Inter Press Service » Europe http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Mon, 27 Apr 2015 16:26:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.3 UNDP and Turkey Partner on New Regional Hubhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/undp-and-turkey-partner-on-new-regional-hub/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=undp-and-turkey-partner-on-new-regional-hub http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/undp-and-turkey-partner-on-new-regional-hub/#comments Thu, 23 Apr 2015 23:56:34 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140286 By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 23 2015 (IPS)

On Thursday, the United Nations and the government of Turkey launched a new Istanbul Regional Hub, which provides support to the countries and territories in which the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) works in Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Attending the ceremony were Helen Clark, the chair of the U.N. Development Group and UNDP administrator, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Turkey, and Kadir Topbaş, mayor of the city of Istanbul.

Congratulating Turkey on this initiative, Clark emphasised the importance of launching the Hub, which also hosts the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Women regional offices, in the city.

“By locating this knowledge and technical expertise in Istanbul, UNDP will be well positioned to support and engage with partners in Europe and CIS on the post-2015 development agenda, which is due to be agreed in September of this year,” she said.

According to an analysis recently published by the UNDP, Poverty, Inequality and Vulnerability in the Transition and Developing Economies of Europe and Central Asia, developing and transition economies of Europe and Central Asia show remarkable inequality and poverty, even among the upper middle-income countries, as well as declining life expectancy relative to global averages.

Climate change and the exposure to possible disasters create other challenges for the region.

The support of the Istanbul Regional Hub allows countries to pursue developmental paths by taking into account issues such as sustainable growth, governance and peace-building, gender equality and women’s empowerment, energy, disaster resilience and climate change, and children’s rights.

According to the Daily Sabah Istanbul press, Çavuşoğlu remarked at the event, “Above all, this hub is a reflection of our multidimensional foreign policy which prioritizes providing support to regional and international organisations.”

Turkey has played crucial roles in global development with many co-chairmanships with various countries, said Çavuşoğlu, highlighting the need to focus on current conflicts including merciless terrorist organisations, racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, the Daily Sabah Istanbul reported.

This strategic partnership between Turkey and the UNDP recognises the increasing role of Turkey as an emerging donor for development cooperation worldwide. Turkey will collaborate with the Istanbul Regional Hub to promote south-south cooperation and share Turkey’s development experience with other countries.

The Daily Sabah Istanbul reported that Turkey will offer annually three million dollars for the next five years to support the UNDP Istanbul Hub.

The Istanbul Regional Hub is co-located with other U.N. agencies, including the U.N. Population Fund, which will strengthen coordination within the U.N. development system. The UNDP has other regional offices in Amman, Addis Ababa, Bangkok, Cairo, Dakar, and Panama.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

 

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In One Terrible Weekend, ISIL Beheads Christians and Hundreds Drown in a ‘Mass Grave’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-one-terrible-weekend-isil-beheads-christians-and-hundreds-drown-in-a-mass-grave/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-one-terrible-weekend-isil-beheads-christians-and-hundreds-drown-in-a-mass-grave http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-one-terrible-weekend-isil-beheads-christians-and-hundreds-drown-in-a-mass-grave/#comments Tue, 21 Apr 2015 10:32:39 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140254 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 21 2015 (IPS)

As Europeans debated their policies towards the leaky flotillas steaming out of Libya, carrying most to a certain death at sea, members of ISIL were streaming a video of captured Ethiopian Christians on a beach.

One group of Christians is on their knees and shot to death. Another group is beheaded. The video bore the official logo of the ISIL media arm Al-Furgan and resembled previous videos released by the group, Al Jazeera reported.

A masked fighter is seen delivering a long statement between pieces of footage of the slaughter. The victims were identified as “followers of the cross from the enemy Ethiopian Church”.

Earlier this year, fighters pledging allegiance to ISIL released a video purporting to show the killing of 20 Egyptian Coptic Christians and a Ghanaian abducted in Libya.

According to a release by the group Coptic Solidarity, the Christians were killed for refusing to pay a tax, imposed on non-Muslims in an Islamic state who refuse to convert.

Since the U.S.-assisted removal of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has become a hotbed of Islamist violence with no central government.

With security denied in Libya, some 900 migrants made their way to the sea last week, hoping to reach Malta. When the boat capsized after a few days, many were trapped behind doors locked by their smugglers. Between 28 and 50 survivors have been found.

The Italian Coast Guard is collecting statements from other survivors, prosecutors said. Passengers were from Algeria, Egypt, Somalia, Niger, Senegal, Mali, Zambia, Bangladesh and Ghana.

The U.N.’s High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said that the incident could be worse than an incident last week in which 400 refugees and migrants died in the Mediterranean.

Human Rights Watch urged the European Union to act quickly. “The EU is standing by with arms crossed while hundreds die off its shores,” said Judith Sunderland, deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “These deaths might well have been prevented if the EU had launched a genuine search-and-rescue effort.”

In a statement released Sunday, the U.N. said that it planned action down the road but didn’t detail any immediate plans to help with the search for the victims of this accident.

Doctors Without Borders also had strong words for the tragedy. “A mass grave is being created in the Mediterranean Sea and European policies are responsible,” said the group’s president, Loris De Filippi. He compared the high number of deaths to “figures from a war zone.”

“Faced with thousands of desperate people fleeing wars and crises, Europe has closed borders, forcing people in search of protection to risk their lives and die at sea,” he said. “This tragedy is only just beginning, but it can and should be stopped.”

Doctors Without Borders will begin its own rescue effort, he added, because “as a medical, humanitarian organization, we simply cannot wait any longer.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Europe’s Unregulated Lobbying Opens Door to Corruption, Says Rights Grouphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/europes-unregulated-lobbying-opens-door-to-corruption-says-rights-group/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europes-unregulated-lobbying-opens-door-to-corruption-says-rights-group http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/europes-unregulated-lobbying-opens-door-to-corruption-says-rights-group/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 23:48:34 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140162 By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

Lobbying is an integral part of democracy, but multiple scandals throughout Europe demonstrate that a select number of voices with more money and insider contacts can come to dominate political decision-making – usually for their own benefit.

In a report titled ‘Lobbying in Europe: Hidden Influence, Privileged Access’ released Apr. 15, Transparency International said that the lack of clear and enforceable rules and regulations is to blame and called for urgent lobbying reform.

The report from the global civil society coalition against corruption found that of 19 European countries assessed, only seven have some form of dedicated lobbying law or regulation, allowing for nearly unfettered influence of business interests on the daily lives of Europeans.

“In the past five years, Europe’s leaders have made difficult economic decisions that have had big consequences for citizens,” said Elena Panfilova, Vice-Chair of Transparency International. “Those citizens need to know that decision-makers were acting in the public interest, not the interest of a few select players.”

Using international standards and emerging best practice, the report examines lobbying practices as well as whether safeguards are in place to ensure transparent and ethical lobbying in Europe and three core European Union institutions – European Commission, European Parliament and Council of the European Union.

Slovenia comes out at the top with a score of 55 percent, owing to the dedicated lobbying regulation in place, which nevertheless suffers from gaps and loopholes. Cyprus and Hungary rank at the bottom with 14 percent, performing poorly in almost every area assessed, especially when it comes to access to information.

Eurozone crisis countries Italy, Portugal and Spain are among the five worst-performing countries, where lobbying practices and close relations between the public and financial sectors are deemed risky.

Noting that the three E.U. institutions on average achieve a score of 36 percent, Transparency International said that “this is particularly worrying, given that Brussels is a hub of lobbying in Europe and decisions made in the Belgian capital affect the entire region and beyond.”

According to the report, none of the European countries or E.U. institutions assessed “adequately control the revolving door between public and private sectors, and members of parliament are mostly exempt from pre- and post-employment restrictions and ‘cooling-off periods’, despite being primary targets of lobbying activities.”

“Unchecked lobbying has resulted in far-reaching consequences for the economy, the environment, human rights and public safety,” said Anne Koch, Transparency International’s Director for Europe and Central Asia. The research highlights problematic lobbying practices across a wide range of sectors and industries in Europe, including alcohol, tobacco, automobiles, energy, finance and pharmaceuticals.

“Unfair and opaque lobbying practices are one of the key corruption risks currently facing Europe,” said Panfilova. “European countries and E.U. institutions must adopt robust lobbying regulations that cover the broad range of lobbyists who influence – directly or indirectly – any political decisions, policies or legislation. Otherwise, the lack of lobby control threatens to undermine democracy across the region.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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EU Inaction Accused of Costing Lives in the Mediterraneanhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/eu-inaction-accused-of-costing-lives-in-the-mediterranean/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eu-inaction-accused-of-costing-lives-in-the-mediterranean http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/eu-inaction-accused-of-costing-lives-in-the-mediterranean/#comments Wed, 15 Apr 2015 19:08:23 +0000 Sean Buchanan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140159 Boat carrying asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo credit: UNHCR/L.Boldrini

Boat carrying asylum seekers and migrants in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo credit: UNHCR/L.Boldrini

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Apr 15 2015 (IPS)

“The unbearable number of lives lost at sea will only grow if the European Union does not act now to ensure search-and-rescue operations across the Mediterranean,” Human Rights Watch warned Apr. 15.

The international human rights organisation was reacting to reports that as many as 400 migrants may have died in the Mediterranean sea over the past weekend, according to witness accounts collected by the Save the Children charity among the more than 7,000 migrants and asylum seekers rescued by the Italian Coast Guard since Apr. 10.

Noting that 11 bodies have been recovered so far from one confirmed shipwreck over the past few days, Judith Sunderland, acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch said that “if the reports are confirmed, this past weekend would be among the deadliest few days in the world’s most dangerous stretch of water for migrants and asylum seekers.”

Many of those rescued over the weekend remain on Italian vessels as authorities scramble to find emergency accommodation, and Human Rights Watch said that the lack of preparation for arrivals was entirely preventable because many had predicted that 2015 would be a record year for boat migration.

“Other E.U. countries have shown a distinct lack of political will to help alleviate Italy’s unfair share of the responsibility,” according to the human rights organisation.

The European Union’s external border agency, Frontex, launched Operation Triton in the Mediterranean in November 2014, as Italy downsized its massive humanitarian naval operation, Mare Nostrum, which has been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives.

Triton’s geographic scope and budget is far more limited than Mare Nostrum, and the primary mandate of Frontex is border control, not search and rescue.

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as many as 500 migrants and asylum seekers have died already in the Mediterranean in 2015, a 30-fold increase over recorded deaths in the same period in 2014.

However, said Human Rights Watch, if the reports of hundreds more dead over the past few days are confirmed, the death toll in just over three months would be nearly 1,000 people, and that number is likely to rise as more migrants take to the seas during the traditional crossing season in the spring and summer months. The death toll for all of 2014 was at least 3,200 people.

The European Commission is to present a “comprehensive migration agenda” to E.U. member states in May but some of the proposals, while cloaked in humanitarian rhetoric about preventing deaths at sea, raise serious human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said.

These include setting up offshore processing centres in North African countries, outsourcing border control and rescue operations in order to prevent departures, and increasing financial assistance to deeply repressive countries like Eritrea, one of the key countries of origin for asylum seekers attempting the sea crossing, “without evidence of human rights reforms.”

While some proposals contain elements that could potentially address root causes of irregular migration or provide safe alternatives for migrants, Human Rights Watch said that the proof of their success will rest on whether they respect the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, rather than simply stop the flow.

Early signs of intent suggest that rather than building the capacity to protect, the emphasis will be on enhancing and outsourcing containment mechanisms to prevent departures, and “it’s hard not to see these proposals as cynical bids to limit the numbers of migrants and asylum seekers making it to E.U. shores,” Sunderland said.

“Whatever longer term initiatives may come forth, the immediate humanitarian imperative for the European Union is to get out there and save lives.”

Meanwhile, the debate around immigration in Italy has taken on xenophobic tones in some quarters, with the leader of Italy’s anti-immigrant Northern League, Matteo Salvini, calling on all local authorities to resist “by any means” requests to accommodate asylum seekers, and saying that his party is ready to occupy buildings to prevent arrivals.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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U.N. Rapporteur Calls for Action on Discrimination of Romahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-rapporteur-calls-for-action-on-discrimination-of-roma/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-rapporteur-calls-for-action-on-discrimination-of-roma http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-rapporteur-calls-for-action-on-discrimination-of-roma/#comments Thu, 09 Apr 2015 03:32:12 +0000 Josh Butler http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140093 By Josh Butler
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 9 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations rapporteur for minorities has anti-Roma and anti-‘Gypsy’ bias in her sights.

Apr. 8 marked International Roma Day, and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues Rita Izsák used the occasion to call for greater action on stamping out bias against Roma.

“Discrimination and racism against Roma come in many different forms, ranging from silent indifference to hate speech and violence against individuals or entire communities […]. Unfortunately this has led to a desensitisation of the public, and to the resurgence of unacceptable myths about Roma criminality, unworthiness and inferiority,” Izsák said in a statement published on the website of the U.N. Office in Geneva.

“It is due time for our societies to stop tolerating any public discourse that perpetuates stereotypical, racist, hateful or discriminatory views about Roma, and take effective action against such discourses.  We must reject anti-Gypsyism in all its forms.”

Izsák will present a comprehensive study of the human rights situation of Roma worldwide, with a particular focus on the phenomenon of anti-Gypsyism, to the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) in June.

In her statement, she highlighted the need for media to avoid perpetuating “sensationalist” coverage of negative stereotypes of people of Gypsy and Roma heritage, as well as for political and social leaders to work harder in eradicating biases against those groups.

“There is an urgent need for strengthened political will, especially at the national and local level, and an openness to learn from past mistakes in policies and planning… in order to break the vicious cycle of stigma, discrimination and marginalization,” Izsák said.

She also raised concerns about “the lack of Roma representation” in political and decision-making bodies.

The issue of how those of Roma and Gypsy heritage are treated has made recent headlines worldwide. In April 2014, a leaked note from a Paris police chief ordered his officers to work “day and night” to “systematically evict” Roma families from Paris streets.

An Amnesty International report in 2014 also accused European states including France, the Czech Republic and Greece of failing to protect Roma from racism and violence. Amnesty said the estimated 12 million Roma living in Europe were “living with the daily threat of forced eviction […], police harassment and violent attacks.”

Most of France’s 20,000 Roma lived in extreme poverty, according to the report, with “little or no access to basic services, such as water and sanitation and at constant risk of forced evictions.”

Violent anti-Roma protests, police harassment and violence, evictions and arbitrary detention of Roma were detailed in the report.

Follow Josh Butler on Twitter: @JoshButler

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Obama Prepares for Showdown with Congress Over Iran Dealhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/obama-prepares-for-showdown-with-congress-over-iran-deal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-prepares-for-showdown-with-congress-over-iran-deal http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/obama-prepares-for-showdown-with-congress-over-iran-deal/#comments Fri, 03 Apr 2015 20:45:58 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140020 President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sep. 9, 2009. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Sep. 9, 2009. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Apr 3 2015 (IPS)

Two days after the deadline for reaching a deal over Iran’s nuclear programme had passed, negotiators looked like they would be going home empty handed. But a surprisingly detailed framework was announced Apr. 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland, as well as in Washington, and in the same breath, U.S. President Barack Obama acknowledged the battle he faces on Capitol Hill.

“The issues at stake here are bigger than politics,” said Obama on the White House lawn after announcing the “historic understanding with Iran,” which, “if fully implemented will prevent it from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”

“If Congress kills this deal [...] then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy." -- U.S. President Barack Obama
“If Congress kills this deal – not based on expert analysis, and without offering any reasonable alternative – then it’s the United States that will be blamed for the failure of diplomacy,” he said. “International unity will collapse, and the path to conflict will widen.”

Negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 countries (U.S., U.K., France, China, Russia plus Germany) have until Jun. 30 to produce a comprehensive final accord on Iran’s controversial nuclear programme. That gives Congress just under three months to embrace a “constructive oversight role”, as the president said he hoped it would.

“Congress has played a couple of roles in these negotiations,” Laicie Heeley, policy director at the Washington-based Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, told IPS. “I think some folks would like to think they are playing a bad cop role, but I’m not sure how effective they’ve been…it’s a dangerous game to play.”

If negotiators had gone home empty handed, hawkish measures, like the Kirk-Menendez sponsored Iran Nuclear Weapon Free Act of 2013, which proposes additional sanctions and the dismantling of all of Iran’s enrichment capabilities – a non-starter for the Iranians – would have had a better chance of acquiring enough votes for a veto-proof majority.

Officials at the Iran talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit: European External Action Service/CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

Officials at the Iran talks in Lausanne, Switzerland. Credit: European External Action Service/CC-BY-NC-ND-2.0

But now that a final deal is on the horizon, Republicans will have a much harder time convincing enough Democrats to sign on to potentially deal-damaging bills.

Excerpts from Comprehensive Action Plan

According to the document ‘Parameters for a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action Regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran's Nuclear Program’:

• Iran has agreed to reduce by approximately two-thirds its installed centrifuges. Iran will go from having about 19,000 installed today to 6,104 installed under the deal, with only 5,060 of these [for] enriching uranium for 10 years. All 6,104 centrifuges will be IR-1s, Iran’s first-generation centrifuge.


• Iran has agreed to not enrich uranium over 3.67 percent for at least 15 years.


• Iran has agreed to reduce its current stockpile of about 10,000 kg of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to 300 kg of 3.67 percent LEU for 15 years.

• All excess centrifuges and enrichment infrastructure will be placed in IAEA monitored storage and will be used only as replacements for operating centrifuges and equipment.

• Iran has agreed to not build any new facilities for the purpose of enriching uranium for 15 years.

[…]

• The IAEA will have regular access to all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz and its former enrichment facility at Fordow, and including the use of the most up-to-date, modern monitoring technologies.

• Inspectors will have access to the supply chain that supports Iran’s nuclear program. The new transparency and inspections mechanisms will closely monitor materials and/or components to prevent diversion to a secret program.

[…]

• Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.

• U.S. and E.U. nuclear-related sanctions will be suspended after the IAEA has verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear-related steps. If at any time Iran fails to fulfill its commitments, these sanctions will snap back into place.

• The architecture of U.S. nuclear-related sanctions on Iran will be retained for much of the duration of the deal and allow for snap-back of sanctions in the event of significant non-performance.
With the Kirk-Menendez bill out of the way, the most immediate threat Obama faces now comes from the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 proposed by the Republican chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Bob Corker.

The Corker bill gives the final say to a Republican-majority Congress – which has consistently criticised the president’s handling of the negotiations – granting it 60 days to vote on any comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran immediately after it’s reached. During that period, the president would not be able to lift or suspend any Iran sanctions.

Corker said Thursday that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee would take up the bill on Apr. 14, when lawmakers return from a spring recess.

“If a final agreement is reached, the American people, through their elected representatives, must have the opportunity to weigh in to ensure the deal truly can eliminate the threat of Iran’s nuclear program and hold the regime accountable,” he said in a statement.

But administration officials reminded reporters yesterday that the president would oppose any bill that it considered harmful to the prospects of a final deal.

“The president has made clear he would veto new sanctions legislation during the negotiation, and he made clear he would veto the existing Corker legislation during negotiations,” said a senior administration official yesterday during a press call.

“What would not be constructive is legislative action that essentially undercuts our ability to get the deal done,” said the official.

The idea that Congress should have a say on any deal became especially popular after a preliminary accord was reached in Geneva two years ago, clearing the path for a host of congressional measures particularly from the right. But now that a final deal is in the works, hawks will have a harder time acquiring essential support from Democrats.

“Before yesterday Senator Corker was fairly certain he could get a veto-proof majority, but now that there’s a good deal on the table he’s going to have a lot of trouble getting votes from enough Democrats,” said Heeley, who closely monitors Capitol Hill.

Statements from key democrats yesterday retained what has become customary skepticism, but some are already hinting that they are gearing up to support the administration’s position.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called on his colleagues to “take a deep breath, examine the details and give this critically important process time to play out.”

“We must always remain vigilant about preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon but there is no question that a diplomatic solution is vastly preferable to the alternatives,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Obama has his work cut out for him, however, in the next two weeks as pro- and anti-deal groups press Congress to take up their positions.

“[W]e have concerns that the new framework announced today by the P5+1 could result in a final agreement that will leave Iran as a threshold nuclear state,” said the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a leading Israel lobby group, in a statement.

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), a well-known hawkish think tank in D.C, also reiterated its stance against any deal that allows Iran to maintain its nuclear infrastructure.

“The parameters of the nuclear deal that have emerged look like we are headed toward a seriously flawed one,” wrote FDD’s Mark Dubowitz and Annie Fixler in an article on the Quartz website entitled ‘Obama’s Nuclear Deal With Iran Puts the World’s Safety at Risk’.

The Israeli prime minister, who received numerous standing ovations when he addressed Congress on Iran in March – even after the White House made its opposition to his visit crystal clear – meanwhile called the framework deal “a grave danger” that would “threaten the very survival” of Israel.

Both Israel, and to a lesser degree Saudi Arabia, have made their opposition to the negotiations with Iran clear, and are expected to voice their concerns loudly over the next few months.

But the Obama administration’s efforts can’t be solely devoted to convincing allies or fighting a home front battle—it must also nail down the details of the final deal, which is far from guaranteed at this point.

“A lot of thorny issues will have to be resolved in the next three months, chief among them the exact roadmap for lifting the sanctions, language that goes into the U.N. Security Council resolution, measures for resolving the PMD [possible military dimensions] issues, and the mechanism for determining violations,” Ali Vaez, the International Crisis Group’s senior Iran analyst, told IPS.

“Negotiations will not get easier in the next three months; in fact, they will get harder as the parties struggle to resolve the remaining thorny issues and defend the agreement,” said Vaez, who was in Lausanne when the agreement was announced.

“Success is not guaranteed, but this breakthrough has further increased the cost of breakdown,” he added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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U.N.’s Next Stop: Humanitarian Summit to Resolve Exploding Refugee Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-s-next-stop-humanitarian-summit-to-resolve-exploding-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-s-next-stop-humanitarian-summit-to-resolve-exploding-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-s-next-stop-humanitarian-summit-to-resolve-exploding-refugee-crisis/#comments Thu, 02 Apr 2015 21:14:16 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140002 Billions of dollars of humanitarian aid pledged last year have been used to provide food, medical relief and other life-saving support to millions of Syrian families. Credit: Beshr Abdulhadi/CC-BY-2.0

Billions of dollars of humanitarian aid pledged last year have been used to provide food, medical relief and other life-saving support to millions of Syrian families. Credit: Beshr Abdulhadi/CC-BY-2.0

By Thalif Deen
KUWAIT CITY, Apr 2 2015 (IPS)

As the world’s spreading humanitarian crisis threatens to spill beyond the borders of Syria and Iraq into Libya and Yemen, the United Nations is already setting its sights on the first World Humanitarian Summit scheduled to take place in Istanbul next year.

“Let us make the response to the Syria crisis a launching pad for a new, truly global partnership for humanitarian response,” says Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees.

That partnership could come in Istanbul in May next year – even as the refugee crisis may worsen in the next 12 months.

“Let us make the response to the Syria crisis a launching pad for a new, truly global partnership for humanitarian response." -- Antonio Guterres, the U.N. high commissioner for refugees
The flow of millions of refugees is having a devastating impact on the economies and societies in five countries: Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt.

Putting it in the context of the Western world, Guterres told the international pledging conference for humanitarian aid to Syria, “The number of Syrian refugees registered in Lebanon would be equivalent to 22.5 million refugees coming to Germany and 88 million arriving in the United States.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointedly said the Syrian people are “victims of the worst humanitarian crisis of our time” – with over 220,000 dead.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power described the 8.4 billion-dollar target as “the largest in history, and 3.4 billion more than last year’s appeal.”

“Yet too many countries are giving the same amount, or even less than they have in the past,” she complained. “And as more people need help, we are reaching a smaller share of them.”

The three major donors at this year’s pledging conference were: the European Commission (EC) and its member states (with a contribution of nearly one billion dollars), the United States (507 million dollars) and Kuwait (500 million dollars).

Several international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities, including the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation, the Qatar Red Crescent Society and the Islamic Charity Organisation of Kuwait, jointly pledged about 500 million dollars.

Meanwhile, 48 hours after the donor conference pledged 3.8 billion dollars for humanitarian aid, the United Nations said it would continue to appeal for additional funds to meet its targeted 8.4 billion dollars by the end of 2015.

Amanda Pitt, chief, media relations and spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told IPS the requirements for the Syria crisis are 8.4 billion dollars for the whole of 2015 and for the whole crisis (including inside Syria, and efforts in the region).

“The Kuwait pledging conference was one event in the year’s fundraising efforts – which saw a number of donors generously pledge 3.8 billion dollars,” she said.

But fundraising will continue throughout the year – as it does every year for all the humanitarian appeals, she added.

Responding to reports that the pledging conference had fallen short of its expectations, the United Nations said it didn’t expect the target of 8.4 billion dollars to be met at the conference in Kuwait on Tuesday.

Farhan Haq, U.N. deputy spokesperson, told reporters, “One of the things we said in advance, we didn’t have any particular targets for this meeting.”

He said, “This meeting is one step of the process, and in fact, it’s extremely impressive that we got as much as 3.8 billion dollars.”

“If you compare the figures for pledges this year compared to last, we’re actually doing really quite well,” he insisted.

“At the same time, of course, the needs have grown, and as the year progresses, we’re going to keep trying to get closer and closer to the 8.4 billion figure.”

So two things need to happen, he noted.

“First of all, we do need ultimately to go beyond the pledges that we receive today, so that we get to 8.4 billion, which is what we’ve estimated [are] the needs both within Syria and in the neighbouring countries.”

But second of all, he said, “We also have to, as always, make sure that these pledges are converted into actual cash and actual assistance on the ground, and we’ll start doing that right away.”

The rates of delivery of the last two pledging conferences in 2013 and 2014, both held in Kuwait, have been described as relatively good.

In January 2014, the second pledging conference in Kuwait raised 2.4 billion dollars.

Ninety per cent of those funds have since been disbursed to provide life-saving support for millions of families in Syria and the region, according to OCHA.

“Last year, some 8.9 million people received basic relief items, more than five million people received monthly food aid, two million children were helped to go to school and millions received medical treatment and had access to clean water thanks to these contributions,” OCHA said.

“People have experienced breathtaking levels of violence and savagery in Syria,” said U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos.

“While we cannot bring peace, this funding will help humanitarian organisations deliver life-saving food, water, shelter, health services and other relief to millions of people in urgent need,” she added.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Cuba and the European Union – The Thaw Beginshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/opinion-cuba-and-the-european-union-the-thaw-begins/#comments Tue, 31 Mar 2015 06:46:40 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139934

In this column, Joaquín Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, looks at the geopolitical context within which the normalisation of relations between the European Union and Cuba is likely to place following the recent visit to Cuba of the Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, Federica Mogherini, and the scheduled visit of French President François Hollande in May.

By Joaquín Roy
MADRID, Mar 31 2015 (IPS)

The visit to Cuba of Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Mar. 23-24, and the forthcoming visit in May planned by French President François Hollande, have fast-tracked the agenda of relations between the European Union and Cuba.

The sudden announcement of normalisation of diplomatic ties between the United States and Cuba in December last year set the context for the rapprochement between Brussels and Havana.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

At the time, negotiations were already under way on a bilateral ‘Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement’; after years of confrontation, the European Union was prepared to abandon the “common position” imposed by Brussels on the Fidel Castro regime in 1996.

While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called “constructive engagement”. EU member states continued to relate to Cuba on an individual basis according to their special historical links, economic interests and a range of views on human rights.

After a number of tensions were overcome, in 2014 Brussels decided to adopt a pragmatic programme that would lead to a cooperation agreement similar to those signed between the European Union and every other country and bloc in Latin America and the Caribbean.

For many years E.U. relations with Cuba were mainly represented by initiatives led by Spain, which veered from spearheading the imposition of demands on Havana, especially at critical times during right-wing People’s Party (PP) governments, to pursuing an incentives strategy under the left-wing Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE).“While Washington’s stance was that the persistence of a strictly Marxist regime deserved the imposition of conditions for ending its embargo, the European Union and a consensus of its governments held to the policy of so-called ‘constructive engagement’ [with Cuba]”

The process even came to be sarcastically called a “Hispanic-Spanish issue”.  In this context, a number of European states behaved according to their own convenience, with no essential change in the overall scenario.

Cuba avoided dealing with the broader European community, opting instead a for country-by-country approach. But the world was changing, and the real value of Europe’s stock in Cuba fell.

Then it was the right time for Brussels to seize the day and take advantage of the circumstances to negotiate with Cuba, with an open agenda that would include dismantling the “common position”.

After discrete exchanges, both sides decided to sit down for talks. Surprisingly, Cuba was open to a process without which the common position would be eliminated, as had been its strong traditional demand.

Spain itself was facing a delicate internal situation and needed to seek stability on other fronts. Consolidation of its relations with Latin America depended on juggling the claims and expectations of different domestic ideological groupings. Moreover, the vote of the Latin American bloc was vitally important for Spain’s candidature to the U.N. Security Council, a consideration that counselled extreme caution on the part of Madrid.

In the new era, it is hard to predict what role Spain will play in the Cuban transition, but in principle it has remarkable potential, and not just because of the weight of history and the contemporary importance of the “special relationship” between the two countries.

It is relevant to note that U.S. influence on Cuba’s own national identity has not been limited to imposing its hegemonic power. A hefty dose of the “American way of life” has become an essential part of the Cuban being.

The “enemy” was never the United States per se, but its concrete policies of harassment. The ease with which Cuban exiles of different epochs and different social backgrounds fit into U.S. society shows the naturalness of this curious relationship. Normalisation of relations will help reinforce the link.

European interests would do well to take note because the rebirth of the natural relationship between the United States and Cuba will provide strong competition to the relative advantage that European interests have so far achieved, and could significantly reduce it.

The outcome of competition from U.S. economic and political power in Cuba vis-á-vis renewed European operations will depend to a large extent on the nature and intensity of Washington’s renewed involvement with the island. Europe could maintain its relative advantage if the Cuban authorities themselves, or the surviving embargo restrictions, however moderated, set limits to U.S. activity.

It is worth emphasising that European activities in Cuba will continue to be limited, within E.U. institutional structures as well as on the pragmatic agendas of its member countries, as long as the U.S. embargo lasts. Restrictions on trade and investments continue to affect full freedom of movement by European companies in Cuba itself, as well as their transnational alliances in the rest of the world where U.S. interests are dominant.

As a result, even in a relatively open relationship, the real possibilities for a European advantage remain largely speculative, and may even decline, especially in the area of trade and investments.

The key factor in this uncertainty is a legacy of more than half a century of the absence of relations, which have not been ”normal” during this period yet which aspire to become so in the future. (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. 

* Joaquin Roy can be contacted at jroy@miami.edu

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Singapore Arts Fest Pushes Boundaries Beyond Traditionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/singapore-arts-fest-pushes-boundaries-beyond-tradition/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=singapore-arts-fest-pushes-boundaries-beyond-tradition http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/03/singapore-arts-fest-pushes-boundaries-beyond-tradition/#comments Sun, 29 Mar 2015 08:27:32 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=139929 A scene from ‘The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers’ by Singaporean artist Ong Keng Sen at the ‘Singapour en France - le festival’ arts fest, which aims to highlight the power of culture and its “ability to bring people together and to cross boundaries”. Credit A.D. McKenzie/IPS

A scene from ‘The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers’ by Singaporean artist Ong Keng Sen at the ‘Singapour en France - le festival’ arts fest, which aims to highlight the power of culture and its “ability to bring people together and to cross boundaries”. Credit A.D. McKenzie/IPS

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Mar 29 2015 (IPS)

As Singapore mourns the passing of Lee Kuan Yew, the late former prime minister’s vision of a dynamic and vibrant state is being reflected in a major arts festival in France.

‘Singapour en France – le festival’ was launched Mar. 26 in Paris, against the backdrop of a massive out-pouring of grief in Lee’s homeland, following his death three days earlier.

“As Singaporeans grieve and reflect on our loss, we continue to honour Mr. Lee’s vision of establishing Singapore on the international stage,” said Rosa Daniel, deputy secretary of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, who delivered a speech on behalf of her chief Lawrence Wong at the opening of the festival.“We used to be derided as just clean, green, safe and orderly, but dull and antiseptic. Now we have a lively city with the arts, culture, museums, art galleries, the Esplanade Theatre by the Bay, a Western orchestra, a Chinese orchestra ... And we have resident writers and artists” – Lee Kuan Yew, late former Prime Minister of Singapore

The event, which will run until Jun. 30, celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Asian city state’s independence, as well as 50 years of diplomatic ties between Singapore and France. It aims to showcase the art, culture and heritage of Singapore through more than 70 activities in cities throughout France.

“We’re a young nation … but we’re bold, modern and willing to experiment,” said Daniel, adding that the festival would also highlight the power of culture and its “ability to bring people together and to cross boundaries.”

Lee himself recognised that Singapore had made its “share of mistakes” in the cultural heritage area by destroying buildings in its rush to modernise, but in his later political years he emphasised the importance of safeguarding this heritage and of having a “top-class” arts and entertainment sector.

“We used to be derided as just clean, green, safe and orderly, but dull and antiseptic,” he said in 2010. “Now we have a lively city with the arts, culture, museums, art galleries, the Esplanade Theatre by the Bay, a Western orchestra, a Chinese orchestra … And we have resident writers and artists.”

Some of those artists travelled to France for the opening of the festival and gave a view of the changing art scene in Singapore, pushing the boundaries in a region noted for traditional values and not particularly famous for freedom of expression.

In ‘Secret Archipelago’ at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo modern art museum, visitors can view a range of experimental and contemporary work, created by Singaporeans and artists from other Southeast Asian nations such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar.

“Their works represent a bridging of the gap between past and future and the creative tension between memory and tradition on the one hand and contemporary Western influences on the other, while bringing their own particular languages to modern art,” say the curators.

“I don’t consider myself a strong person, but art gives me a way to express myself” – AnGie seah, one of the Singaporean artists exhibiting at the ‘Singapour en France - le festival’ arts fest in Paris, March 2015. Credit A.D. McKenzie/IPS

“I don’t consider myself a strong person, but art gives me a way to express myself” – AnGie seah, one of the Singaporean artists exhibiting at the ‘Singapour en France – le festival’ arts fest in Paris, March 2015. Credit A.D. McKenzie/IPS

AnGie seah, an artist who includes performance in her work, embodies these concerns – literally – in her presentation titled ‘Howl of the Hallows’ in the Palais de Tokyo’s huge basement gallery.

Here visitors can listen to the screams of various people through a headphone while watching seah (who prefers her name to be lower-cased) perform the screams on video.

“I think the human voice is powerful and I like to use it in my art,” said the artist, who has travelled around France asking people to scream for her, and taping the results.

Her installation included “mini shrines” with pottery or terra cotta representations of body parts such as a hand, with the middle finger sticking up. The shrines give the installation a traditional yet avant-garde feel, inviting visitors to question the symbolism.

“I don’t consider myself a strong person, but art gives me a way to express myself,” seah told IPS.

Not far from her exposition, Vietnamese artists and twin brothers Le Ngoc Thanh and Le Duc Hai, who go by the name of Le Brothers, showed a long rectangle of video screens with military-clad characters in a variety of activities. They told IPS that their work is a call for peace through the depiction of war and soldiers in their self-performed films.

Describing their art further, Singaporean curator Khairuddin Hori said it dissects and questions post-war consciousness of North and South Vietnam, as the brothers “exploit their twin identity as mirror and metaphor.”

Other artists incorporated everyday items such as plates and household figurines to question identity while also re-affirming their history and culture. An artist from Malaysia said he had listened to senior citizens and used their stories to create his installation, which covered a large part of one wall.

Alongside the ‘Secret Archipelago’ exhibition, the opening of the festival included a five hour-long multi-media performance titled ‘The Incredible Adventures of Border Crossers’, with sound, dance, film, fashion and photography.

Specially commissioned for the festival, this ultra-modern work by Singaporean artist Ong Keng Sen features huge video screens, music technicians and live performances in a kind of visual and acoustic cacophony that still transmits harmony.

“Real-life border crossers who have never acted before are invited to be performers in this piece,” said the creator. “Sharing their everyday stories as incredible adventures, they inhabit the installation as singing, dancing and re-performing pioneer travellers.”

The “show” is described as an artwork that “envisions communications in a not-so-distant future megapolis.”

The visitor cannot help thinking that it captures something essential about Singapore, with its multi-ethnic population, its vibrant history as a trading post and its sometimes controversial efforts to build a cohesive, economically strong nation. The show also seems to evoke the late Lee’s vision of his homeland.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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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

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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    

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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. 

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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

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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    

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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

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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.

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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. 

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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

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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

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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

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