound the climate crisis.

Let’s take the Cirebon power plant in Indonesia as an example. By some truly confusing logic, this pollution-belching coal-fired plant counts as part of Japan’s efforts to combat climate change. Why? Because Cirebon and two others like it in Indonesia were funded by Japan using climate finance funds, according to a Dec. 1 report by the Associated Press.

In other words, Japan financed a coal-fired power plant in a developing country using money that was supposed to help developing countries tackle climate change. The flimsy reasoning behind this claim is the idea that because this plant uses newer, more expensive technology than Indonesia would have afforded alone, the emissions are somehow ‘cleaner’.

Coal is by far the carbon heaviest fossil fuel, posing multiple dangers to the environment, atmosphere and human health. The Associated Press goes on to say “Villagers nearby also complain that the coal plant is damaging the local environment, and that stocks of fish, shrimp and green mussels have dwindled.”

Friends of the Earth Indonesia/WALHI has been campaigning against these plants, and condemning the warped thinking that this plant is marginally better than some hypothetical dirtier plant. It is dirty and it contributes to climate change and wrecks local livelihoods. Financing should not go to dirty energy.  Simple as that.

Japan plans to finance more of these projects in other parts of the world. Japan’s dirty energy corps seems to have done an impressive job of convincing the government that financing their polluting activities is actually helpful for developing countries.

Friends of the Earth Japan is also campaigning on this issue at home, pressuring the Japanese government to be more responsible with their financing and not fund dirty energy.

The lack of coherent rules defining proper  climate finance is very worrying. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) has been set up to manage the transfer of much needed finance from developed to developing countries.

But the GCF still suffers from dismally low finance pledges compared to what is really needed to stop the climate crisis. The lack of rules for what constitutes as climate finance is the most worrying.

In a letter sent to the GCF in May 2014, social movements and civil society organisations, mostly from the Global South, urged that dirty energy be excluded from the GCF funding list and stressed the importance of real climate finance.

“The Green Climate Fund is of vital concern for us, as the mobilization of unprecedented levels of finance is urgently needed as part of an immediate as well as strategic response to the climate crisis. We urge you to make it an explicit policy that GCF funds not be used for financing fossil fuel and other harmful energy projects. We note with grave concern and alarm how other international financial institutions have been financing these types of projects under their ‘climate’ and ‘clean energy’ programs,” the letter said.

Yet the atmosphere at the climate talks in Lima, and in much of the reporting on the talks so far, is shockingly optimistic. The recently announced US-China deal has been celebrated by many, but the deal is hollow. It provides paltry insufficient, non-binding pledges to reduce emissions that are completly out of sync with what scientists tell us is needed to stop catastrophic climate change.

As long as deals and promises are made more for their symbolic nature than for their actual substance, we will continue to undermine real climate action and we will miss real opportunities to overcome the climate crisis and create a just and secure future for everyone.

Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland compared the lack of a regulatory framework with binding emissions targets and meaningful financial commitments to the ‘Wild West’, where countries are free to reduce or not to reduce emissions and to finance polluting activities in the pursuit of profit, as if our planet was not experiencing a grave start of a massive climate crisis.

Worse than the empty efforts of some rich countries is the absence of meaningful oversight of climate finance. Without adopting a shared understanding that climate finance is to help developing countries implement renewable, community-owned energy and to tackle climate change, and without clear guidelines on how the money should be used, we will continue to see half-hearted measures at best and countries exploiting the crisis for their own profit.

“Climate finance is such a mess. It needs to get straightened out,” said Karen Orenstein of Friends of the Earth U.S. “It would be such a shame if those resources went to fossil fuel-based technologies. It would be counterproductive.”

Not only should this round of U.N. climate talks emphatically refute fossil fuels and explicitly rule out any further use of climate funding for dirty energy projects, but they should also adopt real, meaningful clean energy solutions.

The GCF should be funding energy transformation ideas such as the Global feed in Tariff (GfiT), which would subsidise renewable energy until such time as it becomes cheaper than fossil fuel energy through wider adoption and improvements in technology.

Within the U.N., rich developed countries must meet their historical responsibility by committing to urgent and deep emissions cuts in line with science and equity and without false solutions such as carbon trading, offsetting and other loopholes.

They must also repay their climate debt to poorer countries in the developing world so that they too can tackle climate change. This means transferring adequate public finance, technology and capacity to developing countries so that they too can build low carbon and truly sustainable societies, adapt to climate change already occurring and receive compensation for irreparable loss and damage.

But the U.N. talks are heading in the wrong direction, with weak voluntary non-binding pledges and pitiful finance pledges from developed countries, with huge reliance on false solutions like carbon trading and REDD.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-japans-misuse-of-climate-funds-for-dirty-coal-plants-exposed/feed/ 0
Dushanbe Considering Bill to Restrict NGO Fundinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/dushanbe-considering-bill-to-restrict-ngo-funding/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dushanbe-considering-bill-to-restrict-ngo-funding http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/dushanbe-considering-bill-to-restrict-ngo-funding/#comments Wed, 03 Dec 2014 12:28:49 +0000 Konstantin Parshin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138065 The government of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, seen here addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2010, is considering legislation that could affect NGOs accepting funding from foreign sources. Credit: UN/Rick Bajornas

The government of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, seen here addressing the UN General Assembly in September 2010, is considering legislation that could affect NGOs accepting funding from foreign sources. Credit: UN/Rick Bajornas

By Konstantin Parshin
DUSHANBE, Dec 3 2014 (EurasiaNet)

It looks like Tajikistan is following a regional trend by drafting legislation that may sharply restrict the activities of foreign-funded non-governmental organisations. Activists say the bill threatens to hinder the operations of hundreds of organisations working on everything from human rights to public health.

The leaders of several prominent NGOs told EurasiaNet.org they were caught off guard when the bill was introduced earlier in November. They added that they were not involved in the drafting of the legislation, as had been customary for NGO-related bills, and have not been able to obtain details about the specific wording of the draft.“In reality, it implies that the government will be dictating to NGOs which projects they should implement.” -- Nargis Zokirova

The government has said nothing publicly yet about the bill, which comes as state agencies have increased unscheduled inspections and other bureaucratic measures concerning non-profits, the NGO leaders say.

Under current regulations, all NGOs operating in Tajikistan must regularly present detailed reports on their activities to the Justice Ministry, where they are obliged to register; they also must present financial statements to tax inspectors.

The draft law is believed to require local non-profit organisations to obtain the government’s approval before accepting funds from a foreign donor. For now, it is unclear from whom the local organisations would seek permission or who would appoint and manage that body.

“There are reasons to fear that it [the bill], in practice, would amount to a system of pre-authorization for the use of foreign funds that would involve direct government interference into the activities of NGOs, and could result in arbitrary delays and denials to register grants,” according to a forthcoming letter to the Tajik government that has already been signed by at least 70 organisations.

“If adopted, the draft legislation would further worsen the climate for NGOs, and is also likely to contribute to public mistrust and suspicion of foreign-funded NGOs by singling them out for a specific registration regime,” the letter added.

The public first heard about the draft legislation during a November 18 conference on freedom of speech in Tajikistan, during which NGO leaders noted a generally deteriorating climate for basic freedoms.

“In reality, it implies that the government will be dictating to NGOs which projects they should implement,” Nargis Zokirova, director of the Bureau on Human Rights and Rule of Law, told EurasiaNet.org. “Authorities demand maximum transparency from us. However, the draft law, which directly concerns our activities, was developed without the [input of] civil society organisations. None of us was aware of it.”

It is unclear why a government that frequently touts its commitment to battling corruption would create an additional layer of the kind of bureaucracy that can breed sleaze. Tajikistan already ranks 154 out of 177 countries on Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index.

Several activists said they feel Tajikistan’s authoritarian-minded government is simply following the regional trend of tightening regulations in order to silence critics. Many are pessimistic and expect the government will have the country’s rubberstamp parliament approve the bill before the end of the year.

“It is quite obvious that many domestic organisations will have to terminate their activities,” said Nuriddin Karshiboev, director of the National Association of Independent Media (NANSMIT).

Conditions for civil society organisations have deteriorated in all Central Asian countries over the last few years. Russian President Vladimir Putin established a precedent in 2012 by signing a law that requires local organisations receiving foreign funding to self-identify as “foreign agents” – Soviet-era slang for spies.

Legislators in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan are currently pushing an almost word-for-word copy of that 2012 law. If enacted in Kyrgyzstan, NGOs there would have to cope with burdensome reporting regulations.

“In countries where similar laws have been adopted – Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, Uzbekistan – the state authorities keep civil society under tough control and punish human rights activists,” said Karshiboev of NANSMIT.

Long-serving President Emomali Rahmon appears to have a strong grip on power in Dushanbe. Even so, authorities have moved steadily in recent years to limit the space for any form of dissent.

A court shut down the human rights watchdog organisation Amparo in the northern city of Khujand in 2012 for alleged technical violations shortly after an Amparo representative accused the government of failing to address widespread reports of detainees being tortured.

In October, Tajik security forces mustered a massive display of strength at the mere rumor of a demonstration, which never came to pass. This month, the lower house of parliament quickly approved a draft law restricting demonstrations, again without public consultation.

The Asia-Plus news agency quoted political scientist Abdugani Mamadazimov as saying that the law shows that authorities have “opted for stability to the determent of democratic traditions.”

Editor’s note:  Konstantin Parshin is a freelance writer based in Tajikistan.

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/dushanbe-considering-bill-to-restrict-ngo-funding/feed/ 1
OPINION: Improve North Korean Human Rights By Ending Warhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-improve-north-korean-human-rights-by-ending-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-improve-north-korean-human-rights-by-ending-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-improve-north-korean-human-rights-by-ending-war/#comments Tue, 02 Dec 2014 10:56:18 +0000 Christine Ahn and Suzy Kim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138021

In this column, Christine Ahn, International Coordinator of Women De-Militarize the Zone, and Suzy Kim, Professor of History at Rutgers University, argue that the past has much to do with today’s state of human rights in the country and that only a peace treaty putting a definitive end to the Korean War will bring North Korea into the community of nations, leaving no excuse to delay addressing human rights.

By Christine Ahn and Suzy Kim
HONOLULU, Dec 2 2014 (IPS)

On Nov. 18, a committee of the United Nations General Assembly voted 111 to 19, with 55 abstentions, in favour of drafting a non-binding resolution referring North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Christine Ahn

Christine Ahn

While there is overwhelming evidence that economic and political conditions in North Korea must improve, missing from debates in U.N. corridors is the fact that the unresolved Korean War (1950-1953) underlies North Korea’s human rights crisis."While there is overwhelming evidence that economic and political conditions in North Korea must improve, missing from debates in U.N. corridors is the fact that the unresolved Korean War (1950-1953) underlies North Korea's human rights crisis"

After claiming up to four million lives with at least one member of every family in North Korea killed by the war, the Korean War was halted by an armistice agreement signed by North Korea, China and the United States representing the United Nations Command.

Suzy Kim

Suzy Kim

As James Laney, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea during the 1990s explains, “one of the things that have bedevilled all talks until now is the unresolved status of the Korean War” and he prescribes the “establishment of a peace treaty to replace the truce.”

What does the past have to do with the present state of human rights in North Korea?

The continued state of war affects the human rights of North Korean people today in at least two ways. Domestically, the North Korean government prioritises military defence and national security over human security and political freedoms. Internationally, North Koreans suffer due to political isolation and economic sanctions.

The fact that the Korean War ended with a temporary ceasefire rather than a permanent peace treaty gives the North Korean government justification – whether we like it or not – to invest heavily in the country’s militarisation.

According to the South Korean government’s Institute of Defense Analyses, North Korea invests approximately 8.7 billion dollars – or one-third of its GDP – on defence.

Pyongyang even acknowledged last year how the un-ended war has forced it “to divert large human and material resources to bolstering up the armed forces though they should have been directed to the economic development and improvement of people’s living standards.”

Since military intervention is not an option, the Barack Obama administration has used sanctions to pressure North Korea to denuclearise. Instead, North Korea has since conducted three nuclear tests, calling sanctions “an act of war”.

That is because sanctions have had deleterious effects on the day-to-day lives of ordinary North Korean people. “In almost any case when there are sanctions against an entire people, the people suffer the most and the leaders suffer least,” said former U.S. President Jimmy Carter on his last visit to North Korea.

International sanctions have made it extremely difficult for North Koreans to access basic necessities, such as food, seeds, medicine and technology. Felix Abt, a Swiss entrepreneur who has conducted business in North Korea for over a decade says that it is “the most heavily sanctioned nation in the world, and no other people have had to deal with the massive quarantines that Western and Asian powers have enclosed around its economy.” 

Whether in Pyongyang, Seoul or Washington, the threat of war or terrorism has been used to justify government repression and overreach, such as warrantless surveillance, imprisonment and torture (“enhanced interrogation techniques”) in the name of preserving national security.

In South Korea, one of the liberal opposition parties, the Unified Progressive Party, is currently on trial in the Constitutional Court on charges made by the Park Geun-hye government that its members conspired with North Korea to overthrow the South Korean government.

Amnesty International says that this case “has seriously damaged the human rights improvement of South Korean society which has struggled and fought for freedom of thoughts and conscience and freedom of expression.”

In the coming days, the U.N. General Assembly will vote on whether the U.N. Security Council should refer North Korea to the ICC, although it is likely to be vetoed by China and Russia. The United Nations vote, while lofty in principle, actually serves to further isolate Pyongyang, which will likely retreat even further behind its iron curtain.

“We’ve said from day one that if North Korea wants to rejoin the community of nations, it knows how to do it,” U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said, referring to the precondition of denuclearisation for talks.

Instead of relying on the failed Washington policy of “strategic patience” it is time for a bold move that will truly bring North Korea into the community of nations, leaving no excuse to delay addressing human rights – sign a peace treaty to end the state of war. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/opinion-improve-north-korean-human-rights-by-ending-war/feed/ 0
Kyrgyzstan Debates Russian-Style “Foreign Agents” Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/kyrgyzstan-debates-russian-style-foreign-agents-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kyrgyzstan-debates-russian-style-foreign-agents-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/kyrgyzstan-debates-russian-style-foreign-agents-law/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 19:37:53 +0000 David Trilling http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138035 The Kyrgyz parliament, as seen here in November 2014, may vote in December to consider a possible new law that would label foreign-funded organisations “foreign agents.” But some critics of the bill, which closely resembles a similar law already passed in Russia, argue it would add layers of bureaucracy and possibly force some civil society NGOs to close their doors. Credit: David Trilling

The Kyrgyz parliament, as seen here in November 2014, may vote in December to consider a possible new law that would label foreign-funded organisations “foreign agents.” But some critics of the bill, which closely resembles a similar law already passed in Russia, argue it would add layers of bureaucracy and possibly force some civil society NGOs to close their doors. Credit: David Trilling

By David Trilling
BISHKEK, Dec 1 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Kyrgyzstan must protect itself from Arab Islamists and gay-loving Americans; so say supporters of a sweeping draft law that could shutter many non-governmental organisations and, like a Russian bill adopted in 2012, label foreign-funded activists as “foreign agents.”

Kyrgyzstan currently has the most vibrant civil society in Central Asia. But critics of the bill feel that with Russia expanding its grip on the region, and Kyrgyz lawmakers seemingly eager to please Moscow, the walls are fast closing in on free speech and other civil liberties.

Even if this particular bill does not pass, other legislative changes are chipping away at basic rights, they say. In recent weeks, for example, the State Committee for National Security (GKNB) has prosecuted a local anti-torture campaigner and harassed the American watchdog Freedom House for merely distributing an opinion poll that asks sensitive questions.Questions about Moscow’s influence over the legislature are hotly debated in Bishkek. The city is rife with rumours about the Kremlin buying MPs, local media outlets, and even whole ministries.

Lawmaker Nurkamil Madaliev – a co-sponsor of the bill who promises a vote in parliament as soon as December – says the existing law governing NGO activities, adopted in 1999, was written at a time when Kyrgyzstan was too open to the world.

“Back then, there was a unipolar world order, the Unites States was the dominant country, and now we see that this order was unjust. Not all the funds that finance NGO activities in Kyrgyzstan are aimed at creating a favourable situation,” Madaliev told EurasiaNet.org.

Madaliev says his legislative changes would help protect an embattled nation from two existential threats: Islamic extremism funded by wealthy Gulf Arabs and the efforts by some Western-funded organisations to educate young Kyrgyz about gay rights and reproductive health.

Legal analyst Sheradil Baktygulov contends that an underlying aim of the bill is to weaken checks on governmental authority: officials could use the bill, he says, to settle personal vendettas against a once-thriving watchdog culture. “They can say [to an NGO], ‘If you don’t do this or that you will be closed,’” Baktygulov explains.

Dinara Oshurahunova, the head of the Coalition for Democracy and Civil Society, sees a Russian hand behind the bill, which she says would bury organisations like hers with bureaucratic reporting requirements.

“Russia would like to have its policy and rule here. Our state cannot protect us or [the openness] we had before. Or they don’t want to,” she says.

Some officials have lobbied against the legislation. During a parliamentary debate on Nov. 24, a Justice Ministry official said the bill is unnecessary and would create expensive layers of bureaucracy the state cannot afford. MPs shouted him down.

Local and international NGO representatives also spoke out against the initiative during the hearing. The session resulted in the adoption of a non-binding recommendation to shelve the measure.

The law is “too vague,” says parliament’s vice speaker, Asiya Sasykbaeva, who was a prominent activist before entering politics. Sasykbaeva also fears the bill will be used to silence government critics. She says the “foreign agent” label deliberately evokes a mood reminiscent of the Stalinist terror in the 1930s, when millions were executed or sent to labour camps for allegedly being enemies of the state.

But NGOs are not without fault. “Sometimes they exaggerate and they do it unprofessionally,” Sasykbaeva says, describing avoidable conflicts between several NGOs. “And because of these three or four NGOs others are suffering.”

Questions about Moscow’s influence over the legislature are hotly debated in Bishkek. The city is rife with rumours about the Kremlin buying MPs, local media outlets, and even whole ministries.

Madaliev concedes his bill is based on Russia’s, but denies Moscow has pressured or bought him or his colleagues. “This particular bill gives us an opportunity to resist the influence of all interested parties, including Russia,” he insists.

Over the next month, parliament is expected to rubberstamp changes to dozens of laws and regulations as Kyrgyzstan prepares to join the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU).

One opposition-minded politician considering a run in next year’s parliamentary elections says that “fear of Russian influence during the election is a big factor” in why lawmakers are tripping over themselves to back EEU accession. He describes a parliament packed with sycophants afraid of Moscow.

“Our lawmakers think these laws don’t mean anything. They think this is not serious, but it is,” the politician says.

Arguments that Russia is playing dirty are bolstered by negative articles in the local press that use familiar Russian tropes to target American-funded NGOs. And a video currently circulating online is similar in its accusations and insinuations to the specious exposes aired on Russian state-run television.

The video, entitled “Trojan Horses,” accuses Washington of using NGOs to foment revolution around the world and of threatening to destabilise Kyrgyzstan with a Ukraine-style, anti-Russian uprising. Over a montage of violent war footage it names Freedom House, USAID, Human Rights Watch, the local Soros Foundation and others as front organisations that serve the U.S. government’s nefarious purpose of changing regimes and destroying sovereign states.

[Editor’s Note: The Soros Foundation-Kyrgyzstan is part of the Soros Foundations network. EurasiaNet is a separate entity in the Soros Foundations network.]

“We are getting attacked by Russian-funded groups and our government just keeps silent. It is very naïve to hope they will protect us. But after us, I tell them, ‘It will be you next, and there will be no one here to protect you,’” says Oshurahunova of the Coalition.

The state security police’s harassment of Freedom House “makes us very nervous,” says the expatriate head of another NGO. Several NGO leaders also complain that the American Embassy is having trouble helping American-funded NGOs secure visas for their foreign staff. “We’re left to fend for ourselves,” the expatriate says. The U.S. Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

Oshurahunova believes the “foreign agents” bill will end up not being adopted. She feels that the NGO regulatory measure, along with pending anti-gay legislation that has a much better chance of passage, are distractions to keep civil society watchdogs busy while parliament quietly approves reams of EEU legislation.

“They are changing many laws to come into line with Eurasian Union regulations and doing it without any discussion. They’re changing laws about peaceful meetings, changing laws about free media. They tell us this is only about economics, but they’re taking away our civil rights,” Oshurahunova says.

Editor’s note:  David Trilling is EurasiaNet’s Central Asia editor. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/kyrgyzstan-debates-russian-style-foreign-agents-law/feed/ 1
Illegal Logging Wreaking Havoc on Impoverished Rural Communitieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/illegal-logging-wreaking-havoc-on-impoverished-rural-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=illegal-logging-wreaking-havoc-on-impoverished-rural-communities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/illegal-logging-wreaking-havoc-on-impoverished-rural-communities/#comments Mon, 01 Dec 2014 08:37:00 +0000 Catherine Wilson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138026 Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

Customary landowners in the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, both rainforest nations in the Southwest Pacific Islands, are suffering the environmental and social impacts of illegal logging. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Catherine Wilson
SYDNEY, Dec 1 2014 (IPS)

Rampant unsustainable logging in the southwest Pacific Island states of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, where the majority of land is covered in tropical rainforest, is worsening hardship, human insecurity and conflict in rural communities.

Paul Pavol, a customary landowner in Pomio District, East New Britain, an island province off the northeast coast of the Papua New Guinean mainland, told IPS that logging in the area had led to “permanent environmental damage of the soil and forests, which our communities depend on for their water, building materials, natural medicines and food.”

Four years ago, a Malaysian logging multinational obtained two Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs) in the district, but local landowners claim their consent was never given and, following legal action, the National Court issued an order in November for the developer to cease logging operations.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption." -- Spokesperson, Act Now PNG
According to Global Witness, the company had cleared 7,000 hectares of forest and exported more than 50 million dollars worth of logs.

“We never gave our free, prior and informed consent to the Special Agricultural Business Leases (SABLs) that now cover our customary land … and we certainly did not give agreement to our land being given away for 99 years to a logging company,” Pavol stated.

One-third of log exports from PNG originated from land subject to SABLs in 2012, according to the PNG Institute of National Affairs, despite the stated purpose of these leases being to facilitate agricultural projects of benefit to local communities.

Pavol also cited human rights abuses with “the use of police riot squads to protect the logging company and intimidate and terrorize our communities.”

Last year an independent fact-finding mission to Pomio led by the non-governmental organisation, Eco-Forestry Forum, in association with police and government stakeholders, verified that police personnel, who had been hired by logging companies to suppress local opposition to their activities, had conducted violent raids and serious assaults on villagers.

Papua New Guinea, situated on the island of New Guinea, home to the world’s third largest tropical rainforest, has a forest cover of an estimated 29 million hectares, but is also the second largest exporter of tropical timber.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) predicts that 83 percent of the country’s commercially viable forests will be lost or degraded by 2021 due to commercial logging, mining and land clearance for oil palm plantations.

Papua New Guinea recently pledged to bring forward plans to end deforestation by a decade at the Asia-Pacific Rainforest Summit held in Sydney, Australia, but indigenous activists remain unconvinced.

“Within ten years nearly all accessible forests will be logged out and at the root of this problem is endemic and systematic corruption,” a spokesperson for the non-governmental organisation, Act Now PNG, said.

“We do not have tough penalties for law breakers and our laws are not enforced,” Pavol added, a view supported by London’s Chatham House.

Environmental devastation and logging-related violence is increasing adversity in Pomio, one of the least developed districts in East New Britain, where there is a lack of health services, decent roads, water and sanitation. Life expectancy is 45-50 years and the infant mortality rate of 61 per 1,000 live births is significantly higher than the national rate of 47.

In the neighbouring Solomon Islands, where 2.2 million hectares of forest cover more than 80 percent of the country, the timber-harvesting rate has been nearly four times the sustainable rate of 250,000 cubic metres per year.

While timber has accounted for 60 percent of the country’s export earnings, this is unlikely to continue, given the forecast by the Solomon Islands Forest Management Project that accessible forests will be exhausted by next year.

High demand for raw materials by growing Asian economies is a major driver of legal and illegal logging in both countries, with the industry dominated by Malaysian companies, and China the main export destination.

Unscrupulous practices, including procuring logging permits with bribes and breaching agreed logging concession areas, are extensive. More than 80 percent of the wood-based trade from PNG and Solomon Islands derives from unlawful extraction with illegal log exports from both island states worth 800 million dollars in 2010, reports the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

Since 2003, international companies, most involved with logging, have gained access to 5.5 million hectares of forest in PNG, in addition to the 8.5 million hectares already subject to timber extraction, through fraudulent acquisition of SABLs, according to a Commission of Inquiry and study by the California-based Oakland Institute.

The UNODC highlights the collusion between transnational crime networks, logging companies, politicians and public officials.

“In Solomon Islands the links between politicians and foreign logging companies are complex and well-entrenched. We regularly hear stories of politicians using their power to protect loggers, influence police and give tax exemptions to foreign businesses. In return, loggers fund politicians,” a spokesperson for Transparency Solomon Islands said.

Many national forestry offices in developing countries lack the technical and human resources to adequately monitor logging operations and are ill-equipped to deal with organised crime networks that facilitate the extraction and movement of illicit timber. Associated money laundering is also an issue with the Australian Federal Police estimating that 170 million dollars of funds deriving from crime in PNG are laundered through banks and property investment in Australia every year.

But while an Illegal Logging Prohibition Act recently came into force in Australia, making it a criminal offence to import or process illegal timber, no such legislation exists in the main market of China.

Transparency Solomon Islands says that government accountability needs to be strengthened and rural communities educated about their rights, the law and affective action that can be taken at the local level.

Inequality and low human development among the rural poor is further entrenched by the failure of both countries to channel resource revenues into provision of infrastructure, basic services and equitable economic opportunities.

In Papua New Guinea, one of the most unequal nations with a Gini Index of 50.9, poverty increased from 37.5 percent in 1996 to 39.9 percent in 2009, according to the World Bank.

In the Solomon Islands, logging has been the government’s main source of revenue for nearly 20 years, with GDP growth reaching 10 percent in 2011.

But the Pacific Islands Forum reports that “strong resource-led growth is failing to trickle down to the disadvantaged”, with the country ranked 157th out of 187 countries for human development.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/12/illegal-logging-wreaking-havoc-on-impoverished-rural-communities/feed/ 0
Elections Offer Little Solace to Sri Lanka’s Poorhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/elections-offer-little-solace-to-sri-lankas-poor/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=elections-offer-little-solace-to-sri-lankas-poor http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/elections-offer-little-solace-to-sri-lankas-poor/#comments Fri, 28 Nov 2014 08:19:49 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137995 Sri Lanka is gripped by election fever, but the impoverished majority fears that the presidential race will not ease their financial hardships. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Sri Lanka is gripped by election fever, but the impoverished majority fears that the presidential race will not ease their financial hardships. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Nov 28 2014 (IPS)

Priyantha Wakvitta is used to seeing his adopted city, Colombo, transform into a landscape of bright sparkling lights and window dressing towards the end of the year.

This year, he says, he is having a double dose of visual stimulation, with publicity materials for the January Presidential Election competing with Christmas décor at every turn.

Though the presidential race could shape up to be a close one, there is no competition over which event will take Colombo by storm: political propaganda is drowning out the festive mood on every street corner.

“[Politicians] are spending millions just to get their faces all over the city, while I am struggling to keep my family fed and my children in school." -- Priyantha Wakvitta, a 50-year-old bread seller in Sri Lanka's capital, Colombo
Four days after the elections were announced on Nov. 21, at least 1,800 cutouts of the incumbent president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, had been deployed within the limits of the Colombo Municipality, according to national election monitors with the Campaign for Free and Fair Elections (CaFFE).

Head of the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), Rajapaksa has enjoyed massive support around the country for his role in decimating the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, thus bringing an end to nearly three decades of civil war in 2009.

But as the post-war years revealed themselves as a time of hardship of a very different nature – economic rather than political – his popularity has waned.

His main challenger in the presidential race, Maithripala Sirisena, was until recently the general secretary of Rajapaksa’s own political party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

Last week Sirisena stepped out of government and into the role of Rajapaksa’s contender as the common opposition candidate.

The election is turning out to be a keen contest; already there have been eight defections from the ruling coalition’s United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA), while the powerful nationalist party, the Jathika Hela Urumaya, once the government’s staunch ally, has declared its opposition to the Rajapaksas.

The poster campaign around the capital city and throughout the country is a bid to win hearts and minds, but the beaming cutouts of politicians have left people like Wakvitta at best annoyed, at worst disgusted.

“They are spending millions just to get their faces all over the city, while I am struggling to keep my family fed and my children in school,” said the 50-year-old father of two, originally from the southern district of Galle, but self employed in the capital for the last decade.

Wakvitta is an enterprising man. He runs his own small bakery in a Colombo suburb and makes a living by distributing bread to households. He used to make a profit of around 30,000 rupees, or roughly 250 dollars, a month. But that figure has been going down steadily over the last year.

He tried to branch out to a small vegetable business earlier this year, but burnt his hands and lost his 100,000-rupee investment, the equivalent of about 700 dollars, no small sum in a country where the average annual income is about 550,000 rupees or 4,100 dollars.

“People don’t have money, they are finding it hard to make ends meet,” Wakvitta said.

Though Sri Lanka has maintained an impressive economic growth rate of 7.5 percent and the Rajapaksa government has a string of high-profile infrastructure projects under its belt, including a new seaport and airport, low-income earners say they are struggling to survive.

The national poverty rate is 6.7 percent but most rural areas report higher figures. In Wakvitta’s native Galle District it is 9.9 percent, in the south-central district of Moneragala it is 20.8 percent and in Rathnapura, capital of the southwestern Sabaragamuwa Province, it is 10.4 percent, according to government data.

The problems the poor face are multi-faceted; while wages have remained static, basic commodities have quietly increased in price. Most significant among them has been the upward trend in the cost of rice, a dietary staple here.

Fueled by an 11-month drought that has caused a loss of almost a third of the planted area, the 2014 rice harvest is expected to be at least 20 percent less than last year’s four million metric tons, and a six-year low.

Rice prices have risen 33 percent according to the World Food Programme (WFP), and vegetable and fish prices have also shown periodic upward movement primarily due to inclement weather.

Token gestures or sound economic policies?

Cognizant of the hardships faced by the Sri Lankan masses, political parties across the spectrum frequently use the election run-up to promise the earth to the average voter – from subsidies to assistance packages – pledging to make life easier for those who form the majority of the electorate.

But Ajith Dissanayake, who is from the southern Galle District and makes a living from paddy cultivation, says that token gestures will not do.

“Election handouts will not work, there needs to be some kind of concerted plan to help the poor,” he told IPS.

In the northern regions of the country, where the population is still trying to shake off the residual nightmare of nearly 30 years of civil war, the situation is even worse.

The conflict ended in May 2009, and since then the government has injected over three billion dollars into the reconstruction effort in the Northern Province, largely for major infrastructure projects.

But the region is mired in abject poverty. The Mullaithivu District, which witnessed the last bloody battles in the protracted conflict between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE over five years ago, is the poorest in the nation, with a poverty ratio of 28.3 percent.

The adjoining Kilinochchi District has a recorded poverty headcount of 12.7 percent.

“It is very difficult, it is like we are fighting another conflict: this time with poverty,” said Thiyagarasa Chandirakumar, a 38-year-old disabled father of two from Oddusuddan, a small village located deep inside Mullaithivu.

He told IPS that despite new electrification programmes, many in his village are still waiting for the supply to light up their homes.

“Most of us don’t have the money to get new connections, we don’t even have money sometimes to take a bus,” explained Chandirakumar, who is confined to a wheelchair due to a wartime injury.

Both Wakvitta and Chandirakumar have simple requests from the candidates standing for the highest office in the country: “Make sure our lives are better off than they were before,” Wakvitta said.

That request, however, is unlikely to be realised any time soon. News of the snap election, coupled with the surprise announcement this past week of a common opposition candidate, has thrown the country into a period of uncertainly, at least in the short term.

Two days after elections were announced, the Colombo Stock Market took a nose-dive, with the All Share Price Index falling by 2.3 percent on Monday, Nov. 24 – the worst slide since August 2013.

Analysts say that investors are likely to hold off for the time being, with long-term policy measures also taking a back seat to what promises to be a fierce contest.

“Investors – whether local or foreign – like certainty,” Anushka Wijesinha, an economist with the national think-tank the Institute for Policy Studies, told IPS.

“Policy and political certainty have been established fairly well over the last few years and any disruption to this would no doubt be viewed negatively by investors. So, the recent political developments will be watched closely,” he added.

Wijesinha also said that elections should be more about long term policies than about handouts aimed at wining votes.

“This calls for a shift from the heavy focus on subsidies, welfare payments, and other generous transfers for rural populations – which may help alleviate poverty in the short term – to improving skills, productivity and access to new economic opportunities, which help raise living standards on a more sustained basis,” he said.

Despite the end of the war ushering in renewed hopes of development, income disparities have stubbornly persisted. According to government data, the country’s richest 20 percent still enjoy close to half of the nation’s income, while the poorest 20 percent only share five percent of national wealth among them.

For those like Wakvitta and Chandirakumar, the future looks bleak, with or without elections. Both know for sure that in the short term nothing much will change for the better.

“Hopefully whoever becomes the next president will take the bold steps needed to help people like me,” Wakvitta said as he sped away on his motorbike, looking for his next customer.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/elections-offer-little-solace-to-sri-lankas-poor/feed/ 2
OPINION: All Family Planning Should Be Voluntary, Safe and Fully Informedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 23:10:52 +0000 Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137986

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is the Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

The tragic deaths and injuries of women following sterilisation in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh have sparked global media coverage and public concern and outrage.

Now we must ensure that such a tragedy never occurs again.

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin. Credit: UNFPA

The women underwent surgery went with the best intentions – hoping they were doing the right thing for themselves and their families.

Now their husbands, children and parents are left to live without them, reeling with deep sadness, shock and mourning.

The only way to respond to such a tragedy is with compassion and constructive action, with a focus on human rights and human dignity.

Every person has the right to health. And this includes sexual and reproductive health—for safe motherhood, for preventing and treating HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and for family planning.

Taking a human rights-based approach to family planning means protecting the health and the ability of women and men to make their own free and fully informed choices.

All family planning services should be of quality, freely chosen with full information and consent, amongst a full range of modern contraceptive methods, without any form of coercion or incentives.

The world agreed on these principles 20 years ago in Cairo at the International Conference on Population and Development.

Governments also agreed on the goals to achieve universal education and reproductive health by 2015, to reduce child and maternal mortality, and to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.As we mourn the loss of the women who died in India, we must make sure that no more women suffer such a fate.

The Cairo Conference shifted the focus away from human numbers to human beings and our rights and choices.

Family planning is a means for individuals to voluntarily control their own bodies, their fertility and their futures.

Research and experience show that when given information and access to family planning, women and men choose to have the number of children they want. Most of the time, they choose smaller families. And this has benefits that extend beyond the family to the community and nation.

Family planning is one of the best investments a country can make. And taking a holistic and rights-based approach is essential to sustainable development.

We know that it is important to tackle harmful norms that discriminate against women and girls. This means, first of all, providing quality public education, and making sure that girls stay in school.

Second, we must empower women to participate in decisions of their families, communities and nations.

Third, we must reduce child mortality so parents have confidence their children will survive to adulthood.

And fourth, we must ensure every woman’s and man’s ability to plan their family and enjoy reproductive health and rights.

As we mourn the loss of the women who died in India, we must make sure that no more women suffer such a fate.

The organisation that I lead, UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, supports a human rights-based approach to family planning, and efforts to ensure safe motherhood, promote gender equality and end violence against women and girls.

In all of these areas, India has taken positive steps forward. One such step is the development of appropriate clinical standards for delivering family planning and sterilisation services.

When performed according to appropriate clinical standards with full, free and informed consent, amongst a full range of contraceptive options, sterilisation is safe, effective and ethical. It is an important option for women and couples.

Yet much work remains to be done in every country in the world to ensure universal sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights.

The recent events in India highlight the need for improved monitoring and service provision, with the participation of community members and civil society, to ensure that policies are implemented, and to guarantee that services meet national and international standards.

Already the prime minister has quickly initiated investigations, a medical team was sent to the site, and a judicial commission was appointed by the state government to investigate the deaths of the women. I commend them for this immediate response.

Several people, including the doctor who conducted the surgeries and the owner of the firm that produced the suspected medicines, have been arrested. There is every hope that those responsible will be held accountable.

There is also hope that the government will take further measures to restore public confidence in its family planning programs as it upholds the human rights, choices and dignity of women and men.

Any laws, procedures or protocols that might have allowed or contributed to the deaths and other human rights violations should be reformed or changed to prevent recurrences.

As the world’s largest democracy, India is home to more than 1.2 billion people and recognised as a global leader in medicine, science and technology.

Given its leadership and expertise, India can ensure that family planning programmes meet, or exceed, clinical and human rights standards throughout the country.

UNFPA and many partners stand ready to support such an effort.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/opinion-all-family-planning-should-be-voluntary-safe-and-fully-informed/feed/ 0
Women on the Edge of Land and Lifehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 18:36:05 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137977 In the Indian Sundarbans, impoverished women band together to fight against hunger, economic insecurity and climate change. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

In the Indian Sundarbans, impoverished women band together to fight against hunger, economic insecurity and climate change. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
SUNDARBANS, India, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

November is the cruelest month for landless families in the Indian Sundarbans, the largest single block of tidal mangrove forest in the world lying primarily in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal.

There is little agricultural wage-work to be found, and the village moneylender’s loan remains unpaid, its interest mounting. The paddy harvest is a month away, pushing rice prices to an annual high.

For those like Namita Bera, tasked with procuring 120 kg of rice per month to feed her eight-member family, there is seldom any peace of mind.

“When their very existence is at stake, the island communities are of course adapting in their own ways, but the government of West Bengal needs to do much more." -- Tushar Kanjilal, the 79-year-old pioneer of development in the Sundarbans
That is, until she came together with 12 other women from the poorest households in the Dakshin Shibpur village of the Patharpratima administrative division of West Bengal to insure their families against acute hunger.

Humble women with scant means at their disposal to withstand savage weather changes and national food price fluctuations, they did the only thing that made sense: set up a grain bank under the aegis of their small-savings, self-help group (SHG) known as Mamatamoyi Mahila Dal.

The system is simple: whenever she can afford it, each woman buys 50 kg of low-priced paddy and deposits it into the ‘bank’, explains Chandrani Das of the Development Research Communication and Services Centre (DRCSC), the Kolkata-based non-profit that matches the quantity of grain in a given number of community-based banks.

In this way, “At least one-third of the 75-day lean period becomes manageable,” Shyamali Bera, a 35-year-old mother of three, whose husband works as a potato loader at a warehouse in the state’s capital, Kolkata, told IPS.

For impoverished families, the bank represents significant savings of their meagre income. “Earlier, the only spare cash we had on us was about 10 to 25 rupees (0.16  to 0.40 dollars),” she added. “Now we have about 100 rupees (1.6 dollars). We buy pencils and notebooks for our children to take to school.”

The women’s ingenuity has benefited the men as well. Namita’s husband, a migrant worker employed by a local rice mill, borrowed 10,000 rupees (about 160 dollars) from the SHG last winter and the family reaped good returns from investing in vegetables, seeds and chemical fertilisers.

The scheme is putting village moneylenders out of business. Their five-percent monthly interest rates, amounting to debt-traps of some 60 percent annually, cannot compete with the SHG’s two-percent rates.

But their problems do not end there.

Battling climate change

Designated a World Heritage Site for its unique ecosystem and rich biodiversity, the Sundarbans are highly vulnerable to sea-level rise and intense storms.

Half of the region’s mass of 9,630 square km is intersected by an intricate network of interconnecting waterways, which are vulnerable to flooding during periods of heavy rain.

Roughly 52 of the 102 islands that dot this delta are inhabited, comprising a population of some 4.5 million people. Having lost much of their mangrove cover to deforestation, these coastal-dwelling communities are exposed to the vagaries of the sea and tidal rivers, protected only by 3,500 km of earthen embankments.

Most of the islands lie lower than the 3.5-metre average of surrounding rivers.

Using data from India’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS), the West Bengal government’s latest Human Development Report warns that sea-level rise over the last 70 years has already claimed 220 sq km of forests in the Sundarbans.

Increased frequency and intensity of cyclonic storms due to global warming poses a further, more immediate threat to human lives and livelihood, the report added.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature-India (WWF), analyses of 120 years’ worth of data show a 26-percent rise in the frequency of high-intensity cyclones.

Nearly 90 percent of people here live in mud and thatched-roof homes. Paddy is the primary crop, grown only during monsoon from mid-June to mid-September.

Forests and fisheries, including harvesting of shrimps, provide the only other source of income, but with a population density of 1,100 persons per square km, compared to the national average of 382 per square km, poverty among island households is twice as high as national rates.

The issue of food security coupled with the damage caused by natural disasters presents itself as an enourmous twin challenge to women here who by and large see to the needs of their families.

Resilient as the forests around them, they, however, are not giving up.

Fuel, fodder, food

At low tide, the river Gobadia flows just 100 metres away from the Ramganga village embankment, where members of the Nibedita self-help group gather to talk to IPS.

Typically, landless agricultural labourers who comprise some 50 percent of the Sundarbans’ population live in villages like this one, totaling no more than 7,500 people, because natural resources are close at hand.

Population density is high here.

The members tell IPS that four fairly severe storms from May to December are the norm now. Rain spells continue for a week instead of the earlier two days.

When 100 km-per-hour winds coincide with the two daily high tides, storm surges are likely to breach embankments, cause saline flash floods, devastate both homes and low farmlands, and leave the area water-logged for up to four months.

“The local village government kept promising that it would stone-face the embankment’s river flank and brick-pave the embankment road, which becomes too slippery [during the rains] to cycle or even walk,” group members told IPS.

When these promises failed to materialize, the women took matters into their own hands. Using money from their communal savings, they leased out part of the land along the embankment and planted 960 trees over 40,000 square feet of the sloping property, hoping this would arrest erosion.

“For the nursery they chose 16 varieties that would provide firewood, fodder to their goats, and trees whose flowers and [fruits] are edible,” said Animesh Bera of the local NGO Indraprastha Srijan Welfare Society (ISWS), which guides this particular SHG.

Nothing is wasted. All the forestry by-products find their way into the community’s skilful hands. The mature trees fetch money in auctions.

Coaxing nutrition from unyielding soil

A 2013 DRCSC baseline survey found that three-quarters of households in Patharpratima block live below the poverty line. Financial indebtedness is widespread. Fragmentation of landholdings through generations has left many families with only homesteads of approximately 0.09 hectares apiece.

Maximizing land is the only option.

In Indraprastha village, women are growing organic food on their tiny 70-square-foot plots, adapting to local soil, water and climate challenges by planting an array of seasonal vegetables, from leafy greens and beans, to tubers and bananas.

These miniature gardens are now ensuring both food and economic security, pulling in a steady income from the sale of organic seeds.

Tomatoes are trained to grow vertically, ginger sprouts from re-used plastic cement bags packed with low-saline soil, while bitter gourds spread outwards on plastic net trellises.

Multi-tier arrangements of plants to maximize sunlight in the garden, the use of cattle and poultry litter as bio-fertilizer, and recycling water are all steps women here take to coax a little nutrition from a land that seems to be increasingly turning away from them.

While NGOs praise the women of the Sundarbans for their ingenuity in the face of extreme hardships, others blame the government of West Bengal for failing to provide for its most vulnerable citizens.

“When their very existence is at stake, the island communities are of course adapting in their own ways, but the government of West Bengal needs to do much more,” Tushar Kanjilal, the 79-year-old pioneer of development in the Sundarbans, told IPS at his Kolkata residence.

“It needs to urgently formulate a comprehensive plan for Sundarbans’ development anchored on a reliable database and make one agency responsible for all development work,” added the head of the non-profit Tagore Society for Rural Development (TSRD).

Until such time as the government takes development into its own hands, self-help groups like those budding all over the Sundarbans – comprising thousands of members – will be the only chance poor communities stand against poverty, hunger, and natural disasters.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/women-on-the-edge-of-land-and-life/feed/ 0
Filipino Farmers Protest Government Research on Genetically Modified Ricehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice/#comments Wed, 26 Nov 2014 08:13:49 +0000 Diana Mendoza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137948 Filipino rice farmers claim that national heritage sites like the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened by the looming presence of genetically modified crops. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

Filipino rice farmers claim that national heritage sites like the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces are threatened by the looming presence of genetically modified crops. Credit: Courtesy Diana Mendoza

By Diana Mendoza
MANILA, Nov 26 2014 (IPS)

Jon Sarmiento, a farmer in the Cavite province in southern Manila, plants a variety of fruits and vegetables, but his main crop, rice, is under threat. He claims that approval by the Philippine government of the genetically modified ‘golden rice’ that is fortified with beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A, could ruin his livelihood.

Sarmiento, who is also the sustainable agriculture programme officer of PAKISAMA, a national movement of farmers’ organisations, told IPS, “Genetically modified rice will not address the lack of vitamin A, as there are already many other sources of this nutrient. It will worsen hunger. It will also kill diversification and contaminate other crops.”

Sarmiento aired his sentiments during a protest activity last week in front of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), an office under the Department of Agriculture, during which farmers unfurled a huge canvas depicting a three-dimensional illustration of the Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao province in the northern part of the Philippines.

“We challenge the government to walk the talk and ‘Be RICEponsible’." -- Jon Sarmiento, a farmer in the Cavite province in southern Manila
Considered by Filipinos as the eighth wonder of the world, the 2,000-year-old Ifugao Rice Terraces represent the country’s rich rice heritage, which some say will be at stake once the golden rice is approved.

The protesting farmers also delivered to the BPI, which is responsible for the development of plant industries and crop production and protection, an ‘extraordinary opposition’ petition against any extension, renewal or issuance of a new bio-safety permit for further field testing, feeding trials or commercialisation of golden rice.

“We challenge the government to walk the talk and ‘Be RICEponsible’,” Sarmiento said, echoing the theme of a national advocacy campaign aimed at cultivating rice self-sufficiency in the Philippines.

Currently, this Southeast Asian nation of 100 million people is the eighth largest rice producer in the world, accounting for 2.8 percent of global rice production, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

But it was also the world’s largest rice importer in 2010, largely because the Philippines’ area of harvested rice is very small compared with other major rice-producing countries in Asia.

In addition to lacking sufficient land resources to produce its total rice requirement, the Philippines is devastated by at least 20 typhoons every year that destroy crops, the FAO said.

However, insufficient output is not the only thing driving research and development on rice.

A far greater concern for scientists and policy-makers is turning the staple food into a greater source of nutrition for the population. The government and independent research institutes are particularly concerned about nutrition deficiencies that cause malnutrition, especially among poorer communities.

According to the Philippines-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), “Vitamin A deficiency remains a public health problem in the country, affecting more than 1.7 million children under the age of five and 500,000 pregnant and nursing women.”

The vast majority of those affected live in remote areas, cut off from access to government nutrition programmes. The IRRI estimates that guaranteeing these isolated communities sufficient doses of vitamin A could reduce child mortality here by 23-34 percent.

Such thinking has provided the impetus for continued research and development on genetically modified rice, despite numerous protests including a highly publicised incident in August last year in which hundreds of activists entered a government test field and uprooted saplings of the controversial golden rice crop.

While scientists forge ahead with their tests, protests appear to be heating up, spurred on by a growing global movement against GMOs.

Last week’s public action – which received support from Greenpeace Southeast Asia and included farmers’ groups, organic traders and consumers, mothers and environmentalists – denounced the government’s continuing research on golden rice and field testing, as well as the distribution and cropping of genetically-modified corn and eggplant.

Monica Geaga, another protesting farmer who is from the group SARILAYA, an organisation of female organic farmers from the rice-producing provinces in the main island of Luzon, said women suffer multiple burdens when crops are subjected to genetic modification.

“It is a form of harassment and violence against women who are not just farmers but are also consumers and mothers who manage households and the health and nutrition of their families,” she told IPS.

Geaga said she believes that if plants are altered from their natural state, they release toxins that are harmful to human health.

Protestors urged the government to shield the country’s rice varieties from contamination by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and instead channel the money for rice research into protecting the country’s biodiversity and rich cultural heritage while ensuring ecological agricultural balance.

Though there is a dearth of hard data on how much the Philippine government has spent on GMO research, the Biotechnology Coalition of the Philippines estimates that the government and its multinational partner companies have spent an estimated 2.6 million dollars developing GM corn alone.

Furthermore, activists and scientists say GMOs violate the National Organic Law that supports the propagation of rice varieties that already possess multi-nutrients such as carbohydrates, minerals, fibre, and potassium, according to the Philippines’ National Nutrition Council (NNC).

The NNC also said other rice varieties traditionally produced in the Philippines such as brown, red, and purple rice contain these nutrients.

Danilo Ocampo, ecological agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Philippines, said the “flawed regulatory system” in the BPI, the sole government agency in charge of GMO approvals, “has led to approvals of all GMO applications without regard to their long-term impact on the environment and human health.”

“The problem with the current regulatory system is that there is no administrative remedy available to farmers once contamination happens. It is also frustrating that consumers and the larger populace are not given the chance to participate in GM regulation,” said Ocampo.

“It is high time that we exercise our right to participate and be part of a regulatory system that affects our food, our health and our future,” he asserted.

Greenpeace explained in statements released to the media that aside from the lack of scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs on human health and the environment, they also threaten the country’s rich biodiversity.

Greenpeace Philippines said genetically modified crops such as corn or rice contain built-in pesticides that can be toxic, and their ability to cross-breed and cross-pollinate other natural crops can happen in an open environment, which cannot be contained.

Last week saw farmer activists in other cities in the Philippines stage protest actions that called on the government to protect the country’s diverse varieties of rice and crops and stop GMO research and field-testing.

In Davao City south of Manila, stakeholders held the 11th National Organic Agriculture Congress. In Cebu City, also south of Manila, farmers protested the contamination of corn, their second staple food, and gathered petitions supporting the call against the commercial approval of golden rice.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/filipino-farmers-protest-government-research-on-genetically-modified-rice/feed/ 0
Nuclear Weapons as Bargaining Chips in Global Politicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/nuclear-weapons-as-bargaining-chips-in-global-politics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-weapons-as-bargaining-chips-in-global-politics http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/nuclear-weapons-as-bargaining-chips-in-global-politics/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 11:23:12 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137941 Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), briefs the press about the Commission's report which documents wide-ranging and ongoing crimes against humanity. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

Michael Kirby, Chair of the Commission of Inquiry on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), briefs the press about the Commission's report which documents wide-ranging and ongoing crimes against humanity. Credit: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Has the world reached a stage where nuclear weapons may be used as bargaining chips in international politics?

So it seems, judging by the North Korean threat last week to conduct another nuclear test – if and when the 193-member U.N. General Assembly adopts a resolution aimed at referring the hermit kingdom to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for human rights abuses.

“If North Korea begins a game of nuclear blackmailing,” one anti-nuclear activist predicted, “will Russia not be far behind in what appears to be a new Cold War era?”

Dr. Rebecca Johnson, author of the U.N.-published book ‘Unfinished Business’ on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) negotiations, told IPS the larger danger – exemplified also by some of the rhetoric about nuclear weapons bandied around the crisis in Ukraine – is that nuclear weapons are not useful deterrents but are increasingly seen as bargaining chips, with heightened risks that they may be used to “prove” some weak leader’s “point”, with catastrophic humanitarian consequences.

She pointed out North Korea’s recent threat to conduct another nuclear test – its fourth – is unlikely to deter U.N. states from adopting a resolution to charge the regime of Kim Jong-un with crimes against humanity.

“North Korea’s nuclear sabre-rattling appears to draw from Cold War deterrence theories, but a nuclear test is not a nuclear weapon,” she added.

South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-Se told the Security Council last May North Korea is the only country in the world that has conducted nuclear tests in the 21st century.

Since 2006, it has conducted three nuclear tests, the last one in February 2013 – all of them in defiance of the international community and the United Nations.

The resolution on North Korea, which is expected to come up before the U.N.’s highest policy making body in early December, has already been adopted by the U.N. committee dealing with humanitarian issues, known as the Third Committee.

The vote was 111 in favour to 19 against, with 55 abstentions in the 193-member committee. The vote in the General Assembly is only a formality.

Alyn Ware, a member of the World Future Council, told IPS: “Nuclear weapons should not be used as threats or as bargaining chips.”

Their use, after all, would involve massive violations of the right to life and other human rights.

However, he noted, this applies also to the other nuclear-armed states in the region (China, Russia and the United States) and states under extended nuclear deterrence doctrines (South Korea and Japan).

“The nuclear option should be taken off the table by establishing a North East Asian Nuclear Weapon Free Zone,” he said.

And the states leading the human rights charges against North Korea should make it crystal clear that such charges are not an attempt to overthrow the North Korean government, he added.

The tensions between countries in the region, and the fact that the Korean War of the 1950s has never officially ended (only an armistice is in place), makes this a very sensitive issue, said Ware. If the General Assembly adopts the resolution, as expected, it is up to the 15-member Security Council to initiate ICC action on North Korea.

But both Russia and China are most likely to veto any attempts to drag North Korea to The Hague.

In an editorial Sunday, the New York Times said North Korea’s human rights abuses warrant action by the Security Council.

“Given what is in the public record, it is impossible to see how any country can defend Mr Kim and his lieutenants or block their referral to the International Criminal Court,” the paper said.

“As confidence in the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) continues to erode, has the time come to ban all nuclear weapons?” asked Dr Johnson.

She said “a comprehensive nuclear ban treaty would dramatically reduce nuclear dangers and provide much stronger international tools than we have today for curbing the acquisition, deployment and spread of nuclear weapons.”

The status some nations attach to nuclear weapons would soon be a thing of the past, nuclear sabre-rattling would become pointless, and anyone threatening to use these weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) would automatically face charges under the International Criminal Court, said Dr. Johnson, who is executive director and co-founder of the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy.

“This might not stop nuclear blackmail overnight, but it would make it much harder for North Korea and any others to imagine they could gain benefits by issuing nuclear threats.”

As North Korea withdrew from the NPT over 10 years ago, and has already conducted three nuclear tests, it is unlikely that a threatened fourth test would be an effective deterrent, said Dr Johnson.

The U.N. resolution has been triggered by a report from a U.N. Commission of Inquiry on North Korea which recommended that leaders of that country be prosecuted by the ICC for grave human rights violations.

The commission was headed by Michael Kirby, a High Court Judge from Australia.

In a statement before the Third Committee last week, the North Korean delegate said the report of the Commission “was based on fabricated testimonies by a handful of defectors who had fled the country after committing crimes.

“The report was a compilation of groundless political allegations and had no credibility as an official U.N. document,” he added.

Ware told IPS, “I have a lot of respect for my colleague Michael Kirby from Australia, who led a year-long U.N. inquiry into human rights abuses which concluded that North Korean security chiefs, and possibly even Kim Jong Un himself, should face international justice for ordering systematic torture, starvation and killings.

“I find the response of the North Korean authorities to try to discredit his report due to his sexual orientation to be reprehensible,” he added. “Nor do I find credible the North Korean counter-claims that their human rights violations are non-existent, while the real human rights violator is the U.S. government.”

Ware said there are indeed human rights violations in the United States, but they pale in comparison to those in North Korea.

There is a body of U.S. civil rights law and legal institutions that provide protections for U.S. citizens even if it is not fully perfect nor implemented entirely fairly, he pointed out.

But there is a lack of such protection of civil rights in North Korea, with the result that the North Korean administration inflicts incredibly egregious violations of human rights with total impunity, according to Kirby’s report.

“I do not believe that the threat of a nuclear test by North Korea should deter the United Nations from addressing these human rights violations, including the possibility of referral to the International Criminal Court,” Ware declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/nuclear-weapons-as-bargaining-chips-in-global-politics/feed/ 2
Pro-Israel Hawks Take Wing over Extension of Iran Nuclear Talkshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks/#comments Tue, 25 Nov 2014 00:08:39 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=137932 E3/EU+3 nuclear talks, Vienna - July 2014. Credit: EEAS/cc by 2.0

E3/EU+3 nuclear talks, Vienna - July 2014. Credit: EEAS/cc by 2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Nov 25 2014 (IPS)

Buoyed by the failure of the U.S. and five other powers to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran over its nuclear programme after a week of intensive talks, pro-Israel and Republican hawks are calling for Washington to ramp up economic pressure on Tehran even while talks continue, and to give Congress a veto on any final accord.

“We have supported the economic sanctions, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, in addition to sanctions placed on Iran by the international community,” Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Kelly Ayotte, three of the Republican’s leading hawks, said in a statement released shortly after the announcement in Vienna that the one-year-old interim accord between the so-called P5+1 and Iran will be extended until Jul. 1 while negotiations continue.Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran.

“These sanctions have had a negative impact on the Iranian economy and are one of the chief reasons the Iranians are now at the negotiating table,” the three senators went on.

“However, we believe this latest extension of talks should be coupled with increased sanctions and a requirement that any final deal between Iran and the United States be sent to Congress for approval. Every Member of Congress should have the opportunity to review the final deal and vote on this major foreign policy decision.”

Their statement was echoed in part by at least one of the likely Republican candidates for president in 2016.

“From the outcome of this latest round, it also appears that Iran’s leadership remains unwilling to give up their nuclear ambitions,” said Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a favourite of pro-Israel neo-conservatives.

“None of this will change in the coming months unless we return to the pressure track that originally brought Iran to the table.”

At the same time, however, senior Democrats expressed disappointment that a more comprehensive agreement had not been reached but defended the decision to extend the Nov. 24, 2013 Joint Programme of Action (JPOA) between the P5+1 — the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany – and Iran – an additional seven months, until Jul. 1.

Echoing remarks made earlier by Secretary of State John Kerry, who has held eight meetings with his Iranian counterpart, Javad Zarif, over the past week, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein noted that “Iran has lived up to its obligations under the interim agreement and its nuclear programme has not only been frozen, it has been reversed. Today, Iran is further away from acquiring a nuclear weapon than before negotiations began.

“I urge my colleagues in Washington to be patient, carefully evaluate the progress achieved thus far and provide U.S. negotiators the time and space they need to succeed. A collapse of the talks is counter to U.S. interests and would further destabilise an already-volatile region,” she said in a statement.

The back and forth in Washington came in the wake of Kerry’s statement at the conclusion of intensive talks in Vienna. Hopes for a permanent accord that would limit Iran’s nuclear activities for a period of some years in exchange for the lifting of U.S. and international sanctions against Tehran rose substantially in the course of the week only to fall sharply Sunday when Western negotiators, in particular, spoke for the first time of extending the JPOA instead of concluding a larger agreement.

Neither Kerry nor the parties, who have been exceptionally tight-lipped about the specifics of the negotiations, disclosed what had occurred to change the optimistic tenor of the talks.

Kerry insisted Monday that this latest round had made “real and substantial progress” but that “significant points of disagreement” remain unresolved.

Most analysts believe the gaps involved include the size and scope of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme – specifically, the number of centrifuges it will be permitted to operate — and the number of years the programme will be subject to extraordinary curbs and international inspections.

Kerry appealed to Congress to not to act in a way that could sabotage the extension of the JPOA – under which Iran agreed to partially roll back its nuclear programme in exchange for an easing of some sanctions – or prospects for a successful negotiation.

“I hope they will come to see the wisdom of leaving us the equilibrium for a few months to be able to proceed without sending messages that might be misinterpreted and cause miscalculation,” he said. “We would be fools to walk away.”

The aim, he said, was to reach a broad framework accord by March and then work out the details by the Jul. 1 deadline. The JPOA was agreed last Nov. 24 but the specific details of its implementation were not worked out until the latter half of January.

Whether his appeal for patience will work in the coming months remains to be seen. Republicans, who, with a few exceptions, favoured new sanctions against Iran even after the JPOA was signed, gained nine seats in the Senate and will control both houses in the new Congress when it convenes in January.

If Congress approves new sanctions legislation, as favoured by McCain, Rubio, and other hawks, President Barack Obama could veto it. To sustain the veto, however, he have to keep at least two thirds of the 40-some Democrats in the upper chamber in line.

That could pose a problem given the continuing influence of the Israel lobby within the Democratic Party.

Indeed, the outgoing Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair, Robert Menendez, who reluctantly tabled a sanctions effort earlier this year, asserted Monday that the administration’s efforts “had not succeeded” and suggested that he would support a “two-track approach of diplomacy and pressure” in the coming period.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading Israel lobby group, also called Monday for “new bipartisan sanctions legislation to let Tehran know that it will face much more severe pressure if it does not clearly abandon its nuclear weapons program.”

Its message echoed that of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who had reportedly personally lobbied each of the P5+1’s leaders over the weekend, and who, even before the extension was officially announced, expressed relief at the failure to reach a comprehensive accord against which he has been campaigning non-stop over the past year.

“The agreement that Iran was aiming for was very bad indeed,” he told BBC, adding that “the fact that there’s no deal now gives [world powers] the opportunity to continue …to toughen [economic pressures] against Iran.”

The Iran task force of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), co-chaired by Dennis Ross, who held the Iran portfolio at the White House during part of Obama’s first term, said, in addition to increasing economic pressure, Washington should provide weaponry to Israel that would make its threats to attack Iran more credible.

The hard-line neo-conservative Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI) said Congress should not only pass new sanctions legislation, but strip Obama’s authority to waive sanctions.

“There’s no point waiting seven months for either another failure or a truly terrible deal,” ECI, which helped fund several Republican Senate campaigns this fall, said.

“Congress should act now to reimpose sanctions and re-establish U.S. red lines that will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. To that end, such legislation must limit the president’s authority to waive sanctions, an authority the president has already signaled a willingness to abuse in his desperate quest for a deal with the mullahs.”

Most Iran specialists here believe that any new sanctions legislation will likely sabotage the talks, fracture the P5+1, and thus undermine the international sanctions regime against Iran, strengthen hard-liners in Tehran who oppose accommodation and favour accelerating the nuclear programme.

“The worst scenario for U.S. interests is one in which Congress overwhelmingly passes new sanctions, Iran resumes its nuclear activities, and international unity unravels,” wrote Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, on the Wall Street Journal website Monday.

“Such an outcome would force the United States to revisit the possibility of another military conflict in the Middle East.”

Such arguments, which the administration is also expected to deploy, could not only keep most Democratic senators in line, but may also persuade some Republicans worried about any new military commitment in the Middle East.

Sen. Bob Corker, who will likely chair the Foreign Relations Committee in the new Congress, issued a cautious statement Monday, suggesting that he was willing to give the administration more time. Tougher sanctions, he said, could be prepared “should negotiations fail.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com. He can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/11/pro-israel-hawks-take-wing-over-extension-of-iran-nuclear-talks/feed/ 2