Inter Press Service » Europe http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sat, 28 Mar 2015 08:46:40 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Impunity Fuels Abuse in Immigrant Detention Centres in Spainhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/impunity-fuels-abuse-in-immigrant-detention-centres-in-spain/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=impunity-fuels-abuse-in-immigrant-detention-centres-in-spain http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/impunity-fuels-abuse-in-immigrant-detention-centres-in-spain/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 20:50:43 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139911 Trial of five police officers for alleged sexual abuse against immigrants held in the detention centre in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. This case is just one of many reported of mistreatment in these centres, whose closure is demanded by human rights groups. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

Trial of five police officers for alleged sexual abuse against immigrants held in the detention centre in the southern Spanish city of Málaga. This case is just one of many reported of mistreatment in these centres, whose closure is demanded by human rights groups. Credit: Inés Benítez/IPS

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

“They mistreat you, they don’t respect you. I’ve seen beatings, suffering, and you can’t defend yourself. When you’re locked in there it’s as if you were in another world,” Salif Sy, a Senegalese man who in 2011 spent eight days in an immigrant detention centre (CIE) in Madrid, told IPS.

Behind the walls of Spain’s eight CIEs, immigrants are frequent victims of abuse and mistreatment by the national police, who are in charge of guarding them, national and international human rights organisations warn.

They also complain about hurdles thrown in the way of investigations of reports of abuse, and about the prevailing impunity.

In the southern city of Málaga, five police officers are on trial for alleged sexual abuse of women held in the local CIE, in 2006. The centre operated in an old military garrison and was shut down when the dilapidated building was condemned in June 2012. A hearing of the trial was held Mar. 5.“Those who torture still have guaranteed impunity when they abuse people who are in especially vulnerable situations – undocumented immigrants, isolated from their families and friends, without money to pay a lawyer, and without knowledge of Spain’s legal system, let alone international law.” -- Carlos Villán

“The police would hold parties, where they would take advantage of the inmates sexually. It’s disgusting,” Jaime Ernesto Rodríguez, the attorney for three women who are protected witnesses in the case, told IPS. The accused face possible sentences of 27 years. The verdict is expected in April.

“Two of the agents had access to the lists of women who were coming in and they would choose,” said the lawyer for the three women, from Brazil, Honduras and Venezuela, who were deported to their home countries in 2006, despite the opposition put up by their attorney and several organisations.

Spain’s immigration law states that the CIEs are “public establishments of a non-penitentiary nature…for the detention and custody of foreigners subject to deportation orders.” It stipulates that no one can be held for more than 60 days.

But non-governmental organisations say the CIEs are “prisons in disguise,” where human rights violations are rampant.

Their demand that the centres be shut down was bolstered by the position taken by the new government of Greece.

The deputy interior minister of Greece, Yannis Panousis, announced Feb. 14 that the five immigrant detention centres in his country would gradually be closed, after a 28-year-old Pakistani citizen committed suicide in one of the centres the day before.

The latest accusation in Spain was filed on Feb. 3 for the alleged torture of Mohamed Rezine Zohuir of Algeria and Ben Yunes Sabbar of Morocco, who were detained in January in the CIE of the southeastern city of Valencia, lawyer Andrés García Berrio of the legal team of the campaign Tanquem Els Cies (Close the CIEs, in the Valencian language), told IPS.

He said the case is under investigation and that there are photos documenting injuries on the two men’s heads and faces, which the CIE authorities claim were self-inflicted.

In 2014, immigrants held in the CIE filed 40 formal complaints of abuse by police.

“Any complaint of mistreatment should be promptly, exhaustively and impartially investigated,” Amnesty International Spain’s head of domestic policy, Virginia Álvarez, told IPS. “We are concerned about the lack of adequate oversight and accountability mechanisms.”

In November 2014 the United Nations Human Rights Committee asked the Spanish government for explanations in the cases of alleged mistreatment in the CIEs and excessive use of force by the immigration authorities.

Spain’s interior minister, Jorge Fernández Díaz, denied in a Feb. 22 interview that there were cases of torture in the CIEs.

“How could torture happen in the CIEs?” he said. “I would bet my life on the fact that no torture is being committed. And if anyone did commit such a barbaric act, they would be committing a crime. False reports have been made.”

But according to García Berrio, “there is no willingness on the part of the Interior Ministry to resolve this situation.” He also complained about “hurdles being set in the way of the investigations,” citing as examples two cases in which security camera footage that served as evidence “went missing due to supposed technical problems.”

In the CIEs there have been “aberrations,” said Rodríguez, the lawyer. He mentioned the case of the Brazilian immigrant, who is one of the protected witnesses in the trial against the police officers in the Málaga CIE. When she was taken to the centre, she had a high-risk pregnancy, and suffered a miscarriage while awaiting deportation.

Rodríguez filed a complaint against the police for omission of duty to aid a person in distress, which was thrown out.

“Impunity surrounds abuses by police in the CIEs,” the president of the non-governmental Spanish Association for the Human Right to Peace, Carlos Villán, told IPS. He said the agents “have not received adequate training, and they are not warned that torture and mistreatment are prohibited by both Spanish and international law.”

People held in the CIEs have died due to “inadequate detention conditions and lack of medical care,” said Villán, who did not mention a precise number.

“There have been suicides, rapes,” activist Luís Pernía, president of the Platform of Solidarity with the Immigrants of Málaga, an umbrella group made up of some 20 organisations, told IPS. “Many people have suffered all kinds of abuse in Málaga’s CIE for decades, and there is a legal vacuum.”

On Mar. 14, 2014, Spain’s Council of Ministers approved the regulations for the operation of the CIEs. Until then the inmates were in a legal vacuum without specific regulations such as those used to guarantee the basic rights of inmates in prisons.

But Villán believes that despite the regulations, “those who torture still have guaranteed impunity when they abuse people who are in especially vulnerable situations – undocumented immigrants, isolated from their families and friends, without money to pay a lawyer, and without knowledge of Spain’s legal system, let alone international law.”

“There is racism and a lot of suffering in the CIE,” said Salif Sy, who reached Tenerife in Spain’s Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa, from Senegal, in a boat in 2006.

A few weeks before he was detained in 2011, Sy, who was heavily involved in different associations where he was living in the southeast Spanish city of Albacete, played King Balthazar in the city’s traditional Three Wise Men parade. Pressure from different organisations and his many friends blocked his deportation.

“We are all immigrants, we are all equals, I have to keep fighting for the people who will come after me,” said Sy, who is married to the Spanish woman who was his girlfriend when he was picked up by the authorities in their home in 2011.

Of the 49,406 foreign nationals detained in 2013 for breaking Spain’s immigration law, 9,002 were held in the CIEs and 4,726 were finally deported, according to the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture report published by the ombudsperson’s office in 2014.

Amnesty International’s Álvarez said people are detained in the CIEs “in the full knowledge that they cannot be deported if there is no repatriation agreement with their countries, along with people who are sick, possible victims of people trafficking, or potential asylum seekers; their human rights are being violated.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/impunity-fuels-abuse-in-immigrant-detention-centres-in-spain/feed/ 0
Turkey Investing in Coal Despite Cheaper Renewable Energyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy/#comments Fri, 27 Mar 2015 13:09:02 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139900 By Sean Buchanan
GENEVA, Mar 27 2015 (IPS)

In response to rising demand for electricity, pressure to keep prices affordable and a need to maintain energy security, the Turkish government plans to increase electricity generation from coal.

According to a report on ‘Subsidies to Coal and Renewable Energy in Turkey’ released on Mar. 24,

Turkey already spent more than 730 million dollars in subsidies to the coal industry in 2013.

This figure, says the report, does not even count subsidies under the Turkish government’s ‘New Investment Incentive Scheme’, which provides tax breaks and low-cost loans to coal projects, so the true figure is likely to be even higher.

The report, by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), says that the Turkish government is planning to triple generation from coal by 2030 despite the fact that renewable energy is already cheaper than coal when external costs, such as health and environmental damage caused by burning coal, are taken into account.

According to the report, the country has developed a strategy “focusing on developing domestic coal resources, such that growth in coal-fired power generation is expected to be highest of all Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.”

Nevertheless, this strategy “also acknowledges the importance of environmental protection and emissions reduction, and foresees a much larger role for renewable energy in the energy future.”

The report comes at a time when public and private institutions are under mounting pressure to stop investing in coal mining companies.

“Subsidies for coal lock in coal power for another generation when renewable sources of energy are less costly for society in economic, social and environmental terms,” said Sevil Acar, Assistant Professor at Istanbul Kemerburgaz University and one of the report’s authors.

The report says that when the costs of coal are compared with the costs of wind and solar energy, taking into account environmental and health costs, electricity from wind power is half the cost of electricity from coal, and solar power is also marginally cheaper than coal.

“This study provides further evidence to support the case for eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies once and for all,” said Peter Wooders, director of IISD’s Energy Programme. “As a G20 country that has already committed to phasing out inefficient fossil-fuel subsidies, this is a call to action for Turkey.”

According to the report, just over half of Turkey’s subsidies are used to provide coal to low-income households and while these serve the important goal of improving energy access, they come at a high health cost and are no replacement for social security programmes.

The report recommends a gradual phase-out of these subsidies in favour of more efficient measures to support access to energy and support social welfare.

Meanwhile, notes the report, coal also remains a significant employer in many areas, and any moves away from coal use would need detailed planning to ensure that affected communities can benefit from compensation measures and additional job creation from new technologies.

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/turkey-investing-in-coal-despite-cheaper-renewable-energy/feed/ 0
Opinion: What if Youth Now Fight for Social Change, But From the Right?http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right/#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 17:58:42 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139808

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, takes young voters’ support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Mar. 17 elections as the starting point for looking at how young people in Europe are moving to the right.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Mar 21 2015 (IPS)

The “surprise” re-election of incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Mar. 17 elections has been met with a flood of media comment on the implications for the region and the rest of the world.

However, one of the reasons for Netanyahu’s victory has dramatically slipped the attention of most – the support he received from young Israelis.

According to the Israeli daily Haaretz, 200,000 last-minute voters decided to switch their vote to Netanyahu’s Likud party due to the “fear factor” and most of these were voters under the age of 35.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Perhaps the “fear factor” was actually an expression of the “Masada factor”. Masada is a strong element in Israeli history and collective imagination. The inhabitants of the mountain fortress of Masada, besieged by Roman legions at the time of Emperor Tito’s conquest of the Israeli state, preferred collective suicide to surrender.

Israelis today feel besieged by hostile neighbouring countries (first of all Iran), the continuous onslaught by the Caliphate and the Islamic State, overwhelming negative international opinion and growing abandonment by the United States.

Netanyahu played a number of cards to bring about his last-minute election success, including his speech to the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress on Mar. 3, which was seen by many Israelis as an act of defiance and dignity, not a weakening of fundamental relations with the United States.

His support for Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza, his denial of the creation of a Palestinian state and his show of contempt for an international community unable to understand Israel’s fears led Netanyahu’s Likud party to victory.

In Israel, being left-wing mean accepting a Palestinian state, being right-wing means denying it. In the end, the Mar. 17 vote was the result of fear.“Taking refuge in parties that preach a return to a country’s ‘glorious’ past, blocking immigrants who are stealing jobs and Muslims who are challenging the traditional homogeneity of society, country … is an easy way out”

Israeli’s young people are not alone in moving to the right as a reaction to fear. It is interesting to note that all right-wing parties which have become relevant in Europe are based on fear.

Growing social inequality, the unprecedented phenomenon of youth unemployment, cuts in public services such as education and health, corruption which has become a cancer with daily scandals, and the general feeling of a lack of clear response from the political institutions to the problems opened up by a globalisation based on markets and not on citizens are all phenomena which are affecting young people.

“When you were like us at university, you knew you would find a job – we know we will not find one,” was how one student put it at a conference of the Society for International Development that I attended.

“The United Nations has lost the ability to be a place of governance, the financial system is without checks and corporations have a power which goes over national governments,” the student continued. “So, you see, the world of today is very different one from the one in which you grew up.”

As Josep Ramoneda wrote in El Pais of Mar. 18: “We expected that governments would submit markets to democracy and it turns out that what they do is adapt democracy to markets, that is, empty it little by little.

This is why many of those of who vote for right-wing parties in Europe are young people – be it for the National Front in France, the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) in Britain, the Lega Nord (North League) in Italy, the AfD (Alternative for Germany) in Germany and Golden Dawn in Greece, among others.

Taking refuge in parties that preach a return to a country’s “glorious” past, blocking immigrants who are stealing jobs and Muslims who are challenging the traditional homogeneity of society, country, and bringing back to the nation space and functions which have been delegated to an obtuse and arrogant bureaucracy in Brussels which has not been elected and is not therefore accountable to citizens, is an easy way out.

This is a major – but ignored – epochal change. It was long held that an historic function of youth was to act as a factor for change … now it is fast becoming a factor for the status quo. The traditional political system no longer has youth movements and its poor performance in front of the global challenges that countries face today makes young people distrustful and distant.

It is an easy illusion to flock to parties which want to fight against changes which look ominous, even negative. It also partially explains why some young Europeans are running to the Islamic State which promise a change to restore the dignity of Muslims dignity and whose agenda is to destroy dictators and sheiks who are in cohort with the international system and are all corrupt and intent on enriching themselves, instead of taking care of their youth.

What can young people think of President Erdogan of Turkey building a presidential palace with 1,000 rooms or the European Central Bank inaugurating headquarters which cost 1,200 million euro, just to give two examples? And what of the fact that the 10 richest men in the world increased their wealth in 2013 alone by an amount equivalent to the combined budgets of Brazil and Canada?

This generational change should be a transversal concern for all parties but what is happening instead is that the welfare state is continuing to suffer cuts. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), young people in the 18-23 age group will retire with an average pension of 650 euro. What kind of society will that be?

Without the safety net now being provided by parents and grandparents, how can young people in such a society avoid feeling left out?

We always thought young people would fight for social change, but what if they are now doing so from the right?

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-what-if-youth-now-fight-for-social-change-but-from-the-right/feed/ 1
Middle East Conflicts Give Hefty Boost to Arms Merchantshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/middle-east-conflicts-give-hefty-boost-to-arms-merchants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=middle-east-conflicts-give-hefty-boost-to-arms-merchants http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/middle-east-conflicts-give-hefty-boost-to-arms-merchants/#comments Mon, 16 Mar 2015 16:03:58 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139680 Abu Firuz, the commander of Liwa (Brigade) Salahadin, a Kurdish military unit fighting alongside rebel fighters, watches the besieged district of Karmel al-Jabl in eastern Aleppo, on Dec. 6, 2012. Several of the GCC states, specifically Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, are significant suppliers of weapons, mostly unofficial and clandestine, to some of the warring factions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. Credit: สังฆมณฑล เชียงใหม่/cc by 2.0

Abu Firuz, the commander of Liwa (Brigade) Salahadin, a Kurdish military unit fighting alongside rebel fighters, watches the besieged district of Karmel al-Jabl in eastern Aleppo, on Dec. 6, 2012. Several of the GCC states, specifically Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, are significant suppliers of weapons, mostly unofficial and clandestine, to some of the warring factions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen. Credit: สังฆมณฑล เชียงใหม่/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Mar 16 2015 (IPS)

The ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen have helped spiral arms sales upwards to the Middle East, according to a study released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The primary beneficiaries were the United States and Russia, whose overall arms exports show a marked increase through 2014, with China lagging behind, according to the latest figures.“As the oil-supplier countries have recovered economically, they have resumed their arms purchases. Financial pressures are not an effective long-term control measure." -- Natalie Goldring

Arms sales to Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states – Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – increased by 71 per cent from 2005–2009 to 2010–14, accounting for 54 per cent of imports to the Middle East in the latter period.

Saudi Arabia rose to become the second largest importer of major weapons worldwide in 2010–14, increasing the volume of its arms imports four times compared to 2005–2009.

Several of the GCC states, specifically Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar, are significant suppliers of weapons, mostly unofficial and clandestine, to some of the warring factions in Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen.

Pieter Wezeman, senior researcher at SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme, said GCC states have rapidly expanded and modernised their militaries – primarily with arms from the United States and Europe.

“The GCC states, along with Egypt, Iraq, Israel and Turkey in the wider Middle East, are scheduled to receive further large orders of major arms in the coming years,” he added.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union provide ready markets for arms transfers.

But those transfers, she pointed out, aren’t always reflected in the SIPRI data. SIPRI’s database focuses on major conventional weapons.

“This means that the light weapons and small arms often featured in recent conflicts are not captured in the SIPRI totals,” said Golding, who also represents the Acronym Institute at the United Nations on conventional weapons and arms trade issues.

She said the drop in crude oil prices since September 2014 reduces the revenues available to oil-rich nations.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the oil price cuts have had strong effects across the oil-producing nations because of their dependence on oil exports.

For the short term, those effects can be moderated by using the financial buffers that are available to countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

In the past, however, financial pressures have only slowed weapons acquisitions for as long as they have persisted, Goldring said.

“As the oil-supplier countries have recovered economically, they have resumed their arms purchases. Financial pressures are not an effective long-term control measure,” she noted.

According to the most recent SIPRI data, roughly three-quarters of all countries in the world imported major conventional weapons between 2010-2014. Just 10 countries accounted for roughly half of all imports of major conventional weapons during this period.

Of the top 10 largest importers of major weapons during the five-year period 2010–14, five are in Asia: India (15 per cent of global arms imports), China (5 per cent), Pakistan (4 per cent), South Korea (3 per cent) and Singapore (3 per cent).

These five countries accounted for 30 per cent of the total volume of arms imports worldwide.

India accounted for 34 per cent of the volume of arms imports to Asia, more than three times as much as China. China’s arms imports actually decreased by 42 per cent between 2005–2009 and 2010–14.

The new SIPRI data make it clear that the United States and Russia continue to dominate the global arms trade in major conventional weapons.

The United States accounted for 31 percent of the market, up from 29 percent from 2005-2009. Russia’s share increased even more significantly, going from 22 percent of the world market in 2005-2009 to a 27-percent share of the international market from 2010-2014.

“The United States has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure,” said Dr. Aude Fleurant, director of the SIPRI’s Arms and Military Expenditure Programme.

“Enabled by continued economic growth and driven by high threat perceptions, Asian countries continue to expand their military capabilities with an emphasis on maritime assets,” said Wezeman.

He said Asian countries generally still depend on imports of major weapons, which have strongly increased and will remain high in the near future.

Goldring told IPS that although SIPRI notes the significant percentage increase in Chinese exports between the two periods, China is still a minor supplier in comparison to the United States and Russia.

Even with a large increase in its exports, China still only accounts for five percent of the global trade.

The United States and Russia alone account for nearly 60 percent of the world market. U.S. and Russian dominance of the world market is simply not threatened by China, she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/middle-east-conflicts-give-hefty-boost-to-arms-merchants/feed/ 0
Mixed Prospects for LGBT Rights in Central and Eastern Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/mixed-prospects-for-lgbt-rights-in-central-and-eastern-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mixed-prospects-for-lgbt-rights-in-central-and-eastern-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/mixed-prospects-for-lgbt-rights-in-central-and-eastern-europe/#comments Sun, 15 Mar 2015 11:29:55 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139663 Billboard for the referendum called to strengthen a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption in Slovakia in February.  It says: WE ARE DECIDING ABOUT CHILDREN'S FUTURES. LET'S PROTECT THEIR RIGHT TO A MOTHER AND FATHER. Credit: Pavol Stracansky/IPS

Billboard for the referendum called to strengthen a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption in Slovakia in February. It says: WE ARE DECIDING ABOUT CHILDREN'S FUTURES. LET'S PROTECT THEIR RIGHT TO A MOTHER AND FATHER. Credit: Pavol Stracansky/IPS

By Pavol Stracansky
BRATISLAVA, Mar 15 2015 (IPS)

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) groups in Central and Eastern Europe, which still faced mixed prospects as they fight for rights and acceptance, are now taking some heart from the “failure” of a referendum in Slovakia, a member of the European Union.

Last month, a referendum called to strengthen a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption in Slovakia was declared invalid after only just over 20 percent of voters turned out.

The controversial plebiscite was heavily criticised by international rights groups, which said it pandered to homophobic discrimination and was allowing human rights issues affecting a minority group to be decided by a popular majority vote.

The campaigning ahead of the vote had often been bitter and vitriolic, including public homophobic statements by clergy, and a controversial negative commercial about gay adoption, which Slovak TV stations refused to broadcast and eventually only appeared on internet.The reasons behind the relative societal intolerance towards LGBT groups in Central and Eastern Europe vary from entrenched conservative attitudes rooted in countries’ isolation under communism, to local political aims and the influence of the Catholic Church.

The commercial showed a child in an orphanage being told that his new parents were coming to collect him and, after two men appear at the door, asking: “Where’s Mum?”

Activists here say that the referendum’s outcome was a sign that, despite this campaigning, Slovaks know that LGBT people pose “no threat” to society and has positively furthered discussion about allowing registered partnerships in the country.

Martin Macko, head of the Bratislava-based LGBT rights group Inakost, told IPS: “The referendum showed that people consider the family important, but that they do not see same-sex families as a threat to traditional families. The long-term perspective regarding discussions on registered partnerships in Slovakia is positive.”

Importantly, the result has also been welcomed in other parts of Central and Eastern Europe where many LGBT groups still face intolerance and discrimination.

Evelyne Paradis, Executive Director of international LGBT rights group ILGA-Europe told IPS: “LGBT activists across Europe have welcomed the outcome of the Slovak vote … hopefully the referendum will lead to a constructive discussion about equality in Slovakia. At the same time, we know that there is a broad diversity of views in the region which means that much work remains to be done before full equality is realised.”

Compared with Western Europe, attitudes in many countries in Central and Eastern Europe to LGBT people and issues are often much more conservative and in some states actively hostile.

The Czech Republic, whose larger cities have relatively open and vibrant gay communities, is the only country in the region which allows for registered partnerships of same-sex couples.

In other countries, such as Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia and Poland, marriage is defined constitutionally as only between a man and a woman. In January this year, Macedonia’s parliament voted to adopt a similar clause in its constitution.

Adoption by same sex couples is banned in all states in the region while other important legislation relating to LGBT issues is also absent. In Bulgaria, for instance, inadequate legislation means that homophobic crimes are investigated and prosecuted as ‘hooliganism’. This, activists claim, creates a climate of fear for LGBT people.

Poor records on minority rights in general in places like, for instance, Ukraine, mean that while the state may ostensibly be committed to LGBT rights, such communities are in reality extremely vulnerable.

In Russia, legislation actively represses same-sex relationships, with federal laws criminalising promotion of any non-heterosexual lifestyle, while Lithuania has legal provisions banning the promotion of homosexuality.

Deeply negative attitudes towards homosexuals are widespread in some societies. A 2013 survey in Ukraine showed that two-thirds of people thought homosexuality was a perversion, while a study in the same year in Lithuania showed that 61 percent of LGBT people said they had suffered discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Isolated verbal and physical attacks and passive intolerance among more conservative groups are common across the region. But in some countries, specifically Russia, anyone even suspected of being non-heterosexual faces open, organised and sometimes lethally violent persecution.

Natalia Tsymbalova, an LGBT rights activist from St Petersburg, was forced to flee Russia in September last year after receiving death threats. Now claiming asylum in Spain, she was one of at least 12 LGBT activists who left Russia last year.

Speaking from Madrid, she told IPS about the continuing repression of LGBT people in her home country.

She said that although state propaganda campaigns had “switched to ‘Ukrainian fascists’ and the West” being portrayed as the public’s greatest enemy instead of LGBT people since the annexation of Crimea and the start of the Ukraine conflict, “state homophobia has not disappeared”.

“It has just faded into the background,” she added, “no longer making top headlines in the news, but it is still there and it has never left. The number of hate crimes is not falling, and they are being investigated as badly as before.”

The reasons behind the relative societal intolerance towards LGBT groups in Central and Eastern Europe vary from entrenched conservative attitudes rooted in countries’ isolation under communism, to local political aims and the influence of the Catholic Church.

In Slovakia, a strongly Catholic country where the Church’s influence can be extremely strong in many communities, supporters of the referendum welcomed Pope Francis’ personal endorsement of their cause.

It has been speculated that the conservative Alliance for Family movement, which initiated the referendum, is funded by Slovakia’s Catholic Church and that the Church was the driving force behind moves to bring about the vote.

In Lithuania, another strongly Catholic country, Church officials have supported laws restricting LGBT rights and have openly called homosexuality a perversion.

However, some rights activists also say that politicians in countries struggling economically or looking to entrench their own power can often use minorities, including LGBT people, as easy political targets to gain voter support.

ILGA’s Paradis told IPS: “Unfortunately many political leaders use the LGBT community as scapegoats … from activists we often hear that they do this to hide ‘real problems’ in countries, such as youth unemployment, access to education and healthcare. They promote ‘traditional family values’ as the way to rescue society. Sadly, in doing this, political leaders build a climate of intolerance and hatred.”

Saying that Russian politicians are now using homophobia to push wider agendas, Tsymbalova told IPS: “Homophobia plays an important role in the anti-Western rhetoric of President [Vladimir] Putin and his fellows. It is one of the main points of the conservative values that they try to promote and the public still has negative attitudes toward LGBT communities.”

The outcome of the Slovak referendum has left activists there more optimistic about the future for LGBT people in their country.

They are now pushing for discussions with the government about introducing registered partnerships and they hope that LGBT communities in other countries in the region will be heartened by the result or that, at least, people hoping to organise similar referendums will reconsider what they are doing.

Macko of Inakost told IPS: “Religious groups in some Balkan and Baltic countries are considering organising similar referendums and we really hope this will discourage them.”

Paradis told IPS that while the Slovak referendum had already been welcomed by many of its member groups in Central and Eastern Europe, progress on LGBT issues in many countries, including registered partnerships, was unlikely to be swift. “There indeed is more discussion in the region on granting rights to same sex partnerships, but what we see is a very mixed picture.”

However, the outlook for LGBT people in some places remains grim. Tsymbalova told IPS that many LGBT people in her home country have given up hope of any positive changes in the foreseeable future.

“In our community, there is almost no one who believes that the situation for LGBT people in Russia will seriously change for the better any time soon. Under the existing regime, which promotes and exploits homophobia, these changes will not happen and there is almost no hope of a regime change, so expectations are gloomy.”

She added: “Many LGBT activists have either left Russia, like me, or are going to. [As] for same-sex registered partnerships, it would take several decades to be accepted in Russia and I don’t believe I will see this in my lifetime. It is completely out of the question for the next 20 or 30 years.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/mixed-prospects-for-lgbt-rights-in-central-and-eastern-europe/feed/ 1
More Fighter Jets in Nicaragua, Second-Poorest Country in the Americashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/more-fighter-jets-in-nicaragua-second-poorest-country-in-the-americas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=more-fighter-jets-in-nicaragua-second-poorest-country-in-the-americas http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/more-fighter-jets-in-nicaragua-second-poorest-country-in-the-americas/#comments Sat, 14 Mar 2015 07:02:22 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139647 Nicaraguan soldiers unloading election materials from an Antonov 26 military plane, part of Russia’s cooperation with the country. Credit: Courtesy of the Nicaraguan army

Nicaraguan soldiers unloading election materials from an Antonov 26 military plane, part of Russia’s cooperation with the country. Credit: Courtesy of the Nicaraguan army

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Mar 14 2015 (IPS)

Nicaragua, the second-poorest country in the Americas, is tapping into its depleted coffers to upgrade its ageing military fleet with costly new equipment from Russia – a move that has sparked controversy at home and concern among the country’s Central American neighbours.

The decision was officially confirmed Feb. 10 by the Nicaraguan army chief, General Adolfo Zepeda.

When rumours spread in the international media that Managua was seeking to acquire a fleet of six to 12 MiG-29 fighter jets, Zepeda acknowledged that they were looking for warplanes for “defensive” purposes: to intercept drug trafficking flights by cartels in the country’s Caribbean region. He also said the military planned to buy gunboats. No further details were offered.

The announcement drew criticism from civilian sectors in Nicaragua and Central America, which argued that the poorest country in the Americas after Haiti shouldn’t be trying to buy fighter planes, which in the case of the MiG-29s cost 29 million dollars apiece. “This kind of spending on arms will further reduce the already small budget dedicated to education, which should be one of the leading areas of the budget but which is cut every year.” -- Ricardo De León

According to World Bank figures, 42.5 percent of Nicaragua’s 6.1 million people were living in poverty in 2009, the last year official statistics were provided by the government.

Elvira Cuadra, the head of the non-governmental Institute of Strategic Studies and Public Policy (IEEPP), told IPS that the funds invested in the purchase of Russian planes would be better spent on reaching the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of development and anti-poverty targets that in the year 2000 the international community agreed to meet by the end of 2015.

“The country’s economic situation and especially the vulnerability of certain population groups suffering from poverty and extreme poverty make it necessary to direct all resources and efforts towards resolving this kind of challenge,” she said.

Cuadra, a sociologist, said the announcement of the planned military upgrade has generated many more questions than answers.

For example, she said: “Does Nicaragua have a clear national strategy for the fight against drug trafficking? And how will that strategy be implemented and coordinated with respect to the rest of the countries of Central America and the security policies of Mexico, Colombia and the United States?”

In her view, the government of left-wing President Daniel Ortega is playing into Russia’s geopolitical strategy in its power struggle with the United States.

“Some analysts think it’s a game of mirrors, in the sense of (Russia) creating a diversion in this region, which has historically been under the control of the United States, in order to exercise pressure and reach another kind of objective in other regions of the world of greater geostrategic interest to both powers,” Cuadra said.

Since the official announcement of the purchase of new military equipment, which followed an agreement signed with Moscow in 2013 to modernise the army and acquire missile launchers and patrol boats, neither the military authorities nor the government have clarified doubts that have been raised about the plan.

Nicaragua and Russia established diplomatic ties in December 1944, during World War II, as part of the Allies opposed to the Axis powers headed by Nazi Germany.

When the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) seized power in 1979, after overthrowing dictator Anastasio Somoza, the country forged close ties with Moscow, which armed the new army in the context of the Cold War, while the U.S. financed the “contra” rebels to fight the leftist Sandinistas.

Relations cooled off after 1990, when the Sandinistas were voted out of office and the conflict with the contras came to an end. That was until Ortega returned to the presidency in 2007, after heading the government of national reconstruction from 1979 to 1985 and governing as president from 1985 to 1990 as the winner of the country’s first free elections.

Since then, Nicaragua has supported geostrategic readjustments by Russia in its zone of influence, on the last occasion backing the Kremlin in the conflict with Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea.

Russia has responded to that support with donations and loans of technology, medicine, means of transport and food. The military provisions and cooperation totaled 26 million dollars from 2009 to 2014.

Russia’s defence minister, General Sergey Shoygu (right), signing military cooperation agreements with Nicaraguan army chief General Julio Cesar Avilés, during his visit to Managua in February. Credit: Courtesy of the Nicaraguan army

Russia’s defence minister, General Sergey Shoygu (right), signing military cooperation agreements with Nicaraguan army chief General Julio Cesar Avilés, during his visit to Managua in February. Credit: Courtesy of the Nicaraguan army

Russian warships dock in Nicaraguan ports while its fighter jets land in Managua; and Nicaraguan and Russian vessels patrol the waters of the Caribbean, as a training centre for the fight against drugs is being built in the capital with Russian funds and support from Russian experts.

On Feb. 11-12, Russia’s defence minister, Sergey Shoygu, visited Managua with the stated aim of strengthening bilateral cooperation in the area, after his deputy minister, Anatoli Antonov, included Nicaragua on a list of Russia’s three main military partners in Latin America, along with Cuba and Venezuela.

Arms vs development

Ricardo De León, dean of the Faculty of Legal Sciences and Humanities at the American College University in Managua, said the Nicaraguan army and government are making a mistake by “militarising” their efforts against drug trafficking and organised crime.

“It’s a mistake to believe they can fight drug trafficking by buying more arms; El Salvador already showed that police and military capacities are overwhelmed in the fight against transnational narco or crime, with its Mano Dura (Iron Fist) and Super Mano Dura (Super Iron Fist) plans,” the academic told IPS.

De León complained that the military purchases took funds away from social spending priorities.

“In a country like ours, which is the second-poorest in the hemisphere, this kind of spending should not be included in the budget and future debts like this shouldn’t be racked up,” he argued.

“This kind of spending on arms will further reduce the already small budget dedicated to education, which should be one of the leading areas of the budget but which is cut every year.”

In 2014 defence spending represented 0.54 percent of Nicaragua’s GDP of 11.25 billion dollars, while education spending amounted to 2.94 percent, according to official statistics.

The announcement of arms purchases by Nicaragua is causing concern among its neighbours.

Government officials and politicians from Costa Rica, Honduras and Colombia warned of a possible rise in violence in the area and a stimulus for an arms race. All three countries have maritime boundary disputes with Nicaragua.

“The main risk is that a spiral of violence will be triggered, like what has happened in other countries,” Carlos Murillo, a professor of international relations at the National University of Costa Rica, told IPS. “Another risk is that the armed forces could return to the phase of the ‘national security doctrine’ and we could see a militarisation of the country and above all of politics.”

The expert maintained that in the region, Managua’s military intentions are seen in another light. The impression, he said, is that “The real intention of the purchase of war equipment, especially the fighter jets, is not to fight the drug trade but has other purposes that are not very clear.”

One of the real reasons, Murillo said, is the aim of dissuading Costa Rica and Colombia “from taking actions that could weaken Managua’s territorial claims.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/more-fighter-jets-in-nicaragua-second-poorest-country-in-the-americas/feed/ 1
Desolate Sierra Leonean Living Rough in UK Spurs Fund Drivehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/desolate-sierra-leonean-living-rough-in-uk-spurs-fund-drive/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=desolate-sierra-leonean-living-rough-in-uk-spurs-fund-drive http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/desolate-sierra-leonean-living-rough-in-uk-spurs-fund-drive/#comments Wed, 11 Mar 2015 15:09:41 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139605 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Mar 11 2015 (IPS)

The somber face of a young man from Sierra Leone has become the emblem of Ebola’s living survivors, suffering in silence without families, papers, or homes.

A photo of Jimmy Thoronka appeared this week in local British papers. An undeclared refugee, he went missing after competing in last summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. The 20-year-old was a star sprinter but fell apart as Ebola took his uncle, then his adoptive mother and four siblings. He had already lost his birth parents in the country’s civil war.

Scared to go back, he decided to stay on after his visa ran out.

Thus began a seven-month spell of ‘living rough” on the streets. There were days without meals, sleeping in parks or night buses in London. When his whereabouts emerged last week, he was arrested for overstaying his visa. He was finally released Saturday night after an interview with immigration officers.

His plight, on the heels of the huge loss of life in three West African countries, now over 9,000, sparked an online campaign in his name. Thousands took part, including the comedian Russell Brand, the actor Samantha Morton and the model Lily Cole. More than 30,000 dollars was raised.

The collection took Thoronka by complete surprise. “I am amazed that people all over the world have offered to help me after they read my story. I don’t know how to thank everyone. If I can make a success of my life as a sprinter my plan is to go back to Sierra Leone and help homeless people. I know how much suffering there is when you are homeless. Last week I had no hope but now maybe I will make it.”

Thoronka’s case put a spotlight on the UK’s use of immigration detention. A recent report from an all-party parliamentary group called for detention to be limited to 28 days and used only in exceptional circumstances.

“Immigration removal centres are places where many detainees languish in indefinite detention despite not being accused of any crime, and this has a tremendous negative impact,” Emma Mlotshwa, coordinator of Medical Justice, told the Guardian. “We have seen detainees’ mental and physical health deteriorate in immigration detention and we fear for this man’s wellbeing, given his existing reported vulnerabilities.”

The fund appeal for Thoronka was started by a Cambridge University student, whose PhD is on how social networking can be used for social good. The money will be put in a trust and will pay for fees and some living costs of a year at a residential athletics training facility.

Meanwhile, the death toll from the virus in Sierra Leone is more than 3,500 and in the most recent development, Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana put himself in quarantine after the death from Ebola of one of his security guards. He is set to become acting president when President Ernest Bai Koroma leaves Sierra Leone to attend a European Union conference on Ebola in Belgium. Sam-Sumana is expected to carry out the presidential duties from his home.

He is the highest-ranking African official to be quarantined in West Africa.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/desolate-sierra-leonean-living-rough-in-uk-spurs-fund-drive/feed/ 0
Opinion: Greece and the Germanisation of Europehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-greece-and-the-germanisation-of-europe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-greece-and-the-germanisation-of-europe http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-greece-and-the-germanisation-of-europe/#comments Wed, 04 Mar 2015 15:02:38 +0000 guillermo-medina http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139475

In this column, Guillermo Medina, a Spanish journalist and former Member of Parliament, analyses the negotiations between Greece and the Eurogroup and concludes that Germany, currently Europe’s dominant power, has achieved its basic goal: the consolidation of austerity as the fundamental dogma of the new European economic order. This, says the author, is a milestone in the political tussle in the European Union since the reunification of Germany between moving towards a Europeanised Germany or a Germanised Europe.

By Guillermo Medina
MADRID, Mar 4 2015 (IPS)

At last, on Tuesday Feb. 24, the Eurogroup (of eurozone finance ministers) approved the Greek government’s commitment to a programme of reforms in return for extending the country’s bailout deal.

The agreement marks the end of tense and protracted negotiations. It consists of a four-month extension for the second bailout programme worth 130 billion euros (over 145 billion dollars), in force since 2012 and which was due to expire on Feb. 28. The first bailout was for 110 billion euros, equivalent to 123 billion dollars.

Guillermo Medina

Guillermo Medina

During this period, the European Central Bank (ECB) will provide Greece with liquidity and the terms of a new bailout will be hammered out.

The eleventh-hour agreement was no doubt motivated partly by fears that a “Grexit” – Greek withdrawal from the eurozone monetary union – would have triggered a financial earthquake with unforeseeable consequences. The result is a very European-style compromise that averts catastrophe and gains time while avoiding facing the underlying problems.

In exchange for an extension of financial support from Greece’s partners and creditors, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras will have to submit all his government’s measures during this period to Eurogroup inspection.

But the deal promises Greece more than just restrictions. The country will have to pay its debts to the last euro, but if, as seems probable, deadlines for primary surplus targets are extended, the country will have greater ability to pay (France has just secured this for itself).

In the final document, Greece promised to adopt a tax reform that would make the system fairer and more progressive, as well as reinforce the fight against corruption and tax evasion and reduce administrative spending.“Germany has undeniably secured its basic goal: the enshrining of austerity as the fundamental dogma of the new European economic order, although political prudence and even self-interest have softened the application of the dogma, and may continue to do so in future”

If the government pursues these goals, together with the fight against contraband, efficiently and with determination (as indeed it should, because they are part of its programme and target its domestic enemies), the income will be helpful for the application of its social and economic programmes.

In view of the successive positions that Greece has had to relinquish in the course of the negotiations, it appears that the country has achieved the little that could be achieved.

The negotiations between Greece and its European partners mark a milestone in the political tussle in the European Union since the reunification of Germany in 1990, between moving towards a Europeanised Germany or a Germanised Europe.

Germany has undeniably secured its basic goal: the enshrining of austerity as the fundamental dogma of the new European economic order, although political prudence and even self-interest have softened the application of the dogma, and may continue to do so in future.

Germany has openly tried to impose its convictions and its hegemony on Europe. Greece was only the immediate battlefield. Brussels and Berlin have been divided from the outset about how to solve the Greek crisis, but Germany prevailed.

However, the masters of Europe do not have any interest in “destroying” Greece, and so cutting off their nose to spite their face. They are satisfied with a demonstration of the asymmetry of power between the two sides, and the public contemplation of assured failure for whoever defies the status quo and supports any policy that deviates from the one true official line.

The problem with a Germanised Europe is not the preponderant role that Germany would play, but that it would impose a “Made in Germany” model of Europe that conforms to its own interests. That is how it would differ from a Europeanised Germany.

The Greek crisis has highlighted the ever-widening contrast between the values and ideals that we consider to be central to the European project, such as solidarity, mutual aid and social justice, and the new values that set aside basic aims like full employment, social welfare and equal opportunities.

It is paradoxical that Europe, which is apparently absent from or baffled by threats from the opposite shore of the Mediterranean, should take a harsh, tough attitude with a small partner overwhelmed by debt. It is also paradoxical that structural reforms are demanded of Greece, without admitting Europe’s own urgent need to redesign the eurozone and reframe the policies that have led to the poor performance of its monetary union.

The Greek crisis and the difficulties in overcoming it have a great deal to do with a design of the euro that benefits financial interests, particularly Germany’s.

The project neglected the harmonisation of tax policies and created a European Central Bank that lacked the powers that permit the U.S. Federal Reserve and the Bank of England to issue money and buy state debt.

As is well known, the ECB has made loans to European banks at very low interest rates, and they in turn have made loans to states, including Greece, at much higher interest. Government debts thus mounted up, and in order to pay they were forced to cut public spending.

Why does Europe persist in following failed policies while refusing to follow those that have lifted the United States out of recession? The only explanation is stubborn attachment to an ideological vision of economic policy that is devoid of pragmatism.

How can insistence on the path of error be explained at such a time? There may well be a quota of incompetence, but the basic reason is, as Nobel prize-winners Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman affirm, that the goal of the policies imposed by the “Troika” (European Commission, ECB and International Monetary Fund) is to protect the interests of financial capital. And this is because the powers of political institutions, the media and academia, are dominated by financial capital, with German financial capital at the core.

Financial interests are essentially capable of shaping the decisions of European governance institutions. In the United States this subservience is less clear-cut, allowing hefty penalties to be imposed on certain banks, as well as the development of other economic strategies.

This is because independent mechanisms of control and oversight exist, the Federal Reserve has well-defined goals (whereas the ECB has spent years fighting the insistent threat of inflation), and there is democratic administration with the political will to resist.

In conclusion: the issue is to clarify what sort of Europe the citizens of Europe want, and what institutional changes are needed to achieve it.

And even more importantly, having seen the consecration of German hegemony over the Old World, what sort of German leadership would be compatible with a united Europe based on solidarity? Is this even possible? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee/Edited by Phil Harris    

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-greece-and-the-germanisation-of-europe/feed/ 0
Opinion: Europe Under Merkel’s (Informal) Leadershiphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-europe-under-merkels-informal-leadership/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-europe-under-merkels-informal-leadership http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-europe-under-merkels-informal-leadership/#comments Fri, 27 Feb 2015 09:32:32 +0000 Emma Bonino http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139392

In this column, Emma Bonino, a former Italian foreign minister and former European Commissioner, argues that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the de facto representative of Europe in the world today, putting other European heads of states and institutions in the shade. Moreover, the economic and political measures taken by EU member countries since 2008 have aimed at “renationalising” their interests, and the author fears that a definitive crisis of the European federalist project is on the horizon.

By Emma Bonino
ROME, Feb 27 2015 (IPS)

When I am asked whether Europe is still a relevant “protagonist” in the modern world, I always answer that there is no doubt about it. For a long time now, the continent has been shaken by financial crises, internal security strategy crises – including wars – and instability within its borders, which definitely make it a protagonist in world affairs. 

If the question asked were about what the leading role of the European Union actually is, it is enough to take a look at a few days’ entries in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s diary.

Emma Bonino

Emma Bonino

On Thursday Feb. 5 she was in Moscow with French President François Hollande for negotiations on the Ukraine crisis with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the following day she met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for talks in Kiev. At the weekend she was back in Munich, where she argued publicly for resistance against increasing pressure from the United States to arm the Ukrainian forces.

On Monday Feb. 9 Merkel was in Washington, where she obtained – at least temporarily – U.S. President Barack Obama’s agreement to her stand against providing arms to Ukraine, in order to maintain a favourable climate for the negotiations that were about to be held in Minsk.

Next she went to Minsk to participate in three exhausting days of talks including a 17-hour debate with the presidents of Russia and Ukraine, which led to a proposal of truce in Ukraine, presented on Thursday Feb. 12 to an informal meeting of E.U. heads of state in Brussels.

This brief overview, and the reports and images disseminated in the media, clearly show that Angela Merkel personifies the global role of Europe and puts other European heads of state and institutions in the shade.

Other protagonists on the international stage, like Obama and Putin, show a similar perception when they make important agreements with the German Chancellor.

In my federalist vision of Europe, it would be just perfect if Merkel were the president of the United States of Europe. Unfortunately, that is not the case.“I am convinced that Berlin is aware that Germany is called on to shoulder strategic responsibilities that go beyond its status as an economic superpower”

I do not want to dwell on the oversimplified dilemma that has been exercising think tanks for years: Are we moving towards a Europeanised Germany, or towards a Germanised Europe?

But I am convinced that Berlin is aware that Germany is called on to shoulder strategic responsibilities that go beyond its status as an economic superpower. This view is reinforced by the certainty that the proposal to reform the United Nations Security Council by granting Berlin a permanent seat is not going to happen in the foreseeable future.

And if, at some date far in the future, such a reform of the Security Council is approved, the Council’s powers may by then have been reduced.

I believe this because in the last few months, while the events that are public knowledge were happening in Syria, in Iraq, with respect to the Islamic State, in Ukraine, in Sudan, Libya and Nigeria, the Security Council was conspicuous by its absence.

Furthermore, it is a disappointing surprise to witness the almost non-existent resilience of the institutions created by the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007, which reformed the European Union. At the time they were praised as a new departure in the framework of international law and as the consolidation of a united European foreign policy.

While we watched the serious conflict in Ukraine on our continent, many of us asked ourselves what the top E.U. authorities, who had been elected transnationally for the first time, were doing: E.U. President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini.

What credibility can possibly remain for structures that are systematically side-lined when conflicts become red-hot?

The problem does not lie in the persons who perform these functions. Such an analysis would be too superficial.

It is rather a question of ascertaining whether European institutions are sufficiently robust to resist what many call a return to the Westphalian system, that is, to the treaties of 1648 that demarcated a new order in Europe founded on the nation-state as the basis of international relations.

Outside Europe, this tendency has been developing for some time. The role of global power is increasingly taken over by “mega states”: the United States, Russia, China, India, and soon to include Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia.

The European Union has difficulty matching up to these as a valid counterpart.

I am afraid that this tendency may lead to the definitive crisis of the European federalist project. However, we federalists must resist the trend and reflect on the best way to face the situation.

Since 2008, the economic and political measures taken by EU member countries have aimed at “renationalising” their interests, with the exception of actions implemented by Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank.

Consequently, Europe has abandoned the pursuit of a common foreign policy and has reverted to inter-governmental practices that prioritise national interests.

The dilemma is clear: either the European Union is a global power and is recognised as such, or Europe will be represented by others in crucial debates.

In this context, what is emerging is that Germany is increasingly taking on a new role.

This process began with the bizarre designation in 2006 of a group of countries to negotiate with Iran, known as 3+3, or more commonly, outside Europe, as 5+1: the five permanent members of the Security Council (the United States, Russia, China, the United Kingdom, France) plus Germany.

Since then Berlin has taken on a leading role, not only in the European context but also in many international affairs, often on behalf of the European Union.

To sum up: the European Union works jointly to the extent that this is possible. After that there is a level at which decisions – and responsibilities – are taken by those with the power to do so. That is the scheme practised in today’s Europe. It is time for other Europeans to sit up and take notice. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Translated by Valerie Dee/ Edited by Phil Harris   

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/opinion-europe-under-merkels-informal-leadership/feed/ 0
Everything You Wanted to Know About Climate Changehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/#comments Thu, 19 Feb 2015 15:39:19 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139258 A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

A woman watches helplessly as a flood submerges her thatched-roof home containing all her possessions on the outskirts of Bhubaneswar city in India’s eastern state of Odisha in 2008. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

So much information about climate change now abounds that it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. Scientific reports appear alongside conspiracy theories, data is interspersed with drastic predictions about the future, and everywhere one turns, the bad news just seems to be getting worse.

Corporate lobby groups urge governments not to act, while concerned citizens push for immediate action. The little progress that is made to curb carbon emissions and contain global warming often pales in comparison to the scale of natural disasters that continue to unfold at an unprecedented rate, from record-level snowstorms, to massive floods, to prolonged droughts.

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975 -- The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI)
Attempting to sift through all the information is a gargantuan task, but it has been made easier with the release of a new report by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a think-tank based in New Delhi that has, perhaps for the first time ever, compiled an exhaustive assessment of the whole world’s progress on climate mitigation and adaptation.

The assessment also provides detailed forecasts of what each country can expect in the coming years, effectively providing a blueprint for action at a moment when many scientists fear that time is running out for saving the planet from catastrophic climate change.

Trends, risks and damages

The Global Sustainability Report 2015 released earlier this month at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, ranks the top 20 countries (out of 193) most at risk from climate change based on the actual impacts of extreme climate events documented over a 34-year period from 1980 to 2013.

The TERI report cites data compiled by the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, which maintains a global database of natural disasters dating back over 100 years.

The study found a 10-fold increase to 525 natural disasters in 2002 from around 50 in 1975. By 2011, 95 percent of deaths from this consistent trend of increasing natural disasters were from developing countries.

In preparing its rankings, TERI took into account everything from heat and cold waves, drought, floods, flash floods, cloudburst, landslides, avalanches, forest fires, cyclone and hurricanes.

Mozambique was found to be most at risk globally, followed by Sudan and North Korea. In both Mozambique and Sudan, extreme climate events caused more than six deaths per 100,000 people, the highest among all countries ranked, while North Korea suffered the highest economic losses annually, amounting to 1.65 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

The year 2011 saw 350 billion dollars in economic damages globally, the highest since 1975.

The situation is particularly bleak in Asia, where countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh and the Philippines, with a combined total population of over 300 million people, are extremely vulnerable to climate-related disasters.

China, despite high economic growth, has not been able to reduce the disaster risks to its population that is expected to touch 1.4 billion people by the end of 2015: it ranked sixth among the countries in Asia most susceptible to climate change.

Sustained effort at the national level has enabled Bangladesh to strengthen its defenses against sea-level rise, its biggest climate challenge, but it still ranked third on the list.

India, the second most populous country – expected to have 1.26 billion people by end 2015 – came in at 10th place, while Sri Lanka and Nepal figured at 14th and 15th place respectively.

In Africa, Ethiopia and Somalia are also considered extremely vulnerable, while the European nations of Albania, Moldova, Spain and France appeared high on the list of at-risk countries in that region, followed by Russia in sixth place.

In the Americas, the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia ranked first, followed by Grenada and Honduras. The most populous country in the region, Brazil, home to 200 million people, was ranked 20th.

More disasters, higher costs

In the 110 years spanning 1900 and 2009, hydro-meteorological disasters have increased from 25 to 3,526. Hydro-meteorological, geological and biological extreme events together increased from 72 to 11,571 during that same period, the report says.

In the 60-year period between 1970 and 2030, Asia will shoulder the lion’s share of floods, cyclones and sea-level rise, with the latter projected to affect 83 million people annually compared to 16.5 million in Europe, nine million in North America and six million in Africa.

The U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) estimates that global economic losses by the end of the current century will touch 25 trillion dollars, unless strong measures for climate change mitigation, adaptation and disaster risk reduction are taken immediately.

As adaptation moves from theory to practice, it is becoming clear that the costs of adaptation will surpass previous estimates.

Developing countries, for instance, will require two to three times the previous estimates of 70-100 billion dollars per year by 2050, with a significant funding gap after 2020, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Adaptation Gap Report released last December.

Indicators such as access to water, food security, health, and socio-economic capability were considered in assessing each country’s adaptive capacity.

According to these broad criteria, Liberia ranks lowest, with a quarter of its population lacking access to water, 56 percent of its urban population living in slums, and a high incidence of malaria compounded by a miserable physician-patient ratio of one doctor to every 70,000 people.

On the other end of the adaptive capacity scale, Monaco ranks first, with 100 percent water access, no urban slums, zero malnutrition, 100 percent literacy, 71 doctors for every 10,000 people, and not a single person living below one dollar a day.

Cuba, Norway, Switzerland and the Netherlands also feature among the top five countries with the highest adaptive capacity; the United States is ranked 8th, the United Kingdom 25th, China 98th and India 146th.

The study also ranks countries on responsibilities for climate change, taking account of their historical versus current carbon emission levels.

The UK takes the most historic responsibility with 940 tonnes of CO2 per capita emitted during the industrialisation boom of 1850-1989, while the U.S. occupies the fifth slot consistently on counts of historical responsibility, cumulative CO2 emissions over the 1990-2011 period, as well as greenhouse gas (GHG) emission intensity per unit of GDP in 2011, the same year it clocked 6,135 million tonnes of GHG emissions.

China was the highest GHG emitter in 2011 with 10,260 million tonnes, and India ranked 3rd with 2,358 million tonnes. However, when emission intensity per one unit of GDP is additionally considered for current responsibility, both Asian countries move lower on the scale while the oil economies of Qatar and Kuwait move up to into the ranks of the top five countries bearing the highest responsibility for climate change.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-climate-change/feed/ 0
Deadly Asbestos Still Costing Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/deadly-asbestos-still-costing-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deadly-asbestos-still-costing-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/deadly-asbestos-still-costing-lives/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 20:36:48 +0000 Ines Benitez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139223 Two workers engaged in the removal of asbestos on the roof of a building where a cinema used to operate in the centre of the southern Spanish city of Málaga, in May 2014. Credit: Courtesy Plataforma Málaga Amianto Cero

Two workers engaged in the removal of asbestos on the roof of a building where a cinema used to operate in the centre of the southern Spanish city of Málaga, in May 2014. Credit: Courtesy Plataforma Málaga Amianto Cero

By Inés Benítez
MÁLAGA, Spain , Feb 17 2015 (IPS)

“I would get asbestos in my mouth, spit it out and carry on working,” said 52-year-old Francisco Padilla. Exposure to this deadly mineral fibre over most of his working life has resulted in cancer and the removal of his left lung, the lung lining and part of his diaphragm.

Sitting on the sofa in his home in the southern Spanish city of Málaga, Padilla told Tierramérica with watering eyes that he has always looked after his health and has never smoked.

He used to cycle to and from the workshop where he has worked since the age of 18, until in May 2014 he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, an aggressive malignant tumor linked to occupational exposure to asbestos, and had to undergo radical surgery three months ago.“Thousands of people have died, are dying and will die in the future because of asbestos....its effects have been overwhelmingly silenced.” -- Activist Francisco Puche

The use of asbestos, a low-cost fire retardant and insulating material, was banned in Spain in 2002. Previously, however, it was widely used in construction, shipbuilding, and the steel, automotive and railway industries, among others.

Workers in these industries were at risk of contracting mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis, whose symptoms could take 20 to 40 years to develop.

“Thousands of people have died, are dying and will die in the future because of asbestos. It is the great unknown factor, and its effects have been overwhelmingly silenced,” activist Francisco Puche of Málaga Amianto Cero, an anti-asbestos alliance, told Tierramérica.

Puche believes Europe should have “a plan for safe asbestos removal,” because the risk continues in spite of the bans.

He pointed out several water tanks made of cement containing asbestos fibres on the rooftop of a building in a central Málaga square, and warned that in their everyday lives, people are caught in a hazardous “spiderweb” of asbestos.

It is present in thousands of kilometres of water pipes, public and private buildings, warehouses, tunnels, machinery, ships and trains, although it is being progressively replaced by other materials.

Puche warned of the dangers involved in the deterioration and modification of structures containing asbestos, which breaks down into rigid microscopic fibrils that accumulate in the body by inhalation or ingestion.

TA Spain 2

Asbestos is banned in 55 countries, including the 28 members of the European Union, Argentina, Chile, Honduras and Uruguay. But more than two million tonnes a year are still being extracted worldwide, mainly in China, India, Russia, Brazil and Kazakhstan, according to the International Ban Asbestos Secretariat.

Every year 107,000 people worldwide die of lung cancer, asbestosis and mesothelioma linked to occupational exposure to asbestos, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

WHO estimates that 125 million people are in contact with asbestos in the workplace, and attributes thousands of other deaths a year to indirect contact with the material in the home.

“The asbestos issue shows the true face of a system that is only interested in profits,” said Puche, who is critical of “big business,” powerful lobbies linked to asbestos mining, and the “impunity” surrounding the illness and death of workers in Europe and around the world.

Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny, the former CEO of Eternit, a family business that set up asbestos factories across the globe in the 20th century, had been sentenced to 18 years in prison and payment of nearly one million euros (1.14 million dollars) in damages to thousands of victims. However his sentence was overturned by Italy’s highest court on Nov. 19, on the grounds that the statute of limitations had expired.

“The other day I heard that a retired workmate of mine had died of mesothelioma,” José Antonio Martínez, the head of the Málaga Asbestos Victims’ Association (AVIDA Málaga), told Tierramérica.

Many workers die before the occupational nature of their ailment is recognised, and they are deprived of their right to disability pensions and compensation for damages.

Francisco González , a worker with the state railway company RENFE, died in 2005 at the age of 55 from mesothelioma. His daughter Anabel told Tierramérica that she and her mother finally achieved an indemnity payment after “a long struggle, without any help and against many obstacles.”

Being vindicated was more important than the money,” she said, even though it took five years after her father’s death.

In Spain and other countries, asbestos victims and their families are forming associations for information, mutual support and justice. AVIDA Málaga was created in June 2014; it has nearly 200 members, and is part of the Spanish Federation of Associations of Asbestos Victims.

Victims are demanding the creation of a compensation fund for those affected, like ones that have been set up in Belgium and France, paid for by the state and the companies concerned, which often refuse to shoulder responsibility retroactively.

Asbestos was used for decades in more than 3,000 products, so even today plumbers, electricians, building demolition and maintenance workers and car mechanics may come across this hazardous material in the course of their jobs, facing health risks if they fail to take precautions.

Padilla, who has a 29-year-old son, is still waiting for confirmation of his occupational injury pension and plans to claim compensation. By law, he has up to one year to do so from May 2014, when he was diagnosed with an ailment on the list of occupational diseases.

His company recognised his cancer as a work-related illness without his having to resort to litigation. This made legal history in Spain, where many people die without getting justice.

Padilla had chemotherapy before his major surgery, and is now undergoing radiotherapy. His wife, Pepi Reyes, who attends these sessions with him, has been advised by the doctor to have medical tests herself, because she handled her husband’s work clothes for years.

A study by the European Union reports that half a million people are expected to die of mesothelioma and lung cancer by 2030, due to occupational exposure to asbestos in the 1980s and 1990s. The study analyses mortality in France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Francisco Báez, a former worker for the transnational company Uralita in the southern Spanish city of Seville, is the author of the book “Amianto: un genocidio impune” (Asbestos: an unpunished genocide). He complained to Tierramérica about the double standards applied by countries that prohibit the material within their borders, yet abroad “they promote its use and profit financially from the installation and maintenance of asbestos sector industries.”

Padilla opened a window in his home and pointed out the corrugated asbestos cement roofs of the warehouses opposite. Afterwards he brought out his mobile phone and showed a photo of his long operation scar, all along his left side, and said he feels lucky to be alive.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Valerie Dee

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/deadly-asbestos-still-costing-lives/feed/ 0
Marshall Islands Nuclear Proliferation Case Thrown Out of U.S. Courthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/marshall-islands-nuclear-proliferation-case-thrown-out-of-u-s-court/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marshall-islands-nuclear-proliferation-case-thrown-out-of-u-s-court http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/marshall-islands-nuclear-proliferation-case-thrown-out-of-u-s-court/#comments Thu, 12 Feb 2015 20:58:38 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139131 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 12 2015 (IPS)

A lawsuit by the Marshall Islands accusing the United States of failing to begin negotiations for nuclear disarmament has been thrown out of an American court.

The Marshall Islands is currently pursuing actions against India, Pakistan and the United Kingdom in the International Court of Justice, for failing to negotiate nuclear disarmament as required in the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.“By side-stepping the case on jurisdictional grounds, the U.S. is essentially saying they will do what they want, when they want, and it’s not up to the rest of the world whether they keep their obligations.” -- David Krieger

Action against the U.S. had been filed in a federal court in California, as the United States does not recognise the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.

David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, said the U.S. conducted 67 nuclear weapons tests in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958, the equivalent of 1.6 Hiroshima bombs detonating daily for 12 years.

Despite documented health effects still plaguing Marshallese islanders, U.S. Federal Court judge Jeffrey White dismissed the motion on Feb. 3, saying the harm caused by the U.S. flouting the NPT was “speculative.”

White also said the Marshall Islands lacked standing to bring the case, and that the court’s ruling was bound by the “political question doctrine” – that is, White ruled the question was a political one, not a legal one, and he therefore could not rule for the Marshalls.

Krieger, whose Nuclear Age Peace Foundation supports Marshall Islands in its legal cases, called the decision “absurd.”

“I think it was an error in his decision. There were very good grounds to say the Marshall Islands had standing, and this shouldn’t have been considered a political question,” he told IPS.

“The Marshall Islands know very well what it means to have nuclear bombs dropped on a country. They’ve suffered greatly, it’s definitely not speculative.”

The foundation of the multiple cases brought by the Marshall Islands was that the U.S., and other nuclear powers, had not negotiated in good faith to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. White ruled it was “speculative” that the failure of the U.S. to negotiate nuclear non-proliferation was harmful.

Krieger said the Marshalls would appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals. He said the decision set a troubling precedent regarding U.S. adherence to international agreements.

“The U.S. does not accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ, and in this case, the judge is saying another country does not have standing [in an American court]. In essence, it means any country that enters into a treaty with the U.S. should think twice,” he said.

“Another country will be subject to the same decision of the court. Where does that leave a country who believes the U.S. is not acting in accordance with a treaty?

“By side-stepping the case on jurisdictional grounds, the U.S. is essentially saying they will do what they want, when they want, and it’s not up to the rest of the world whether they keep their obligations.”

Krieger said that the judge’s comments about the “speculative” nature of the case meant essentially that a nuclear accident or war would have to break out before such a case for damages could be heard.

“It’s saying a state must wait until some kind of nuclear event, before damages won’t be speculative,” he said. “It’s absurd that the claim that the U.S. has not fulfilled its obligations to negotiate in good faith to end the nuclear arms race, is called ‘speculative’ by the judge.”

Marshall Islands had intended to pursue all nine nuclear powers – the U.S., China, Russia, Pakistan, India, the U.K., France, North Korea and Israel – in the ICJ on their failure to negotiate for nuclear non-proliferation.

The Marshall Islands is still pursuing cases in the ICJ against Pakistan, India and the U.K., but John Burroughs, executive director of the Lawyers Committee on Nuclear Policy, said the other cases had stalled as those nations did not accept the compulsory jurisdiction of the ICJ.

“The other six states, the Marshall Islands invited and urged them to come before the court voluntarily, which is a perfectly normal procedure, but none of them have done so,” Burroughs told IPS.

Burroughs, also a member of the international team in the ICJ, said China had explicitly said it would not appear before the court.

“Any of those countries could still agree to accept the court’s jurisdiction,” he said.

He said preliminary briefs had been filed in the India and Pakistan cases, with responses due by mid-2015. A brief will be served on the U.K. case in March.

Burroughs said he doubted the decision in U.S. federal court would impact the cases in The Hague.

“I don’t see the decision having any effect at all,” he said.

Edited By Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/02/marshall-islands-nuclear-proliferation-case-thrown-out-of-u-s-court/feed/ 0
Glimmer of Hope for Assangehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/glimmer-of-hope-for-assange/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=glimmer-of-hope-for-assange http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/glimmer-of-hope-for-assange/#comments Fri, 30 Jan 2015 19:17:00 +0000 Gustavo Capdevila http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138943 Julian Assange in one of his rare public appearances in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been in hiding since June 2012. Credit: Creative Commons

Julian Assange in one of his rare public appearances in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he has been in hiding since June 2012. Credit: Creative Commons

By Gustavo Capdevila
GENEVA, Jan 30 2015 (IPS)

There is a window of hope, thanks to a U.N. human rights body, for a solution to the diplomatic asylum of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, holed up in the embassy of Ecuador in London for the past two and a half years.

Authorities in Sweden, which is seeking the Australian journalist’s extradition to face allegations of sexual assault, admitted there is a possibility that measures could be taken to jumpstart the stalled legal proceedings against Assange.

The head of Assange’s legal defence team, former Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, told IPS that in relation to this case “we have expressed satisfaction that the Swedish state“ has accepted the proposals of several countries.

The prominent Spanish lawyer and international jurist was referring to proposals set forth by Argentina, Cuba, Ecuador, Slovakia and Uruguay.

The final report by the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), adopted Thursday Jan. 28 in Geneva, Switzerland, contains indications that a possible understanding among the different countries concerned might be on the horizon.

The UPR is a mechanism of the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine the human rights performance of all U.N. member states.

The situation of Assange, a journalist, computer programmer and activist born in Australia in 1971, was introduced in Sweden’s UPR by Ecuador, the country that granted him diplomatic asylum in its embassy in London, and by several European and Latin American nations.

The head of the Swedish delegation to the UPR, Annika Söder, state secretary for political affairs at Sweden’s foreign ministry, told IPS that “This is a very complex matter in which the government can only do a few things.”

Söder said that in Sweden, Assange is “suspected of crimes, rape, sexual molestation in accordance with Swedish law. And that’s why the prosecutor in Sweden wants to conduct the primary investigation.

“We are aware of Mr. Assange’s being in the embassy of Ecuador and we hope that there will be ways to deal with the legal process in one way or the other. But it is up to the legal authorities to respond,” she said.

Assange’s legal defence team complains that Sweden’s public prosecutor’s office is delaying the legal proceedings and refuses to question him by telephone, email, video link or in writing.

Garzón noted that parallel to the lack of action by the Swedish prosecutor’s office, there is a secret U.S. legal process against Assange and other members of Wikileaks, the organisation he created in 2006.

“The origin of the U.S. legal proceedings against Assange was the mass publication by Wikileaks of documents, in many cases sensitive ones, which affected the United States,” said Garzón.

Wikileaks’ publication of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables and other classified U.S. documents revealed practices by Washington that put it in an awkward position with other governments.

Assange sought refuge in the embassy after exhausting options in British courts to avoid extradition to Sweden to face questioning related to allegations of rape and sexual molestation, of which he says he is innocent. He has not been charged with a crime in Sweden and is worried that if he is extradited to that country he will be sent to the United States, where he is under investigation for releasing secret government documents.

If the legal process in Sweden begins to move forward, there would be a possibility for him to be able to leave the Ecuadorean embassy, where he took refuge on Jun. 19, 2012, and give up the diplomatic asylum he was granted by the government of Rafael Correa on Aug. 16, 2012.

In the UPR report, Sweden promised to examine recommendations made by other countries and to provide a response before the next U.N. Human Rights Council session, which starts Jun. 15.

Garzón has urged the Swedish government to specify a timeframe for the legal action against Assange, as the delegation from Ecuador recommended in the UPR.

“The Human Rights Committee, another specialised U.N. body, stipulates that precise timeframes must be established for putting a detained person at the disposal of a judge,” he pointed out.

Söder told IPS that Sweden’s legal system does not set any deadline for the prosecutor to complete the pretrial examination phase, as reflected in the Assange case.

Garzón is also asking Sweden to introduce, as soon as possible, “measures to ensure that the legal proceedings are carried out in accordance with standards that guarantee the rights of individuals, concretely the right to effective judicial recourse and legal proceedings without undue delays.”

He also called for the adoption of administrative and judicial measures to make investigations before the courts more effective. With respect to this, he mentioned “the practice of measures of inquiry abroad, in line with international cooperation mechanisms.”

In addition, the international jurist demanded measures to ensure that people deprived of their freedom are provided with legal guarantees in accordance with international standards.

The Swedish delegation agreed to study a recommendation by Argentina to “take concrete measures to ensure that guarantees of non-extradition will be given to any person under the control of the Swedish authorities while they are considered refugees by a third country,” in this case Ecuador.

These should include legislative measures, if necessary.

This is important because Assange is facing the threat that the Swedish or British authorities could accept an extradition request from the United States for charges of espionage, which carry heavy penalties.

In his comments to IPS, Garzón said he was “disappointed” that the Swedish state has not accepted one of Ecuador’s recommendations.

He was referring to the request that Sweden streamline international cooperation mechanisms on the part of the judiciary and the prosecutor’s office in order to ensure the right to effective legal remedy, specifically in cases where the person is protected by the decision to grant asylum or refuge.

It was stressed in the UPR that the right to asylum or refuge is considered a fundamental right, and must be respected and taken into account, making it compatible with the right to legal defence.

The director-general of legal affairs in Sweden’s foreign ministry, Anders Rönquist, argued that there is no international convention on diplomatic asylum.

The only one referring to that issue is the inter-American convention, he said, adding that the International Court of Justice in The Hague does not require recognition of diplomatic asylum.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/glimmer-of-hope-for-assange/feed/ 0
Kurdish Civil Society Against Use of Arms to Gain Autonomyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/kurdish-civil-society-against-use-of-arms-to-gain-autonomy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kurdish-civil-society-against-use-of-arms-to-gain-autonomy http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/kurdish-civil-society-against-use-of-arms-to-gain-autonomy/#comments Thu, 29 Jan 2015 17:21:29 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138898 Open market in the southeastern Turkish city of Dyarbakir, capital of the Kurds in Turkey. The city has been a focal point for conflicts between the government and Kurdish movements. December 2014. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz /IPS

Open market in the southeastern Turkish city of Dyarbakir, capital of the Kurds in Turkey. The city has been a focal point for conflicts between the government and Kurdish movements. December 2014. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz /IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
DIYARBAKIR, Turkey, Jan 29 2015 (IPS)

A rupture inside the movement for the creation of an independent state of Kurdistan has given new impetus to the voices of those condemning the use of weapons as the way to autonomy.

The 40 million Kurds represent the world’s largest ethnic group without a permanent nation state or rights guaranteed under a constitution.

“We are the only nationality with a great population without land,” Murat Aba, a member and one of the founders of the Kurdistan Freedom Party (PAK), told IPS. “We’ve been split since after the First World War and we’ve never been allowed to rule ourselves. We are not a minority, we’re a huge number of people and we defend the independence of the four Kurdish groups living in Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.”“The peace talks between the PKK and the [Turkish] government should take a different direction. They are being done in secrecy without any transparency at all. We are against the use of firearms in our struggle for independence” - Sabehattin Korkmaz Avukat, lawyer for human right causes involving Kurds.

PAK, which was formally launched towards the end of 2014, is the first legally recognised party in Turkey to include the word ‘Kurdistan’ in its name which, until recently, was forbidden for political parties in the country. According to its leader Mustafa Ozcelik, PAK will pursue independence for Kurds ”through political and legal means”.

This distinction is intended to differentiate it clearly from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – the armed group created in the 1970s to fight for self-determination for the Kurds in Turkey and considered illegal by the Turkish government. So far, the armed struggle for independence has killed over 40,000 people.

Today, around 20,000 PKK soldiers are being trained In the Qandil Mountains of northern Iraq, 1,000 kilometres from Diyarbakir, the capital of the Kurds in Turkey. Many of them are now fighting against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria and Iraq.

The financial resources to maintain PKK operations come illegally from Kurds living in Europe, Hatip Dicle of the Democratic Society Congress (DTK) admitted to IPS. The DTK is a political party which also includes members who are sympathetic to PKK ideology.

The Turkish government “does not allow us to collect donations by legal means,” Dicle continued. “There are over two million Kurds in Europe and all donations are sent secretly.” Dicle said that even it is a pro-democracy movement PKK does not give up the armed solution.

However, in recent years, the PKK has been involved in secret “peace talks” with the Turkish government. Through senior members of his cabinet, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been negotiating with Abdullah Öcalan, the PKK leader in jail since 1999 on Imrali island in the Sea of Marmara.

The DTK gained strength when the peace process between Turkish authorities and  Öcalan began and, now, “we want this conflict to be over and we wish to achieve a common solution,” Dicle told IPS.

Nevertheless, the secrecy surrounding the peace talks with Öcalan and the PKK is being strongly criticised by those who call for an open process.

“The peace talks between PKK and government should take a different direction. They are being done in secrecy without any transparency at all. We are against the use of firearms in our struggle for independence”, said Sabehattin Korkmaz Avukat, a lawyer advocating for human right causes involving Kurds.

According to Avukat, deep-rooted reform of the Civil Constitution in Turkey is needed. “We want to follow the path of democracy and not violence. Our fight is totally addressed to achieving our own autonomy in a peaceful way. We wish to have our rights included in the Civil Constitution”, he argued.

For Mohammed Akar, the general secretary and founder of a new Kurd cultural entity called Komeleya Şêx Seîd, an organisation dedicated to cultural and educational activities for the Kurdish community and based in Diyarbakir, the road to autonomy in Turkey should not include armed violence.

“We don’t want to use violence to achieve our independence. It may even spoil our claim for democracy”, said Akar, the grandson of Şêx Seîd.  Also known as Sheikh Said,  Şêx Seîd was a former Kurdish sheikh of the Sunni order and leader of the Kurdish rebellion in 1925 during Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s nationalist regime (1923-38).

Şêx Seîd’s name and image had been banned since then until recently, and this is the first time that a civil society entity has been authorised to use his name.

Famous Kurdish writer and political scientist Îbrahîm Guçlu also criticises the way in which the PKK is promoting its political view. He denounces drug trafficking, forced recruitment and coercion of young Kurds by the outlawed group.

“The PKK is an illegal formation whose leader is in jail and tries to manage his entire community from inside prison. We are different and we promote open discussion within society”, says Guçlu.

Edited by Phil Harris

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/kurdish-civil-society-against-use-of-arms-to-gain-autonomy/feed/ 1
OPINION: Russia’s Friendship University, Educating the Developing World for 55 Yearshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-russias-friendship-university-educating-the-developing-world-for-55-years/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-russias-friendship-university-educating-the-developing-world-for-55-years http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-russias-friendship-university-educating-the-developing-world-for-55-years/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 22:07:20 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138892

Somar Wijayadasa, a former Representative of UNAIDS, and a former delegate of UNESCO to the UN General Assembly, is a PFUR educated international lawyer.

By Somar Wijayadasa
NEW YORK, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

People’s Friendship University of Russia (PFUR), which celebrates its 55th anniversary on Feb. 5, is known worldwide as a major academic and research centre. During the last five decades, PFUR has educated 80,000 students from 145 countries.

In keeping with its socialist tradition of helping developing countries, Premier Nikita Khrushchev opened the Friendship University, in February 1960, just three years after he opened the former Soviet Union to the world with the 1957 Youth festival in Moscow which was attended by 30,000 foreign guests from 130 countries.The landmark event that influenced the opening of this University is the liberation of many Asian, African and Latin American countries from colonial rule.

On Feb. 22, 1961, the university was named after Patrice Lumumba – the Congolese independence leader and the first democratically-elected prime minister of the Republic of Congo. In 1992, following a major reorganisation of the university, the Russian government reverted to its original name – People’s Friendship University of Russia (PFUR).

1960 was ideal time for the Soviet Union not only to show the world its radical transformation of the country that was ravaged by the World War II with a loss of over 20 million of its people, but also to display its many scientific and technological advances including its Space Programme – already ahead of the United States.

But the landmark event that influenced the opening of this University is the liberation of many Asian, African and Latin American countries from colonial rule.

This mass decolonisation began after World War II when the principle of “equal rights and self-determination of peoples” was enshrined in the United Nations Charter (Chapter XI, Articles 73 and 74), and the United Nations began to fight for the liberation of these countries.

In 1945, the U.N. consisted of 51 member states and by 1965, the number had more than doubled to 117, as the newly independent nations joined the organisation.

These newly independent states, having suffered under foreign rule and exploitation for centuries, embarked on the arduous struggle to win economic independence, develop their national economies, raise their cultural levels and identities and achieve social progress.

Thus, the strategy behind opening PFUR was to educate hundreds of young people from developing countries by providing higher education in medicine, engineering and other sciences that was most needed for the development of these nations.

Among its prominent graduates are: Mahmoud Abbas, Chairman of the PLO; Michel Djotodia, President, Central African Republic; Hifikepunye Pohamba, President, Namibia; Bharrat Jagdeo, Former President of Guyana; Yousuf Saleh Abbas, Former Prime Minister of Chad, many ministers, judges, professors, ambassadors, doctors, and engineers who make a dedicated commitment to the development of their communities.

This magnanimous and unprecedented assistance continued while Western universities gave only a few one-year scholarships such as Rhodes or Fulbright scholarships to a selected few from developing countries. PFUR gave several hundred five-year scholarships including tuition, a stipend, hostel accommodation, plus passage to and from Moscow which was a bonanza for poor students from developing countries.

The biggest beneficiaries of Russian higher education have been graduates from African and Latin American countries. Since their literacy rates in the 1960’s were very low, graduates of PFUR went back to occupy top positions in their countries.

Today, the University is administered by its Rector, Prof Vladimir Filippov (1973 alumni of PFUR), member of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Education, who was Russia’s Minister of Education from 1998 to 2004.

In 1960, PFUR had 539 students from 59 countries. Today, it has over 29,000 graduate and post graduate students – including 6,000 international students from 145 countries.

PFUR occupies 125 acres and hosts 27 buildings, enrolls students on fee payment and on scholarship basis, and offers a variety of Bachelors, Masters, and Ph.D degrees in 76 disciplines.

While education worldwide is expensive, a four-year Bachelors Degree at PFUR costs about 4,000 dollars a year which is heavily subsidised by the Russian government. Education at PFUR is indubitably a quality higher education at a comparatively affordable price.

An added bonus is the opportunity to obtain fluency in Russian and a double-degree from an affiliated university.

In 2014, a four-year course of undergraduate study in an American University ranged from 18,950 dollars a year in a state university to 42,500 dollars a year in an Ivy league university.

However, both Russian and American universities offer many need-based and merit-based financial aid – making it possible for poor students to obtain a higher education.

Details of PFUR can be found in its website. Interested students from any country should apply directly to the university.

PFUR maintains inter-university cooperation with foreign universities, and is associated with many international educational institutions and organisations such as UNESCO and UNHCR.

In 2009, when PFUR established a joint Master’s Degree Programme on Human Rights with UNHCR, its High Commissioner Navi Pillay said that, “The Friendship University is probably the only place where real multicultural atmosphere exists and human rights are fully respected. The PFUR graduates will for sure occupy the leading positions and it’ll be not only because of the education received, but also because of their life in this multicultural environment.”

According to Rector Filippov, “More than 80,000 graduates, and more than 5,500 doctoral (PhD) holders of the University work in 170 countries worldwide.” They not only obtained a university degree to fulfill their professional ambitions, Filippov said, but also gained invaluable experience in dealing with different cultures, and broaden their social and cultural horizons.

Nelson Mandela said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

People’s Friendship University has provided higher education to thousands of children from developing countries who otherwise would never have had the opportunity to receive a higher education – especially in a foreign country.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-russias-friendship-university-educating-the-developing-world-for-55-years/feed/ 0
Marginalised Groups Struggle to Access Healthcare in Conflict-Torn East Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine/#comments Wed, 28 Jan 2015 09:25:19 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138875 Social worker in the flat of a drug addict in Donetsk doing outreach work. Drug addicts, like other marginalised groups, including Roma, are victims of the collapse of the health system in East Ukraine. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine©

Social worker in the flat of a drug addict in Donetsk doing outreach work. Drug addicts, like other marginalised groups, including Roma, are victims of the collapse of the health system in East Ukraine. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine©

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Jan 28 2015 (IPS)

With international organisations warning that East Ukraine is on the brink of a humanitarian catastrophe as its health system collapses, marginalised groups are among those facing the greatest struggle to access even basic health care in the war-torn region.

The conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces has affected more than five million people, with 1.4 million classified by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and human rights bodies as “highly vulnerable” because of displacement, lack of income and a breakdown of essential services, including health care.

Fighting and accompanying measures imposed by both sides have led to medical supplies being severely interrupted or cut off entirely, hospitals destroyed or battling constant water and power cuts, and crippling staff shortages at health facilities as medical staff flee the fighting.

A complete lack of vaccines is threatening outbreaks of diseases such as polio and measles, while there are concerns for HIV/AIDS and TB sufferers as supplies of vital medicines dry up and disease monitoring becomes almost impossible.Fighting and accompanying measures imposed by both sides have led to medical supplies being severely interrupted or cut off entirely, hospitals destroyed or battling constant water and power cuts, and crippling staff shortages at health facilities as medical staff flee the fighting.

Massive internal displacement because of the conflict – latest U.N. estimates are of 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) with the figure rising by as much as 100,000 per week – has also left hundreds of thousands living in sometimes desperate and unhygienic conditions, creating a further health risk and the chance that infectious diseases, such as TB, will spread.

But while there is a threat to healthcare provision from collapsing resources, some in the region are facing extra barriers to accessing health care.

Ukraine has one of the worst HIV/AIDS epidemics in the world and the spread of the disease has been fuelled mainly by injection drug use. But, unlike in many Eastern European states, the country has been running for more than a decade an internationally lauded range of harm reduction programmes which have been credited with checking the disease’s spread.

These have included opioid substitution therapy (OST) programmes available to drug users across the country. These are particularly important in East Ukraine because the majority of Ukraine’s injection drug users come from the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

But local and international organisations working with drug users say that addicts’ access to life-saving treatment in those areas has come under increasing pressure since the start of the conflict and that it could be cut off entirely within weeks as supplies of methadone and buprenorphine used in the treatment run out and cannot be replaced.

The International HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine which runs many OST centres as well as other harm reduction programmes, has said that stocks of antiretroviral drugs, OST and other life-saving treatments will have run out by  February.  More than 300 OST patients in Donetsk and Luhansk have lost access to treatment since the conflict began, while a further 550 patients on methadone will run out of drugs soon if emergency supplies cannot be delivered.

U.N. officials in close contact with international organisations helping drug users as well as doctors in Donetsk have confirmed to IPS that clinics have only a few weeks’ worth of stocks of methadone left.

One doctor in Donetsk working on an OST programme, who asked not to be named, told IPS:  “There are serious problems with medicine supplies. The last shipments came in September last year and some patients have already had to finish their treatments. Many had been on it for a decade and in that time had forged new lives, put their, sometimes criminal, past behind them and had families. It was absolutely tragic for them when they stopped.”

It is unclear what will happen to all those no longer able to access OST treatment. Doctors say some have gone into detoxification, while others have moved to other cities in safer areas of Ukraine in the hope of continuing OST.

But with 60 percent of those receiving OST also being HIV positive, according to the Donetsk doctor, and reports that many are now turning to illicit drugs and needle-sharing again as access to OST is cut off, there are concerns that the disease, along with Hepatitis C which is rife among injection drug users, and tuberculosis, could be spread, and that the lives of many drug users will again be at risk.

OST patient Andriy Klinemko, who was forced to flee Donetsk with his wife when their house was destroyed in bombing last summer and who is now in Dnipropetrovsk in central Ukraine, told IPS: “OST patients in East Ukraine are being forced to move, but not all of them can and even those that make it to other regions may not be able to continue OST because there is no money left to run such programmes. It’s a bad situation and at the moment I really can’t see any way it’s going to get better.”

But drug users are not the only marginalised community struggling to access health care.

Historically, the estimated 400,000-strong Roma community in Ukraine has, like Roma in many other Eastern European states, faced widespread discrimination in society, including in employment and education.

They have also always had limited access to healthcare because many Roma lack official ID documentation which makes it difficult for many to obtain official health care, while widespread poverty also means services and medicines which require any payment are also inaccessible to most. Meanwhile, many Roma settlements are in remote locations, far away from the nearest health centres.

Dr Dorit Nitzan, head of the WHO’s Ukraine Office, told IPS: “Even before the conflict, Roma in Ukraine had limited access to curative and preventive health service. As a result, Roma children have extremely low vaccination coverage. Moreover, rates of tuberculosis and other communicable and non-communicable diseases are higher among Roma than in the general population.”

Discrimination is also a problem. Zola Kondur of the Chiricli Roma rights group in Ukraine, told IPS: “In terms of healthcare, Roma are among the most vulnerable in the country. They are treated badly because of their ethnicity.”

However, the problems for Roma have dramatically worsened since the conflict began. Some human rights groups have said that since the separatist regimes took power in the region, Roma have faced systematic violent and sometimes fatal repression.

According to a report this month of an international mission to monitor human rights

by the Kharkiv Human Rights Protection Group, Roma living in separatist-controlled areas have been “subjected to open aggression from militants ….[who] have carried out real ethnic cleansing” against them. Many have fled and become IDPs, subsequently facing health struggles.

Dr Nitzan said: “As in every crisis, if not given special attention, marginalised and vulnerable groups are at higher risk. In Ukraine, many Roma lack civil documentation, and thus cannot be registered as internally displaced persons and are not included in the provision of any health services.

“Moreover, their inability to pay ‘out-of-pocket’ limits their ability to procure medication and/or services. Compounding this is that many Roma IDPs are residing at the margins of society, in remote geographical locations, where no services are available. All of these factors make health services inaccessible to Roma.”

Local rights groups say that Roma who have managed to flee to safe areas have often ended up homeless and starving after facing problems accessing aid because of a dismissive attitude from volunteers and staff at social institutions, while their lack of identification documents also prevented them from accessing any official help.

However, even those who have managed to find treatment have sometimes faced further problems.

Kondur told IPS: “In one case a Roma family moved from Kramatorsk to Kharkiv. A little boy had a heart problem brought on by the stress of the fighting and he was taken to hospital. One night, a group of young people broke the window of the boy’s hospital room, shouting ‘Gypsies get out’. The boy had a heart attack.”

Edited by Phil Harris

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/marginalised-groups-struggle-to-access-healthcare-in-conflict-torn-east-ukraine/feed/ 1
OPINION: The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculturehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture/#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2015 13:20:34 +0000 Frederic Mousseau http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138850

In this column, Frédéric Mousseau, Policy Director at the Oakland Institute, argues that the United States and the European Union are working hand in hand in a takeover of Ukrainian agriculture which – besides being a sign of Western governments’ involvement in the Ukraine conflict – is of dubious benefit for the country’s agriculture and farmers.

By Frederic Mousseau
OAKLAND, United States, Jan 27 2015 (IPS)

At the same time as the United States, Canada and the European Union announced a set of new sanctions against Russia in mid-December last year, Ukraine received 350 million dollars in U.S. military aid, coming on top of a one billion dollar aid package approved by the U.S. Congress in March 2014. 

Western governments’ further involvement in the Ukraine conflict signals their confidence in the cabinet appointed by the new government earlier in December 2014. This new government is unique given that three of its most important ministries were granted to foreign-born individuals who received Ukrainian citizenship just hours before their appointment.

Frédéric Mousseau

Frédéric Mousseau

The Ministry of Finance went to Natalie Jaresko, a U.S.-born and educated businesswoman who has been working in Ukraine since the mid-1990s, overseeing a private equity fund established by the U.S. government to invest in the country. Jaresko is also the CEO of Horizon Capital, an investment firm that administers various Western investments in the country.

As unusual as it may seem, this appointment is consistent with what looks more like a takeover of the Ukrainian economy by Western interests. In two reports – The Corporate Takeover of Ukrainian Agriculture and Walking on the West Side: The World Bank and the IMF in the Ukraine Conflict – the Oakland Institute has documented this takeover, particularly in the agricultural sector.

A major factor in the crisis that led to deadly protests and eventually to president Viktor Yanukovych’s removal from office in February 2014 was his rejection of a European Union (EU) Association agreement aimed at expanding trade and integrating Ukraine with the
EU – an agreement that was tied to a 17 billion dollar loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

After the president’s departure and the installation of a pro-Western government, the IMF initiated a reform programme that was a condition of its loan with the goal of increasing private investment in the country.“The manoeuvring for control over the country’s [Ukraine’s] agricultural system is a pivotal factor in the struggle that has been taking place over the last year in the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War”

The package of measures includes reforming the public provision of water and energy, and, more important, attempts to address what the World Bank identified as the “structural roots” of the current economic crisis in Ukraine, notably the high cost of doing business in the country.

The Ukrainian agricultural sector has been a prime target for foreign private investment and is logically seen by the IMF and World Bank as a priority sector for reform. Both institutions praise the new government’s readiness to follow their advice.

For example, the foreign-driven agricultural reform roadmap provided to Ukraine includes facilitating the acquisition of agricultural land, cutting food and plant regulations and controls, and reducing corporate taxes and custom duties.

The stakes around Ukraine’s vast agricultural sector – the world’s third largest exporter of corn and fifth largest exporter of wheat – could not be higher. Ukraine is known for its ample fields of rich black soil, and the country boasts more than 32 million hectares of fertile, arable land – the equivalent of one-third of the entire arable land in the European Union.

The manoeuvring for control over the country’s agricultural system is a pivotal factor in the struggle that has been taking place over the last year in the greatest East-West confrontation since the Cold War.

The presence of foreign corporations in Ukrainian agriculture is growing quickly, with more than 1.6 million hectares signed over to foreign companies for agricultural purposes in recent years. While Monsanto, Cargill, and DuPont have been in Ukraine for quite some time, their investments in the country have grown significantly over the past few years.

Cargill is involved in the sale of pesticides, seeds and fertilisers and has recently expanded its agricultural investments to include grain storage, animal nutrition and a stake in UkrLandFarming, the largest agribusiness in the country.

Similarly, Monsanto has been in Ukraine for years but has doubled the size of its team over the last three years. In March 2014, just weeks after Yanukovych was deposed, the company invested 140 million dollars in building a new seed plant in Ukraine.

DuPont has also expanded its investments and announced in June 2013 that it too would be investing in a new seed plant in the country.

Western corporations have not just taken control of certain profitable agribusinesses and agricultural activities, they have now initiated a vertical integration of the agricultural sector and extended their grip on infrastructure and shipping.

For instance, Cargill now owns at least four grain elevators and two sunflower seed processing plants used for the production of sunflower oil. In December 2013, the company bought a “25% +1 share” in a grain terminal at the Black Sea port of Novorossiysk with a capacity of 3.5 million tons of grain per year. 

All aspects of Ukraine’s agricultural supply chain – from the production of seeds and other agricultural inputs to the actual shipment of commodities out of the country – are thus increasingly controlled by Western firms.

European institutions and the U.S. government have actively promoted this expansion. It started with the push for a change of government at a time when president Yanukovych was seen as pro-Russian interests. This was further pushed, starting in February 2014, through the promotion of a “pro-business” reform agenda, as described by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker when she met with Prime Minister Arsenly Yatsenyuk in October 2014.

The European Union and the United States are working hand in hand in the takeover of Ukrainian agriculture. Although Ukraine does not allow the production of genetically modified (GM) crops, the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, which ignited the conflict that ousted Yanukovych, includes a clause (Article 404) that commits both parties to cooperate to “extend the use of biotechnologies” within the country.

This clause is surprising given that most European consumers reject GM crops. However, it creates an opening to bring GM products into Europe, an opportunity sought after by large agro-seed companies such as Monsanto.

Opening up Ukraine to the cultivation of GM crops would go against the will of European citizens, and it is unclear how the change would benefit Ukrainians.

It is similarly unclear how Ukrainians will benefit from this wave of foreign investment in their agriculture, and what impact these investments will have on the seven million local farmers.

Once they eventually look away from the conflict in the Eastern “pro-Russian” part of the country, Ukrainians may wonder what remains of their country’s ability to control its food supply and manage the economy to their own benefit.

As for U.S. and European citizens, will they eventually awaken from the headlines and grand rhetoric about Russian aggression and human rights abuses and question their governments’ involvement in the Ukraine conflict? (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-the-corporate-takeover-of-ukrainian-agriculture/feed/ 1
OPINION: Greece Gives EU the Chance to Rediscover Its Social Responsibilityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/#comments Sat, 24 Jan 2015 14:30:34 +0000 Marianna Fotaki http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138804 Alexis Tsipras (centre), Syriza’s charismatic 40-year-old leader, has been campaigning under the banner “Hope is on its way.” Credit: Mirko Isaia/cc by 2.0

Alexis Tsipras (centre), Syriza’s charismatic 40-year-old leader, has been campaigning under the banner “Hope is on its way.” Credit: Mirko Isaia/cc by 2.0

By Marianna Fotaki
COVENTRY, England, Jan 24 2015 (IPS)

The European Union should not be afraid of the leftist opposition party Syriza winning the Greek election, but see it as a chance to rediscover its founding principle – the social dimension that created it and without which it cannot survive.

Greece’s entire economy accounts for three per cent of the euro zone’s output but its national debt totals €360 billion or 175 per cent of the country’s GDP and poses a continuous threat to its survival.

Courtesy of Marianna Fotaki

Courtesy of Marianna Fotaki

While the crippling debt cannot realistically be paid back in full, the troika of the EU, European Central Bank, and IMF insist that the drastic cuts in public spending must continue.

But if Syriza is successful – as the polls suggest – it promises to renegotiate the terms of the bailout and ask for substantial debt forgiveness, which could change the terms of the debate about the future of the European project.

It would also mean the important, but as yet, unaddressed question of who should bear the costs and risks of the monetary union within and between the euro zone countries is likely to become the centrepiece of such negotiations.

The immense social cost of the austerity policies demanded by the troika has put in question the political and social objectives of an ‘ever closer union’ proclaimed in the EU founding documents.The old poor and the rapidly growing new poor comprise significant sections of Greek society: 20 per cent of children live in poverty, while Greece’s unemployment rate has topped 20 per cent for four consecutive years now and reached almost 27 per cent in 2013.

Formally established through the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the European Economic Community between France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries tied closely the economies of erstwhile foes, rendering the possibility of another disastrous war unaffordable. Yet the ultimate goal of integration was to bring about ‘the constant improvements of the living and working conditions of their peoples’.

The European project has been exceptionally successful in achieving peaceful collaboration and prosperity by progressively extending these stated benefits to an increasing number of member countries, with the EU now being the world’s largest economy.

Since the economic crisis of 2007, however, GDP per capita and gross disposable household incomes have declined across the EU and have not yet returned to their pre-crisis levels in many countries. Unemployment is at record high levels, with Greece and Spain topping the numbers of long-term unemployed youth.

There are also deep inequalities within the euro zone. Strong economies that are major exporters have benefitted from free trade and the fixed exchange rate mechanism protecting their goods from price fluctuations, but the euro has hurt the least competitive economies by depriving them of a currency flexibility that could have been used to respond to the crisis.

Without substantial transfers between weaker and stronger economies, which accounts for only 1.13 per cent of the EU’s budget at present, there is no effective mechanism for risk sharing among the member states and for addressing the consequences of the crisis in the euro zone.

But the EU was founded on the premise of solidarity and not as a free trade zone only. Economic growth was regarded as a means for achieving desirable political and social goals through the process of painstaking institution building.

With 500 million citizens and a combined GDP of €12.9 trillion in 2012 shared among its 27 members the EU is better placed than ever to live up to its founding principles. The member states that benefitted from the common currency should lead in offering meaningful support rather than decimating their weaker members in a time of crisis by forcing austerity measures upon them.

This is not denying the responsibility for reckless borrowing resting with the successive Greek governments and their supporters. However, the logic of a collective punishment of the most vulnerable groups of the population must be rejected.

The old poor and the rapidly growing new poor comprise significant sections of Greek society: 20 per cent of children live in poverty, while Greece’s unemployment rate has topped 20 per cent for four consecutive years now and reached almost 27 per cent in 2013.

With youth unemployment above 50 per cent, many well-educated people have left the country. There is no access to free health care and the weak social safety net from before the crisis has all but disappeared. The dramatic welfare retrenchment combined with unemployment has led to austerity induced suicides and people searching for food in garbage cans in cities.

A continued commitment to the policies that have produced such outcomes in the name of increasing the EU’s competitiveness challenges the terms of the European Union’s founding principles. The creditors often rationalise this using a rhetoric that assumes tax-evading unproductive Greeks brought this predicament upon themselves – they are seen as the undeserving members of the euro zone.

Such reasoning creates an unhealthy political climate that gives rise to extremist nationalist movements in the EU such as the Greek criminal Golden Dawn party, which gained almost 10 per cent of votes in the last European Parliament elections.

Explaining the euro zone debt crisis as a morality tale is both deleterious and untrue. The problematic nature of such moralistic logic must be challenged: one cannot easily justify on ethical grounds forcing the working poor to bail out a banking system from which many wealthy people benefit, or transferring the consequences of reckless lending by commercial outlets to the public.

Nor can one explain the acquiescence of creditors to the machinations of the nepotistic self-serving corrupt elites dominating the state over the last 40 years that got Greece into the euro zone on false data and continue to rule it. As I have argued, the bailout money was given to the very people who are largely responsible for the crisis, while the general population of Greece is being made to suffer.

Greece’s voters are determined to stop the ruling classes from continuing their nefarious policies that have brought the country to the brink of catastrophe, but in the coming elections their real concern will be opposing the sacrifice of the futures of an entire generation.

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-greece-gives-eu-the-chance-to-rediscover-its-social-responsibility/feed/ 0
Obama-Congress Iran Sanctions Battle Goes Internationalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/#comments Fri, 23 Jan 2015 01:25:57 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138790 President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Jan 23 2015 (IPS)

While it’s anyone’s guess whether a final deal will be reached over Iran’s nuclear programme this year, a number of key international actors have forcefully weighed in on calls from within the U.S. congress to impose more sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

President Barack Obama reiterated his threat to veto new Iran-related sanctions bills while talks are in progress during his State of the Union (SOTU) address this week.There’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

“It doesn’t make sense,” he said Jan. 20 in his second to last SOTU. “New sanctions passed by this Congress, at this moment in time, will all but guarantee that diplomacy fails—alienating America from its allies; and ensuring that Iran starts up its nuclear programme again.”

The administration’s call to “give diplomacy with Iran a chance” was echoed a day later by key members of the P5+1 (U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China plus Germany), which is negotiating with Iran over its nuclear programme, through an op-ed in the Washington Post.

“…[I]ntroducing new hurdles at this critical stage of the negotiations, including through additional nuclear-related sanctions legislation on Iran, would jeopardize our efforts at a critical juncture,” wrote Laurent Fabius (France), Philip Hammond (U.K.), Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Germany) and Federica Mogherini (EU) on Jan. 21.

“New sanctions at this moment might also fracture the international coalition that has made sanctions so effective so far,” they continued. “Rather than strengthening our negotiating position, new sanctions legislation at this point would set us back.”

Last week, during a joint press conference with Obama at the White House, the U.K.’s Prime Minister David Cameron admitted he had contacted members of the U.S. Senate to urge against more sanctions on Iran at this time.

“[Y]es, I have contacted a couple of senators this morning and I may speak to one or two more this afternoon,” he told reporters on Jan. 16.

“[I]t’s the opinion of the United Kingdom that further sanctions or further threat of sanctions at this point won’t actually help to bring the talks to a successful conclusion and they could fracture the international unity that there’s been, which has been so valuable in presenting a united front to Iran,” said Cameron.

In what has been widely perceived by analysts as a rebuff to Obama’s Iran policy, reports surfaced the day after Obama’s SOTU that the House of Representatives Speaker John A. Boehner had invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who has made no secret of his opposition to Obama’s approach to Iran—to address a joint session of Congress on Feb. 11.

Netanyahu accepted the invitation, but changed the date to Mar. 3, when he would be visiting Washington for a conference hosted by the prominent Israel lobby group, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

The invite, which was not coordinated with the White House, clearly surprised the Obama administration, which said it would not be receiving the Israeli prime minister while he is in town, citing a policy against receiving foreign leaders close to election dates (the Israeli election will be in March).

While Netanyahu has long recommended hard-line positions on what a final deal over nuclear program should entail—including “non-starters” such as zero-percent uranium enrichment on Iranian soil—he cannot be faulted for accepting the speaker’s invitation, according to the U.S.’s former ambassador to NATO, Robert E. Hunter, who told IPS: “If there is fault, it lies with the Speaker of the House.”

“If the Netanyahu visit, with its underscoring of the political potency of the Israeli lobby on Capitol Hill, is successful in ensuring veto-proof support in the Senate for overriding the threatened Obama veto of sanctions legislation, that would saddle Boehner and company with shared responsibility not only for the possible collapse of the nuclear talks…but also for the increased chances of war with Iran,” he said.

But there’s no guarantee at this point whether the bills at the centre of the battle—authored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, and another by the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Bob Corker—will garner the veto-proof majority necessary to become legislation.

With the support of the Democratic leadership in Congress, the administration has so far successfully prevented the Kirk-Menendez bill from coming to the floor since it was introduced in 2013.

A growing number of current and former high-level officials have also voiced opposition to more sanctions at this time.

“Israeli intelligence has told the U.S. that rolling out new sanctions against Iran would amount to ‘throwing a grenade’ into the negotiations process,” Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News on Jan. 21.

“Why would we want to be the catalyst for the collapse of negotiations before we really know whether there is something we can get out of them?” asked former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this week after opposing new sanctions during a forum in Winnipeg, Canada.

“We believe that new sanctions are not needed at this time,” the Under Secretary of Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen told the Wall Street Journal this week.

“To the contrary, new sanctions at this time, even with a delayed trigger, are more likely to undermine, rather than enhance, the chances of achieving a comprehensive agreement,” he said.

While the battle isn’t over yet, in the wake of Obama’s veto threat and Boehner’s invitation to Bibi, even some of the Democratic co-sponsors of the original Kirk-Menendez bill appear to be moving in the White House’s direction.

“I’m considering very seriously the very cogent points that [Obama’s] made in favour of delaying any congressional action,” Senator Richard Blumenthal told Politico.

“I’m talking to colleagues on both sides of the aisle. And I think they are thinking, and rethinking, their positions in light of the points that the president and his team are making to us,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/obama-congress-iran-sanctions-battle-goes-international/feed/ 0
OPINION: Banks, Inequality and Citizenshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/#comments Thu, 22 Jan 2015 13:27:17 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=138778

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that alarming figures on what has gone wrong in global society are being met with inaction. Citing data from Oxfam’s recent report on global wealth, he says that the rich are becoming richer – and the poor poorer – in a society where finance is no longer at the service of the economy or citizens.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jan 22 2015 (IPS)

Every day we receive striking data on major issues which should create tumult and action, but life goes on as if those data had nothing to do with people’s lives.

A good example concerns climate change. We know well that we are running out of time. It is nothing less than our planet that is at stake … but a few large energy companies are able to get away with their practices surrounded by the deafening silence of humankind.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Another example comes from the world of finance. Since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2009, banks have paid the staggering amount of 178 billion dollars in fines – U.S. banks have paid 115 billion, while European banks 63 billion. But, as analyst Sital Patel of Market Watch writes, these fines are now seen as a cost of doing business. In fact, no banker has yet been incriminated in a personal capacity.

Now we have other astonishing data from Oxfam – if nothing is done, in two years’ time the richest one percent of the world´s population will have a greater share of its wealth than the remaining 99 percent.

The richest are becoming richer at an unprecedented rate, and the poorest poorer. In just one year, the one percent went from possessing 44 percent of the world´s wealth to 48 percent last year. In 2016, therefore, it is estimated that this one percent will possess more than all the other 99 percent combined.

The top 89 billionaires have seen their wealth increase by 600 billion dollars in the last four years – a rise of five percent and equal to the combined budgets of 11 countries of the world with a population of 2.3 billion people.

In 2010, that figure was owned by 388 billionaires, and this striking and rapid concentration of wealth has, of course, a global impact. The so-called middle class is shrinking fast and in a number of countries youth unemployment stands at 40 percent, meaning that the destiny of today’s young people is clearly much worse than that of their parents.“In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production”

It will probably take some time before those figures become part of general awareness but it is a safe bet that they will not lead to any action, as with climate change. U.S. President Barack Obama is the only leader who has announced a tax increase on the rich, although he stands little chance of succeeding with his Republican-dominated Congress.

In a world where the value of solidarity has disappeared (Europe’s debate on austerity is a good example), apathy and atomisation have become the reality. We are going back to the times of Queen Victoria, substituting a rich aristocracy with money coming from trade and finance, not production. But up to a point: 34 percent of today’s billionaires inherited all or part of their wealth, and – interestingly – “inheritance tax is the most avoidable of levies”, as James Moore noted Jan. 20 in The Independent.

The “father of modern times”, late U.S. President Ronald Reagan, saw it clearly when he said that the rich produce richness, the poor produce poverty. So let the rich pay less taxes.

Well, in a just-released report, the U.S. Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy notes that in 2015 the poorest one-fifth of Americans will pay on average 10.9 percent of their income in taxes, the middle one-fifth 9.4 percent, and the top one percent just 5.4 percent.

Now, 20 percent of the richest billionaires are linked to the financial sector and it is worth recalling that this sector has grown more than the real economy, and has regulations only at national level. At global level, finance is the only activity which has international body of some kind of governance, as do labour, trade and communications, to name just a few.

Finance is no longer at the service of the economy and citizens. It has its own life. Financial transactions are now worth 40 trillion dollars a day, compared with the world’s economic output of one trillion.

At national level, there are now attempts half-hearted attempts to regulate finance. But let us look what is happening in United States. The new bland regulation is the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, commonly known as the Dodd-Frank, and it does not go as far as restoring the division between deposit banks, which was where citizens put their money and which could not be used for speculation, and investments banks, which speculate … and how!

This separation was abolished during the U.S. presidency of Bill Clinton, and is considered the end of banks at the service of the real economy. In any case, the lobbyists on Wall Street are intent on having the Dodd-Frank chipped away at, little by little.

There is some schizophrenia when we look at the relations between capital and politics. The U.S. Supreme Court has eliminated any limit to contributions from companies to political elections, declaring that the companies have the same rights as individuals. Of course, there are not many individuals who can shell out the same figures as a company, unless you’re one of the 89 billionaires!

Meanwhile, banks are not only responsible for the corruption of the political system, and for the illegal activities which have earned them billions of dollars, they are also responsible for funding only big investors, and leaving everybody else out from easy credit. The efforts of the Chairman of the European Central Bank,  Mario Draghi, to have banks give credit to small companies and individuals has gone largely nowhere.

But a new and imaginative initiative comes from the very stern Dutch bankers. All 90,000 bankers in the Netherlands are now required to take an oath: “I swear that I will endeavour to maintain and promote confidence in the financial sector. So help me God”.

This is not so much oriented towards the customer, and it is very self-serving; and it brings God in as the regulator of the Dutch banking system. Perhaps the Dutch bankers have been paying heed to the words of Goldman Sach’s CEO Lloyd Blankfein who said at the time of the financial crisis in 2009 that bankers were “doing God’s work”.

Well God will have to be actively involved. All the three biggest Dutch banks – Rabobank, ABN Amro and ING Groep – have been involved in scandals that have hurt consumers, or were nationalised during the financial crisis, costing taxpayers more than 140 billion dollars. In one case, Rabobank was fined one billion dollars.

New York’s Wall Street and London’s City are said to be open to the idea of introducing a similar oath.

It is probably only that kind of Higher Power which could turn the tide in this world of growing inequality and lack of ethics. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

The author can be contacted at utopie@ips.org

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/01/opinion-banks-inequality-and-citizens/feed/ 1