Inter Press Service » Europe Turning the World Downside Up Thu, 02 Jul 2015 04:05:05 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Opinion: The ACP at 40 – Repositioning as a Global Player Sun, 28 Jun 2015 16:25:36 +0000 Patrick I. Gomes ACP Secretary-General Patrick I. Gomes, who sees the group’s role as “a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality”. Photo credit: ACP Press

ACP Secretary-General Patrick I. Gomes, who sees the group’s role as “a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality”. Photo credit: ACP Press

By Patrick I. Gomes
BRUSSELS, Jun 28 2015 (IPS)

In his memoirs, Glimpses of a Global Life, Sir Shridath Ramphal, then-Foreign Minister of the Republic of Guyana, who played a leading role in the evolution of the Lomé negotiations that lead to the birth of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States, pointed to the significant lessons of that engagement of developed and developing countries some 40 years ago and had this to say:

“As regards the Lomé negotiations, the process of unification – for such it was – added a new dimension to the Third World’s quest for economic justice through international action. Its significance, however, derives not merely from the terms of the negotiated relationship between the 46 ACP states and the EEC, but from the methodology of unified bargaining which the negotiations pioneered.

Never before had so large a segment of the developing world negotiated with so powerful a grouping of developed countries so comprehensive and so innovative a regime of economic relations. It was a new, and salutary, experience for Europe; it was a new, and reassuring, experience for the ACP States.

“Forty years later, that lesson remains retains its validity. Unity of purpose and action remains the touchstone of ACP’s meaning and success.”

With a conscious appreciation of that founding unity of purpose and action, the ACP Group convened a high-level symposium at its headquarters in Brussels on Jun. 6. The event marked the milestone of four decades of trade and economic cooperation, vigorous and contentious political engagements and a range of development finance programmes – all aimed at the eradication of poverty from the lives of the millions of people in its 79 member states.“The ACP will craft its future path to continue the struggle against power, inequality and injustice, the core purpose for which it was established in 1975”

In 1975, it was 46 developing countries that met in the capital city of Guyana, to sign the Georgetown Agreement and give birth to the ACP Group. They had recently embarked on their post-colonial path of independence following successful negotiations of non-reciprocal trade arrangements with the then nine-member European Economic Community (EEC) in February.

Known as the Lomé Agreement, after the capital of Togo where it was signed, this legally-binding, international agreement had a life-span of 25 years to 2000. Essentially, it comprised three pillars of trade and economic cooperation, development assistance – mainly through grants from the European Development Fund (EDF) – and political dialogue on issues such as human rights and democratic governance.

During that period, the preferential trade and aid pact undoubtedly gave an impetus to various aspects of economic and social development in the ACP Group. Substantial revenue was received from preferential access to the European market for exports of clothing, banana, sugar, cocoa, beef, fruit and vegetables, for example, and with the accompanying aid programmes.

The benefits were seen in the economies of Mauritius, Kenya, Cote d’Ivoire, Namibia, Guyana and Fiji, to name a few. Member states of the ACP Group, less-developed countries (LDCs), landlocked states and small island developing states (SIDS), had access to returns from trade for improved social services and in this sense, the first decades of Lomé were certainly gains for development in sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific.

But these gains entrenched an aid-dependency of commodity export economies with minimal structural transformation through value-added manufacturing and related service sectors in ACP countries.

The fierce trade-liberalising world of the late 1990s, rising indebtedness due to enormous increase in the cost of energy and pressure from the challenge of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to the European Union’s discriminatory practice of preferential trade and aid to this exclusive set of developing countries meant that post-Lomé ACP-EU trade relations had to be WTO-compatible.

Finding compatibility for “substantially all trade” between the economies of the ACP’s 79 members – grouped in six regions of Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific – and Europe, and ensuring that development criteria take precedence over tariff reductions and WTO rules have proven contentious in this long-standing partnership.

With this overhang of tensions in its troubled access to its principal market, the ACP faces the conclusion of the 20-year Agreement signed in Cotonou, the Republic of Benin, in 2020.

A soul-searching and vigorous process to be repositioned as a global player defending, protecting and promoting an inclusive struggle against poverty and for sustainable development in a world enmeshed in inequality is the singular task on which the ACP now concentrates.

Such a task has entailed a series of actions that are informed by the report of the Ambassadorial Working Group on Future Perspectives for the ACP Group of States that was approved by the Council of Ministers in December 2014.

The main thrust of the transformation and repositioning of the ACP is captured in the strategic policy domains identified in the report.

These are in five thematic areas that address:

a) Rule of Law & Good Governance;

b) Global Justice & Human Security;

c) Building Sustainable, Resilient & Creative Economies; and

d) Intra-ACP Trade, Industrialisation and Regional Integration;

e) Financing for Development.

In each of these, and in ways that are mutually reinforcing, very specific programmed activities of an annual action plan are being prepared and will be executed.

For example, the annual plan will address the thematic area of “sustainable, resilient and creative economies” through the mechanism of an ACP Forum on SIDS with financial resources, mainly from the intra-ACP allocation of the EDF and the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO), one of the partner agencies of the UN system with which the ACP Group works very closely.

Conceptualised so as to address systemic and structural factors affecting sustainable development, the ACP emphasises South-South and triangular cooperation as a major modality for implementation of its role as catalyst and advocate.

The current stage of rethinking and refocusing provides an opportunity for 40 years of development through trade by which the ACP Group and the European Union could recast the world’s most unique and enduring North-South treaty of developed and developing countries to effectively participate in a global partnership where no one is left behind.

The ACP has social and organisational capital accumulated from a rich experience on trade negotiations with the world’s largest bloc of Europe and its 500 million inhabitants.

Undoubtedly marked by contentious issues on trade provisions to satisfy the WTO’s non-discriminatory behaviour among its member States, ACP-EU relations reveal the persistent battle of poor versus rich with a view to finding common ground on issues of mutual interest.

The 40th anniversary celebration by the ACP Group at a High-Level Inter-regional Symposium on Jun. 4 and 5 witnessed reflections on achievements and failures, as well as limitations in the performance of the ACP Group, in itself as a group and among its member states, as well as in its partnership with the European Union and the wider global arena.

The theme of the symposium covered the initial Georgetown Agreement and the ambitious objectives that were set in 1975. The high point was the keynote address by H.E. Sam Kutesa, President of the UN General Assembly.

Interestingly, discussions revealed how relevant and timely they remain and of special note was the “promotion of a fairer and more equitable new world order”.

This retrospective conversation has been recognised as fundamental for how, and in what direction, the ACP will craft its future path to continue the struggle against power, inequality and injustice, the core purpose for which it was established in 1975.

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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Rome March Celebrates Pope’s Call for Urgent Climate Action Sun, 28 Jun 2015 13:06:28 +0000 Sean Buchanan March by people of faith, civil society groups and communities impacted by climate change in Rome on Jun. 28 to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/

March by people of faith, civil society groups and communities impacted by climate change in Rome on Jun. 28 to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment. Photo credit: Hoda Baraka/

By Sean Buchanan
ROME, Jun 28 2015 (IPS)

People of faith, civil society groups, and communities affected by climate change marched together in Rome Sunday Jun. 28 to express gratitude to Pope Francis for the release of his Laudato Si encyclical on the environment, and call for bolder climate action by world leaders.

Under the banner of ‘One Earth One Family’, the march brought together Catholics and other Christians, followers of non-Christian faiths, environmentalists and people of goodwill. The march ended in St. Peter’s Square in time for the Pope’s weekly Angelus and blessing.“The truth of the matter is that all of humanity needs to stand united in addressing the crisis of our times. Climate change is an issue for everyone with a moral conscience” – Arianne Kassman, climate activist from Papua New Guinea

The celebratory march was animated by a musical band, a climate choir and colourful public artwork designed by artists from Italy and other countries, whose work played a major role in the People’s Climate March in New York City in September last year.

“As we stand at this critical juncture in addressing the climate crisis, we are particularly grateful to the Pope for releasing this encyclical as an awakening for the world to understand how climate change impacts people across all regions,” said Arianne Kassman, a climate activist from Papua New Guinea who took part in march to speak about the reality of climate change in the Pacific.

“The truth of the matter is that all of humanity needs to stand united in addressing the crisis of our times. Climate change is an issue for everyone with a moral conscience,” she added.

Among the messages relayed to the Pope during the march was a request to make fossil fuel divestment part of his moral message in the urgent need to address the climate crisis.

“The fossil fuel divestment campaign is hinged on the same moral premise communicated by Pope Francis in his encyclical,” said Father Edwin Gariguez, Executive Secretary of Caritas Philippines.

“The campaign serves to highlight the immorality of investing in the source of the climate injustice we currently experience. This is why we hope that moving forward and building on this powerful message, Pope Francis can make fossil fuel divestment a part of his moral argument for urgent climate action.”

A petition urging Pope Francis to rid the Vatican of investments in fossil fuels has already gathered tens of thousands of signatures.

Over recent months, dozens of religious institutions have divested from coal, oil and gas companies or endorsed the effort, including the World Council of Churches, representing half a billion Christians in 150 countries.

In May 2015, the Church of England announced it had sold 12 million pounds in thermal coal and tar sands and just this week the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) announced that it will exclude fossil fuel companies from its investments and call on its member churches with 72 million members to do likewise.

More than 220 institutions have commitments to divest from fossil fuels, with faith institutions making up the biggest segment.

As world leaders prepare to meet in Paris later this year for U.N. climate talks, the growing divestment movement will continue to fuel the ethical and economic revolution needed to prevent catastrophic climate change and growing inequality, a key message from Pope Francis’ encyclical.

“The clear path required to address the climate crisis is one that breaks humanity free from the current stranglehold of fossil fuels on our lives and the planet,” said Hoda Baraka, Global Communications Manager for, one of the organisers of the march.

“This encyclical reinforces the tectonic shift that is happening – we simply cannot continue to treat the Earth as a tool for exploitation.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Opinion: Torgersen Has Died, but His Case Won’t Lie Down Wed, 24 Jun 2015 12:43:48 +0000 Fredrik S. Heffermehl

In this column, Fredrik S. Heffermehl, a Norwegian lawyer and author who has published books on the Nobel Peace Prize and established the Nobel Peace Prize Watch (, takes the legal case of Fredrik Fasting Torgersen to argue that courts around the world often fail to see the difference between similarities and probabilities, compounded by the lack of training for assessing probabilities correctly.

By Fredrik S. Heffermehl
OSLO, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

When he died at the age of 80 on Jun. 18 in Oslo, Fredrik Fasting Torgersen had divided Norway for 56 years and the “Torgersen case” had attracted international interest in forensic science circles, among them the U.S.-based Innocence Project.

The case has a lot to tell us about evaluation of evidence, and how to avoid wrongful convictions.

At 24, Torgersen was convicted as the murderer of a 16-year-old woman found brutally killed in a basement in the house where she lived. He served 16 years in jail, but always insisted on his innocence and enjoyed a wealth of support.

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

Fredrik S. Heffermehl

Norway’s chief prosecutor (Riksadvokaten) and the judiciary have time and again turned down appeals for a reversal, but they are increasingly alone in their view; criticism from scientists, authors and the general public has grown steadily.

Torgersen had a prior record with the police when, just after midnight on Dec. 6, 1957, he was arrested in the centre of Oslo, suspected of having stolen a bicycle. During interrogation, the police station received a report of a young woman found dead in the same area. The police immediately suspected Torgersen and, in the coming weeks and months, collected everything that could appear to prove their theory.

The police were so convinced of his guilt that obvious exculpatory evidence, such as the lack of blood splatter on Torgersen´s clothing, was ignored.

Today, it is generally recognised that police must not focus on one suspect too early, and that material deemed “uninteresting” by the police must be made available to defence attorneys and the court.

Yet, the aspect of the case that seems to call for a revolution, in no way limited to Norway, has to do with evaluation of evidence. Courts lack training essential for assessing probabilities correctly.“Judges (and defence attorneys) must be trained in basic scientific methodology, logics and elementary statistical principles. Only then will they be able to unmask apparently impressive expert testimony not underpinned by empirical research on the real world and its variations”

At the original trial of Torgersen in 1958, the prosecutor presented three forms of technical evidence and a series of experts who told the court that unique aspects of this evidence (a bite mark, traces of faeces, and some spruce needles) amounted to total probability, indisputable proof, that Torgersen had been at the crime scene and left a bite mark on the breast of the murdered woman. The court relied on “likenesses” as conclusive evidence against him.

It applies all over the world – courts fail to see the difference between similarities and probabilities.

A bite mark tells that the killer had teeth, meaning it could be anyone. Unique traits are needed. When a dentist testifying against Torgersen told the court that the teeth had met “edge-to-edge” and that this clearly pointed to Torgersen, the defence attorney asked: “How unusual, one in two, in ten, in fifty, or one in a thousand?” The dentist could not tell, but the court did not understand what was at issue.

If the court had understood, this type of question would have been asked not only once, but again and again in the case, in all other cases in all courts, everywhere. Likeness in itself tells nothing. To draw conclusions about probability and uniqueness, one always needs to know normal frequencies.

This was the key discovery made in 2001 by the Oslo professor of criminal law, Ståle Eskeland, who, after 20 years on the case, leads a very broad effort for reversal of the Torgersen conviction.

Eskeland has explained this elementary rule of conclusions theory to the courts repeatedly, but they seem unable to grasp it. Courts have continually upheld the Torgersen conviction without even the smallest comment on the probability argument.

In a recent debate, a leading defender of Torgersen, Professor Per Brandtzæg, Norway´s most internationally quoted scientist, supported Eskeland. In a rebuttal, the former director of the Norwegian Courts Administration, Tor Langbach, insisted that the courts are critical, they ask questions.

He seems to miss the point. Not only must the courts ask the experts questions, says a professor of law in Oslo, Leif Petter Olaussen, they must ask the right questions.

To do so, judges (and defence attorneys) must be trained in basic scientific methodology, logics and elementary statistical principles. Only then will they be able to unmask apparently impressive expert testimony not underpinned by empirical research on the real world and its variations. 

Olaussen refers to an example of the horrific consequence of not asking the right question. Ten years ago a court found an employee in a kindergarten guilty of sexual abuse. Some rumours had circulated (children are fanciful) and, based on testimony from two doctors about unusual red marks around the vaginas of the small girls, the court concluded that improper conduct had occurred. Someone must have done it, and the most likely was Mr. NN (!), who was then whisked off to jail.

The court should have inquired about the research basis for calling red marks unusual. There was no such research at the time, only ten years later. Red marks are normal. The judgment was reversed.

Torgersen died in peace, he felt acquitted by both public and experts and knew that a solid group would continue to take his case forward. Just one week before he died, a new request for reversal was submitted by two heavyweight attorneys, Cato Schiøtz and Pål W. Lorentzen.

After 64 years, the file is enormous, but the case is still very simple – the lawyers found no valid evidence against Torgersen, but a whole lot that exculpates him.

One day, Norway and the world will thank Torgersen for a lifelong effort in the service of justice. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Corporate Interests Dominate Lobbying With EU Policy-Makers Wed, 24 Jun 2015 12:23:42 +0000 Sean Buchanan By Sean Buchanan
LONDON, Jun 24 2015 (IPS)

The overwhelming majority of lobby meetings held by European Commissioners and their closest advisors are with representatives of corporate interests, according to an analysis published Jun. 24 by Transparency International (TI).

The finding was revealed by EU Integrity Watch, a new lobby monitoring tool launched by TI, which “works with governments, businesses and citizens to stop the abuse of power, bribery and secret deals.”

Today’s assessment of the situation of lobbying in Brussels follows the publication in April of TI’s report on lobbying in Europe. That report analysed lobbying in 19 European countries and in the three European Union institutions and showed examples of undue influence on politics across the region and in Brussels.

At the time, Elena Panfilova, Vice-Chair of TI, said: “In the past five years, Europe’s leaders have made difficult economic decisions that have had big consequences for citizens. Those citizens need to know that decision-makers were acting in the public interest, not the interest of a few select players.”"There is a strong link between the amount of money you spend and the number of meetings you get [with European Commission officials]. Those organisations with the biggest lobby budgets get a lot of access, particularly on the financial, digital and energy portfolios” – Daniel Freund, Transparency International EU

According to Tl’s new analysis, of the more than 4,300 lobby meetings declared by the top tier of European Commission officials between December 2014 and June 2015, more than 75 percent were with corporate lobbyists. Only 18 percent were with NGOs, four percent with think tanks and two percent with local authorities.

Google, General Electric and Airbus were reported to be among the most active lobbyists at this level, and Google and General Electric were also said to some of the biggest spenders in Brussels, each declaring EU lobby budgets of around 3.5 million euros a year.

Of the 7,908 organisations which have voluntarily registered in the EU Transparency Register – the register of European Union lobbyists – 4,879 seek to influence political decisions of the European Union on behalf of corporate interests.

Exxon Mobil, Shell and Microsoft (all 4.5-5 million euros) are the top three companies in terms of lobby budgets, according to their declarations made to the Register.

“The evidence of the last six months suggests there is a strong link between the amount of money you spend and the number of meetings you get,” said Daniel Freund of Transparency International EU. “Those organisations with the biggest lobby budgets get a lot of access, particularly on the financial, digital and energy portfolios.”

According to Transparency International EU, the portfolios for climate and energy (487 meetings), jobs and growth (398), digital economy (366) and financial markets (295) currently receive most attention from lobbyists.

The Commissioners in charge of the latter three – Finland’s Jyrki Katainen, the United Kingdom’s Jonathan Hill and Germany’s Günther Oettinger – are reported to have particularly low numbers for meetings with civil society – three, three and two respectively, representing between four and eight percent of the total number of their declared meetings.

While large global NGOs, such as World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Greenpeace, are in the Top 10 of organisations with most meetings, TI said it was notable that meetings with civil society are often held as large roundtable events with multiple participants.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who issued instructions In November 2014 that “Members of the Commission should seek to ensure an appropriate balance and representativeness in the stakeholders they meet". Photo credit: CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who issued instructions In November 2014 that “Members of the Commission should seek to ensure an appropriate balance and representativeness in the stakeholders they meet”. Photo credit: CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In November 2014, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker issued instructions on the Commission’s working methods: “While contact with stakeholders is a natural and important part of the work of a Member of the Commission, all such contacts should be conducted with transparency and Members of the Commission should seek to ensure an appropriate balance and representativeness in the stakeholders they meet.”

The new data also reveals that 80 percent of the 7,821 organisations currently registered did not have a single meeting reported with a Commissioner or their teams, demonstrating the limitations of the European Commission’s new transparency provisions that only cover the highest ranking top one percent of E.U. officials and only 20 percent of the registered lobby organisations.

Lower-level officials, such as the team negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the European Union and the United States, are not covered.

“The European Commission should be congratulated on providing this insight into lobbying of high-level officials, but this is just part of the picture,” said Carl Dolan, Director of Transparency International EU. “Officials are lobbied at all levels and greater transparency is required to reassure the public about the integrity of EU policy-making.

Transparency International EU also found that many organisations still remain absent from the register. This includes 14 of the 20 biggest law-firms in the world that all have Brussels offices, such as Clifford Chance, White & Case or Sidley Austin. Eleven out of these 14 law firms have registered as lobby organisations in Washington DC, where registration is mandatory.

“Much of the information that lobbyists voluntarily file with the lobby register is inaccurate, incomplete or outright meaningless,” said Freund, adding that over 60 percent of organisations that lobbied the European Commission on the EU-US trade agreement do not properly declare these activities.

Further, on the broad reform package of financial services entitled ‘Capital Markets Union’, many banks – including HSBC, BNP Paribas and Lloyds – that have had meetings on this topic fail to declare in the lobby register that they are active in this area.

The findings of EU Integrity Watch also reveal hundreds of completely meaningless declarations, with some organisations claiming to spend more than 100 million euros on E.U. lobbying or having tens of thousands of lobbyists at their disposal, showing the need for more systematic checks and verification by the Commission and ultimately a mandatory register.

Freund said that “all E.U. institutions should publish a ‘legislative footprint’ – a public record of all lobby meetings and other input that has influenced policies and legislation.”

Recognising that the European Commission has started moving in the right direction, TI says that the measures introduced so far need to be extended to everyone involved in the decision-making process, including the European Parliament and Council.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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U.N. Names Winners of First Nelson Mandela Prize Mon, 22 Jun 2015 17:54:11 +0000 Kitty Stapp Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress of South Africa, raises his fist in the air while addressing the Special Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall, June 22, 1990. Credit: UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran

Nelson Mandela, Deputy President of the African National Congress of South Africa, raises his fist in the air while addressing the Special Committee Against Apartheid in the General Assembly Hall, June 22, 1990. Credit: UN Photo/Pernaca Sudhakaran

By Kitty Stapp

The winners of the first-ever United Nations Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela Prize were announced Monday by General Assembly President Sam Kutesa, 25 years to the day that Mandela addressed the U.N. General Assembly to denounce apartheid in his home country of South Africa.

They are Dr. Helena Ndume of Namibia, and Jorge Sampaio of Portugal.

Kutesa said that the winners were chosen from about 300 applicants for the prize from a variety of sources, including member states as well as observer states of the U.N., institutions of higher education, intergovernmental organisations and NGOs.

The Prize was established in June 2014 by the General Assembly to recognise the achievements of those who dedicate their lives to the service of humanity by promoting the purposes and principles of the United Nations, while honouring and paying homage to Nelson Mandela’s extraordinary life and legacy of reconciliation, political transition, and social transformation.

Dr. Ndume is a Namibian ophthalmologist, widely renowned for her charitable work among sufferers of eye-related illnesses in Namibia. Dr. Ndume has ensured that some 30,000 blind Namibians have received eye surgery and are fitted with intra-ocular lens implants free of charge.

She is currently the head of the ophthalmology department at Windhoek Central Hospital, Namibia’s largest hospital, and is one of only six Namibian ophthalmologists. Ndume has also set up eye camps in Angola, working with international organisations to bring eye surgery to the country’s poor.

Jorge Sampaio is a Portuguese lawyer and politician who was president of Portugal from 1996 to 2006. He became a leader in the struggle for the restoration of democracy in his country, and also served as deputy minister for external cooperation and as mayor of Lisbon from 1989 to 1995.

He is a strong advocate of the European integration project, actively supported its enlargement to all democratic countries in Europe as well as to Turkey, and played an active role in engaging ordinary people, in particular youth, in public debates on European affairs.

Sampaio is now a member of the Club de Madrid, a grouping of more than 80 former democratic statesmen that works to strengthen democratic governance and leadership worldwide by drawing on the experience of its members.

In May 2006, Sampaio was appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General as his first Special Envoy for the Global Plan to Stop Tuberculosis, where he raised the international visibility of this poverty disease’s scale and its impact on the Millennium Development Goals’ agenda.

In April 2007, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon designated him as High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, a position he held till September 2012.

Ban said the United Nations hoped to carry on Mandela’s “lifelong work through this meaningful prize.”

Chaired by the President of the General Assembly, the United Nations selection Committee for the Prize this year was composed of the Permanent Representatives of Algeria, Latvia, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Sweden, representing the five United Nations geographical regional groups.

The Permanent Representative of South Africa was an ex-officio member of the Committee. The U.N. Department of Public Information served as the secretariat.

The award ceremony will take place on July 24 at United Nations Headquarters in New York. It will be part of the annual commemoration by the General Assembly of Nelson Mandela International Day.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: Ethical Challenges to Advertising Sat, 20 Jun 2015 10:00:04 +0000 Hazel Henderson

In this column, Hazel Henderson, president of Ethical Markets Media (USA and Brazil) and author of 'Mapping the Global Transition to the Solar Age' and other books, writes that advertising need not necessarily be manipulative – it can be a powerful force for educating, inspiring and showcasing the best innovations for growing more inclusive, greener, knowledge-rich and sustainable societies.

By Hazel Henderson
ST. AUGUSTINE, Florida, Jun 20 2015 (IPS)

Challenges to advertisers and marketers arose in the past century. Critics deplored the role of cigarette marketers who exploited the aspirations of women by associating smoking with liberation. 

Such manipulations were explored by Vance Packard in The Hidden Persuaders (1957), along with Marshal McLuhan’s The Medium is the Message (1967) and Stuart Ewen’s Captains of Consciousness (1974).  The use of subliminal advertising (rapid flashing of product images faster than human cognition) was challenged and the public discussion led to its disuse.

Hazel Henderson

Hazel Henderson

By the 1980s, Ian Mitroff and Warren Bennis described the “deliberate manufacturing of falsehood” in The Unreality Industry (1989), followed by William Schrader’s Media Blight and the Dehumanizing of America (1992), Naomi Klein’s No Logo (1999) and Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death (2005).

Fast forward to today’s ethical challenges.

Political advertising of candidates was likened to selling toothpaste as it emerged in the 1970s and summarized by Charles Lewis in The Buying of the President (1996) and James Fallows in Breaking the News (1996). Today, the gutting of restrictions on money in U.S. elections has led to the well-financed blizzard of attack ads that lead millions of voters to turn off their TV sets in disgust. Media corporations and their TV channels have come to rely on such financial bonanzas during elections.

What this confirms is that advertising influences media owners and the content of programmes and often distorts news coverage, leading to subtle commercial censorship rarely recognised as a threat to free speech in the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment.

Civic groups’ limited funding precludes challenging false and misleading advertising and the “greenwashing” of many companies’ poor environmental records. “Civic groups’ limited funding precludes challenging false and misleading advertising and the “greenwashing” of many companies’ poor environmental records”

I summarised these issues a few years ago in an interview in Forbes magazine on why I founded the EthicMark Awards for “advertising that uplifts the human spirit and society”.

These Awards recognise that advertising, a global 500 billion dollars a year  industry, can be a powerful force for good beyond consumerism, in educating, inspiring and showcasing the best innovations for growing more inclusive, greener, knowledge-rich and sustainable societies.

The newest challenge to advertisers comes from Silicon Valley with the many apps that allow users to skip and block ads, including AdBlockPlus (downloaded 400 million times), as well as add-ons to Chrome and Firefox browsers.  Ad block users have grown to 200 million a month, according to PageFair and The Economist.

Advertisers could redeem their reputations and business models via Truth in Advertising Assurance Set Aside (TIAASA) which would disallow their tax exempt funds on false advertising and then award these funds to civic challengers to hire ad agencies to prepare counter-advertising campaigns.

All this highlights the growing vulnerability of media business models in the United States, other industrial societies and worldwide.

Many new media business models which no longer rely on advertising are debated in The Death and Life of American Journalism (2010) by Robert McChesney and John Nichols who compare media access policies in many countries which subsidise investigative journalism, such as Britain’s BBC.

In the United States, foundations support news organisations such as the National Geographic, the Center for Public Integrity and ProPublica, and media outlets such as the Columbia Journalism Review. The American Prospect and The Nation are largely funded by subscribers as well as PBS and NPR in broadcasting, along with many internet-based media such as The Real News Network.

Google banned ad-blocking apps in 2013, yet alternative web-browsers such as UC Browser already claims 500 million users, mostly in China and India, and Eyeo launched its ad-blocking browser available for mobile devices running Google’s Android.  These battles will rage on until legal systems – always lagging behind technology – catch up.

Two reports from the Aspen Institute’s Communications and Society Program led by Charles Firestone – “Navigating Continual Disruption” and “The Atomic Age of Data” – discuss the digitisation of ever more sectors of industrial societies and the internet of things (IOT).

In the United States, the monopolising of internet access by Comcast, AT&T and Verizon has restricted broadband access to millions in less affluent, rural communities and prevented small towns from competing with public broadband systems, as reported by the Center for Public Integrity and Susan Crawford in Captive Audience (2013).

The good news follows the analysis and proposals of Kunda Dixit in DatelineEarth: Journalism as if the Planet Mattered (IPS, 1997) and includes Dan Gillmore’s We the Media (2004) on grassroots journalism; David Bollier’s In Search of the Public Interest in the New Media (2002); Democratizing Global Media (2005); Making the Net Work: Sustainable Development in a Digital Society (2003) from Britain’s Forum for the Future; and Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future? (2013). (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Remittances from Europe Top 100 Billion Dollars Mon, 15 Jun 2015 18:40:05 +0000 Kitty Stapp Migrants at Lampedusa, Italy. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

Migrants at Lampedusa, Italy. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
NEW YORK, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

One in five migrant workers – about 50 million people – lives and works in Europe, making the region home to a quarter of global remittance flows, according to a new report by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Migrants living in Europe sent 109.4 billion dollars in remittances to lower-income European countries and to the developing world last year.

And the actual figures for many countries could be substantially higher than official estimates due to the frequent use of informal channels to transfer money.

“We need to make sure that this hard-earned money is sent home cheaply but more importantly that it helps families build a better future for themselves, particularly in the poorest rural communities where it counts the most,” said Kanayo F. Nwanze, president of IFAD, about the report’s findings.

IFAD estimates that globally 80 billion dollars could be available for investment if migrant workers and receiving families in rural areas were given more options to use their funds.

Of the total remittances sent by migrants living in Europe, about one-third (36.5 billion dollars) remained within 19 countries in Europe, while two-thirds (72.9 billion dollars) were received by poor families in over 50 developing countries outside Europe.

The report comes at a time when Europe is taking heavy criticism over its policies towards migrants, especially with respect to the Syrian refugee crisis.

In the last two decades, the Mediterranean – the most lethal of Europe’s barriers against irregular migration – has claimed nearly 20,000 migrant lives.

Figures for 2014 and this year indicate that the phenomenon is on the rise, with more migrant deaths than ever before.

However, people to continue to brave the perilous crossing, or over land borders, and an estimated 150 million people worldwide now benefit from remittances coming from Europe.

The report says that most remittances are spent on staples like food, clothing, shelter, medicine and education. However, studies indicate that up to 20 per cent of remittances could be available for savings, investments or to repay loans for small businesses.

With 40 per cent of remittances going to rural areas, the report also suggests that remittances play a critical role in the transformation of vulnerable communities. In fact, remittances are estimated to equal at least three times official development assistance to developing countries.

“The immense potential of remittances for development is still largely underutilized but it is within our capacity to make every hard-earned euro, ruble, pound, krona, or Swiss franc sent home count even more,” said Nwanze.

Western Europe and the Russian Federation (26 total sending countries) are the main sources of migrant remittances in Europe.

The top six European sending countries account for 75 per cent of the flows: the Russian Federation (20.6 billion dollars), the United Kingdom (17.1 billion), Germany (14 billion), France (10.5 billion), Italy (10.4 billion) and Spain (9.6 billion).

“Remittances offer a unique opportunity to bring millions into the formal financial sector,” said Pedro De Vasconcelos, co-author of the report and Coordinator of the Financing Facility for Remittances at IFAD.

“Given the frequent interaction between remittance senders, receivers and the financial system, remittances could spark a long-term and life-changing relationship.”

While significant progress has been made over the last few years to lower transfer costs, De Vasconcelos added that more could be done through increased competition. By reducing transfer costs to 5 per cent, as per the G20 objective set in 2009, an additional 2.5 billion dollars would be saved for migrant workers and their families back home.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Rights Groups Call for Durable Solution for Europe’s Migrants Sat, 13 Jun 2015 21:58:52 +0000 A. D. McKenzie Migrants send a message – “We are humans, not animals”. Credit: Amnesty International France

Migrants send a message – “We are humans, not animals”. Credit: Amnesty International France

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, Jun 13 2015 (IPS)

Human rights groups are calling for a sustainable solution to the migrant crisis in Europe, especially following the dismantling of refugee camps in Paris and Calais, France, over the past two weeks.

In one of the latest incidents, tense confrontations occurred in the French capital when security forces evicted migrants from a park last Thursday, with activists later blocking the police from entering a former barracks where the migrants were temporarily sheltered.“The state has a duty to ensure durable accommodation solutions for all those who seek asylum” – Marco Perolini, Amnesty International

Amnesty International, present as observer during the operation, said that the state needs to do more to find housing solutions for migrants who have been sleeping on the street and in public parks.

“The state can evict people for various reasons, but migrants also have rights,” Stephan Oberreit, director general of Amnesty International France, told IPS.

“If the state informed people, explained the regulations and offered decent shelters, then that would be fine,” he added. “But this is not the case. They are not providing enough shelters for migrants and asylum seekers.”

Some of the migrants in the park – at the Bois Dormoy in the city’s 18th district – had already been evicted from a makeshift camp set up under a metro overpass, where conditions had become increasingly unsanitary.

Others came from a second cleared camp in northern Paris where about 350 migrants had been living. Most of those affected are from Sudan but there are also Somalis, Eritreans, Egyptians and other nationalities among the groups, officials said.

Activists and migrants protest evictions in Paris. Credit: Amnesty International France

Activists and migrants protest evictions in Paris. Credit: Amnesty International France

The authorities had additionally evicted about 140 migrants from two makeshifts camps in Calais, northern France, where more than 2,000 migrants have been living in rough conditions in tent settlements.

On Thursday, at the Bois Dormoy, in incidents that lasted late into the night, the migrants took steps to organise their own response to the security operations after they had been told to leave the park. They held meetings among themselves and liaised with activists – who have been providing food and support – to make their concerns known.

City officials initially offered about 60 places at state shelters but eventually increased the number to accommodate more of the migrants, following negotiations. Rights groups feared, however, that many would still remain homeless.

“The French authorities cannot just keep moving these migrants and asylum seekers from pillar to post without seeking viable alternatives – the state has a duty to ensure durable accommodation solutions for all those who seek asylum,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Discrimination in Europe.

“Real and viable alternative solutions must be found to give these migrants and refugees adequate shelter and services, including access to asylum procedures,” he added.

Other groups such as GISTI (Group for Information and Support to Immigrants), told IPS that they were also providing legal assistance to the migrants, with their lawyers representing asylum seekers at court hearings.

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said she would like to open a “welcome centre” for migrants who may be en route to other countries, or who may eventually decide to seek asylum in France.

“We are facing a huge increase in the numbers, and we need to open some kind of welcome centre,” she told French media. “One thing is certain – they cannot sleep on the streets.”

Such a centre would only be for temporary stays, and groups such as Amnesty International say that more permanent solutions are urgent and necessary.

This week, the European Commission, the executive branch of the 28-nation European Union (EU), called for member states to endorse its proposal to resettle 40,000 migrants as the boats keep arriving at Italian and Greek shores.

According to United Nations figures, more than 100,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean since the start of 2015, and about 1,800 have died in the perilous boat trips, as they flee poverty and warfare in their homelands.

Thousands have entered France, often in an attempt to reach other countries such as Britain.  But while both France and Britain are against the proposed EU quotas, the number of people who would be relocated in France is just a “drop in the ocean”, Oberreit of Amnesty International told IPS.

“We can’t keep looking at temporary solutions,” Oberreit warned. “Individuals must be able to have a proper process of their situation in order to have refugee status, and migrants must have some form of shelter so they don’t have to be out in the street and go hungry.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Chechen Media Outlet Issues Death Threats against Russian Journalist Fri, 12 Jun 2015 20:57:59 +0000 Nora Happel By Nora Happel
NEW YORK, Jun 12 2015 (IPS)

Press freedom groups are condemning veiled death threats against Novaya Gazeta correspondent Elena Milashina by a Chechen online news portal last month.

In a May 19 editorial entitled “The United States Uses Pawns”, Mavsar Varayev, deputy editor of the state-sponsored Chechen media outlet Grozny Inform, warned Milashina that she is likely to become “the next victim” in a series of murders, supposedly orchestrated by U.S. and Israeli intelligence in a bid to “destabilise” Russia.

Elena Milashina with her International Women of Courage Award at the 2013 awards ceremony in Washington. Credit: State Department photo/Public Domain

Elena Milashina with her International Women of Courage Award at the 2013 awards ceremony in Washington. Credit: State Department photo/Public Domain

He explicitly said she could meet the same fate as Anna Politkovskaya, the Novaya Gazeta journalist murdered in 2006, and Boris Nemtsov, the Russian political opposition leader murdered in March 2015.

As reported by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Milashina considers the article an “order for [her] murder”.

Nina Ognianova, Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, told IPS: “We condemn the threats against our colleague Elena Milashina and call for a thorough investigation.”

“The threats on Grozny Inform follow a campaign of intimidation and harassment against Elena that has been carried out in the pro-government media, including on national television. This is a disturbing trend that can translate into real risk on the ground.

“Given that Elena covers such sensitive subjects as corruption and human rights abuses in the volatile North Caucasus region, Russian authorities must carry out an effective probe into the threats and ensure Elena’s safety as an urgent priority.”

The independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta also perceives the Chechen editorial as a “direct death threat” against an employee and has called upon Russian authorities to investigate the issue.The threats on Grozny Inform follow a campaign of intimidation and harassment against Elena that has been carried out in the pro-government media, including on national television." -- Nina Ognianova of CPJ

Human rights and press freedom organisations have strongly condemned the death threats against Milashina and join Novaya Gazeta in calling for an independent investigation.

According to Amnesty International, “[T]he tone and the content of the article, and the context in which it is being published, in a government-owned media outlet, gives strong reason to fear that the death threats against Elena Milashina are serious.”

The editorial was published shortly after Milashina reported on the planned forced marriage of 17-year-old Louise Goylabieva to Chechen police officer Nazhud Guchigov, who is decades older (originally reported to be 57, but stating himself to be 46) and already married.

Guchigov has close links to Ramzad Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of the Chechen Republic, who faces serious allegations of human rights abuses.

After the story attracted worldwide attention, Milashina was warned by police officers at a checkpoint in Chechnya she had better be mindful of her own safety. Activists familiar with the case say the recent threats do not stand alone.

As reported by Human Rights Watch, Milashina has already on several occasions been the target of harassment and threats, apparently in relation to her reporting on enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, racism, torture and the killings of journalists such as her murdered colleagues Anna Politkovskaya and Natalia Estemirova.

In 2012, Milashina and her friend, Freedom House employee Ella Asoyan, were violently assaulted by two unknown men in the Moscow suburb of Balashikha. After kicking and punching the women, the men stole Milashina’s wallet and Asoyan’s laptop.

According to Human Rights Watch, the ensuing investigation by police was “half-hearted”.

In the Grozny Inform editorial, Varayev classifies the beating as “one of the necessary episodes” in preparing for Milashina’s murder.

Despite the dangers, the journalist says she does not intend to flee her country. In a recent interview with Ekho Moskvy, Milashina reiterated her will to stay in Russia and fulfil her mandate as a journalist.

In 2013, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and First Lady Michelle Obama paid tribute to Milashina’s commitment to freedom and human rights by granting her the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award, a distinction that honours women leaders worldwide who have demonstrated exceptional engagement for human rights, gender equality and social progress.

As translated by The Interpreter, the Grozny Inform editorial refers to the award in its final sentences, stating “the latest hero who will pay for their life for ‘the defense of human rights’ in Russia will be our Novaya Gazeta special correspondent. It was not at all an accident that Secretary of State John Kerry gave Milashina the International Women of Courage award for her journalistic investigation. Let’s hope that it is not posthumous…”

The episode might be viewed as part of a broader media confrontation between Russia and “the West”, which is currently playing out most visibly in the context of the Ukraine crisis, where information warfare and propaganda have assumed increasingly important roles.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Why ACP Countries Matter for the EU Post-2015 Development Agenda Tue, 09 Jun 2015 16:20:13 +0000 Valentina Gasbarri By Valentina Gasbarri
BRUSSELS, Jun 9 2015 (IPS)

We are witnessing a shift in the original rationale behind the unique relationship between the European Union and the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries of the ACP group, which goes beyond the logic of “unilateral aid transfer”, “donor-recipient approach” and “North-South dialogue”.

“The [ACP] Group will have to transform itself if it wants to realise its ambition of becoming a player of global importance, beyond its longstanding partnership with the EU” – Dr Patrick I. Gomes, ACP Secretary General
In November last year, in his mission letter to the newly appointed European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker said: “The first priority is the post-2015 framework and the second priority of my mandate is the future of EU’s strategic partnership with African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.”

With the agreement for that partnership coming to an end in 2020, both the European Union and the ACP group are currently stimulating intense debates on a critical review of the past and future perspective as well as challenging issues for the future “acquis” between the ACP countries and Europe under the umbrella of the Cotonou Agreement.

Last month’s Joint Session of the ACP-EU Council of Ministers held in Brussels (May 28-29) May offered an occasion for discussing innovative options to outline new bases of common interests, needs and difficulties, and to forge forthcoming cooperation, particularly in terms of the post-2015 agenda, financing for development, migration, international trade, climate change and democratic governance.

At ACP level, there is a growing awareness among members that “the Group will have to transform itself if it wants to realise its ambition of becoming a player of global importance, beyond its longstanding partnership with the EU,” said ACP Secretary General, Dr Patrick I. Gomes.

“There is the need to re-balance the ACP-EU partnership in favour of the ACP Group” was one of the key messages from the 101st ACP Council of Ministers held on May 27-28 to re-align ACP positions before the Joint Session with the European Union.

Within the European Union, there is also recognition of the relevance of the EU-ACP relationship. “Our exchanges of view on a number of key issues such as the post-2015 development agenda and migration once again underlined the importance of our partnership,” said Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica, Latvian Parliamentary State Secretary for E.U. Affairs, in a statement.

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica (right), Latvian Parliamentary Secretary of State for E.U. Affairs and Meltek Livtuvanu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu and President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers. Photo Credit: EU Council

Zanda Kalniņa-Lukaševica (right), Latvian Parliamentary Secretary of State for E.U. Affairs and Meltek Livtuvanu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Vanuatu and President of the ACP’s Council of Ministers. Photo Credit: EU Council

On paper, the Cotonou Agreement remains the most sophisticated framework for ACP-EU cooperation, covering political, trade, economic and development cooperation issues.

According to the last figures for the E.U. budget for 2014-2020, a package of 30.5 billion euros is specifically provided to ACP regions and countries. In fact, the ACP still remains the biggest group of states with which the European Union has a partnership.

The European Development Fund (EDF), an implementing instrument of the Cotonou Agreement, will finance E.U. development cooperation projects until 2020 to assist partner countries in poverty eradication. These funds will target the people most in need and finance different sectors such as health and education, infrastructure, environment, energy, food and nutrition.

Looking towards the future, the ACP is determined to move from being on the receiving end of development assistance to asserting its aim to speak with “one voice in global governance institutions”, in the words of ACP Secretary-General Gomes.

The need to consider and treat ACP countries as “responsible partners” at the global level despite the reluctance of the international community, emerged strongly during the E.U.-Africa Summit in  April 2014, with ACP members hoping for a lift-up effect on the ACP’s political leverage.

According to observers, ACP countries matter for the European Union partly to help overcome the effects of the economic crisis. Some ACP countries in the North African region, for example, have witnessed upturns in economic growth since 2004. At the same time, the abundance of natural resources in ACP countries provides an alternative to the volatile Middle East, Russia and some other countries as a source of energy and raw materials.

On the issue of financing for development, Alexandre Polack, European Commission Spokesperson for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management & International Cooperation and Development told IPS: “We need to come away from Addis with a comprehensive agreement which covers all the means of implementation for the post-2015 development agenda.”

He was referring to the Third International Conference on Financing for Development which will take place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from Jul. 13 to 16 this year.

“This,” added Polack, “means addressing non-financial aspects, including policies. We need an agreement which puts domestic actions and domestic capacities at the heart of poverty eradication and sustainable development, and adheres to the principles of universality in terms of shared responsibilities.”

Observers also point out that the ACP countries can also be important interlocutors during the U.N. Climate Change Conference this coming December in Paris.

While the Western industrialised and emerging countries are the main greenhouse gas emitters, many ACP countries – particularly Small Island Developing States (SIDS) – are directly threatened by the consequences of climate change through, for example, natural disasters, hurricanes and tornados, flooding and drought.

Their voice on this, along with their experience and good practices developed in countering or mitigating the drastic effects of climate change, can make a useful contribution to the deliberations in Paris.

Meanwhile, the ACP-EU Joint Council has endorsed recommendations concerning the migration crisis, including enacting comprehensive legislation on both trafficking in human beings and smuggling of migrants, stressing the differences between both phenomena, while also implementing relevant national laws.

The co-President of the Joint Council, Hon. Meltek Sato Kilman Livtuvanu of Vanuatu, speaking on behalf of the ACP ministers, said: “We consider that even if the military and security approach is meant to discourage and respond immediately to the issue, there is an urgent need to have a comprehensive approach to deal with the root causes of this phenomenon, in partnership with all the countries involved.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: Greece – A Sad Story of the European Establishment Tue, 09 Jun 2015 11:40:11 +0000 Roberto Savio

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that the latest development in the tug of war which has been going on between Greece and a German-dominated Europe is the desire to punish an anti-establishment figure like Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and show that the radical left cannot run a country.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jun 9 2015 (IPS)

Only 50 years of Cold War (and the fact that German Chancellor Angela Merkel grew up in East Germany) can possibly explain the strange political power of the United States over Europe.

After a bilateral meeting between Merkel and U.S. President Barack Obama (so much for transparency and participation), the Jun. 7-8 G7 summit opened in Germany and we found out that there had been a trade-off.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Merkel agreed that Europe should continue the sanctions against Russia – and so the other members of the G7 duly agreed – and Obama toned down the U.S. position on Greece.

That position had been forcefully expressed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew a few days earlier to European leaders: solve the Greek problem, or this will have a global impact that we cannot afford. This had suddenly accelerated negotiations, with the hope then that everything would be solved before the G7 summit.

But Greece did not accept the plan of the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, which was suspiciously close to International Monetary Fund (IMF) positions.

At the G7 summit, Obama softened the U.S. position on Greece, and even said that “Athens must implement the necessary reforms.”

Obstinacy on sanctions against Russia ignores the fact that, in a very delicate economic moment, Europe has lost a considerable part of its exports because of Russia’s retaliatory block on European imports. It is also difficult to see what advantage there is for Europe in pushing Russia into the arms of China. We will soon be seeing joint naval exercise between the two countries, which will only escalate tensions.

But let us look at Greece given that its tug of war with Europe has now been going on for five years.

Let us recall briefly. Greece had been spending much more than it could by distributing public jobs under any government, by giving easy pensions to everyone, and so on. Then, in 2009, the centre-left Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) won the elections and we found out that the figures Athens had been giving Brussels were false.

The real deficit stood at almost 12.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), confirmation of what the European Union and its bodies had long suspected but which it had done nothing about.“Europe is now led by Germany and the Germans are convinced that what they did at home is valid everywhere. Together with the countries of northern Europe, they look on the people of southern Europe as unethical, people who want to enjoy life beyond their means”

To avoid going into the agonising details of the continuous negotiations between Greece and the European Union, I jump to the January elections this year which the left-wing Syriza party won and its leader Alexis Tsipras was named Prime Minister on a clear programme: stop the austerity programme imposed by the “Troika” – IMF, EU and the European Central Bank (ECB) – on behalf of the European countries, led by Germany, Netherlands, Austria and Finland.

Greece is on its knees. Officially, unemployment has gone from 11.9 percent in 2010 to 25.5 percent today, but it is widely considered to be around 30 percent. Among young people, it is close to 60 percent. GDP has gone into a 25 percent decline, Greek citizens have lost about 30 percent of their revenues and public spending has been slashed to the point that hospitals have great difficulty in functioning.

Yet, the request (order) of the “Troika” is simple – cut everything the deficit has been eliminated.

So, for example, cut pensions, which have been already been cut twice. In any case, this would reap a paltry 100 million euros but would cripple people who are living on less than 685 euro a month. Or, raise VAT on tourism, from the present 6.5 percent to 13.6 percent, which would be a deadly blow to Greece’s only important source of income.

This is the plan presented by Juncker, whose arrival as head of the European Commission was accompanied by a grandiose Marshall Plan for Europe, a plan which has since disappeared totally from the scene.

In an article a few days ago titled ‘Europe’s Last Act?”, Joseph E. Stiglitz, Nobel laureate in economics, argues that the idea of austerity as a uniform recipe for Europe is missing reality.

“The troika badly misjudged the macroeconomic effects of the program that they imposed. According to their published forecasts, they believed that, by cutting wages and accepting other austerity measures, Greek exports would increase and the economy would quickly return to growth. They also believed that the first debt restructuring would lead to debt sustainability.

“The troika’s forecasts have been wrong, and repeatedly so. And not by a little, but by an enormous amount. Greece’s voters were right to demand a change in course, and their government is right to refuse to sign on to a deeply flawed program.”

It is on austerity that the paths of the United States and the European Union divide.

The United States has embarked on investing for growth, despite pressure from the Republican party for austerity, and the U.S. economy is picking up again.

But Europe is now led by Germany and the Germans are convinced that what they did at home is valid everywhere. Together with the countries of northern Europe, they look on the people of southern Europe as unethical, people who want to enjoy life beyond their means. As The Economist put it in an article on the Greek crisis: “In German eyes this crisis is all about profligacy”.

It did not help that another very minor crisis – that of Cyprus between 2012 and 2013 – confirmed Germany’s view about the profligacy of the south of Europe. In the case of Cyprus, the “Troika” settled the crisis at a cost of 10 billion euros.

There is widespread agreement that the crisis of Greece, which represents just two percent of the total European budget, could have been settled at the beginning with a 50-60 billion euro loan. But only since Tsipras became prime minister, and with popular support started to refuse to accept the creditors’ plan, has Greece has become a very important issue.

There is now talk of a “Grexit”, or Greece’s exit from the European Union. This would have a cascade effect, and it would mean the end of Europe as a common dream, of a Europe based on solidarity and communality.

In the G7, Obama has insisted on investments and demand as a way out of the crisis. Merkel has again repeated that Europe does not need stimulus financed by debt, but stimulus coming from the reform of inefficient economies. At this point, perhaps “everything is always about something else”, as the late award-winning Sri Lankan journalist Tarzie Vittachi once told me.

An enlightening comment on the Greek situation has come from Hugo Dixon writing in The New York Times of Jun. 7. The Greek prime minister “will have to choose between saving his country and sticking to a bankrupt far-left ideology. If he is smart, he can secure a few more concessions from creditors and a goodish deal for Greece. If not, he will drag the country into the abyss.”

And then, it is interesting to note that one of the main reasons for being so hard with Syriza is that the citizens of Spain, Portugal and Ireland, who were the first to swallow the bitter pill of austerity, would revolt if they saw a different path for Greece, and it just happens that those countries have conservative governments.

The entire European political system reeled with shock at the victory of Syriza, and again a few days ago at the victories of the left-wing anti-establishment Podemos party in municipal elections in Spain.

For some reason, the very authoritarian and conservative government of Viktor Orbán in Hungary, the victory of the very conservative Andrzej Duda as president in Poland, as well as the rise of Matteo Salvini’s anti-European and anti-immigration Lega Nord party in Italy create no panic, not even if Salvini looks to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Marine Le Pen, leader of France’s right-wing Front National, as figures of reference.

So, the real issue now in the case of Greece is to punish an anti-establishment figure like Tsipras and show that the radical left cannot run a country.

Who really believes that there will masses of citizens in Madrid, Lisbon or Dublin taking to the streets to protest if Europe does a somersault of solidarity and idealism, and lowers its requests or dilutes them over more time? (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Opinion: Minsk Agreements, the Only Path to Peace in Ukraine Mon, 08 Jun 2015 18:43:19 +0000 Aslan Abashidze

Prof. Aslan Abashidze is the Head of the Department of International Law at Moscow’s Friendship University and a member of the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Geneva.

By Aslan Abashidze
GENEVA, Jun 8 2015 (IPS)

The “U.N. Report on the human rights situation in Ukraine”, which was referred to in an Inter Press Service (IPS) article of Jun. 2, does not, in my view, reflect many salient points.

How the lawful Government of Ukraine was overthrown is now well known. The new Kiev regime immediately announced the prohibition of the Russian language in the eastern regions of the country, inhabited mostly by the Russian speaking population.Though more than 6,500 people have died and millions displaced, no one clarifies why the numbers are growing. No one admits that these regions face a humanitarian catastrophe.

As the U.N. report confirms, those who committed numerous murders on Maidan Square and in Odessa have not been prosecuted.

Combat aircraft of the Ukrainian Air Force, armed with a full complement of missiles, bombed the centre of Donetsk in broad daylight. These events forced the creation of militia groups to defend their interests and territory.

That is how the military confrontation between the new regime in Kiev and eastern regions of Ukraine was created – thus causing 6,500 deaths, and over a million Ukrainian refugees now living inside Russia.

The fulfillment of all provisions of the Minsk agreements (ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons, delivery of aid to the needy, local elections, formation of local authorities, constitutional reforms, etc.) signed by President Petro Poroshenko would no doubt preserve the territorial integrity of the Donetsk People’s Republic (Donetsk) and Luhansk People’s Republic (Luhansk) regions by obtaining acceptable status within the Ukrainian State.

Instead, what are we facing in fact?

The shelling of civilian areas in the eastern regions continues unabated. The observers of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) report violations of the Minsk agreements on the side of Kiev. They probably cannot witness the Ukrainian Military incursions into East Ukraine which undoubtedly spark retaliation.

Civilians in Donetsk, including children, are dying. Various military units wearing fascist symbols act independent of the Kiev authorities, claiming they do not have to abide by Minsk Agreements.

Against this background, Poroshenko publicly states that his goal is to reclaim all areas by military force. To achieve that objective, Poroshenko mobilises the military, equips armies and recruits Private Security Companies from the U.S. and NATO Member States as well as others such as Georgia. Also, he continuously requests aid from Western countries — not only billions of dollars, but also heavy military equipment, including lethal weapons.

What for? To make peace or wage war?

Recently, the Ukraine Parliament – on the pretext of “anti-terrorist operations” – adopted an Act on the non-respect of human rights in Donetsk and Luhansk. But no one, including the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), reminded the Ukrainian authorities that it is a violation of Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In doing so, the Ukrainian authorities ignored the basic human right of the right to life.

It is also required that before passing such drastic laws, the country should declare a state of emergency, and clarify the need and duration of such a regime.

To declare a state of emergency, the Kiev authorities have to first recognise that an internal armed conflict exists in their territory, and secondly, they have to adhere to Article 3 that is common to four Geneva Conventions for the Protection of Victims of War of 1949 and Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1977.

In such a scenario, Kiev may not have access to loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and others, and it would not ethical to keep draconian restrictions of a socio-economic nature at the expense of the poor segment of the population while doing nothing against the high-level of corruption in government sectors.

Furthermore, the Kiev authorities have arbitrarily cancelled the benefits of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster victims, as well as child allowances. The U.N. human rights laws prohibit such retrogressive measures that worsen the situation of vulnerable groups.

Blatantly ignoring its social and economic obligations, the Kiev authorities have stopped supplying most needed medications; stopped paying pensions and benefits to people in those regions; and have blocked all food and essential items supply routes to these beleaguered regions.

What is also not acknowledged is the fact that since the beginning of this disaster, the Russian Federation has voluntarily sent 29 convoys of humanitarian aid to these regions, and that Russia provided natural gas after Kiev cut gas supplies to these regions in the height of the winter.

On Jun. 4, Poroshenko told the Parliament they will withdraw the economic blockade against Donetsk and Luhansk only if these regions came under their total control.

To achieve this, the Kiev authorities declared a total mobilisation of reservists and strengthened the bombing of the territory by large-scale artillery shells.

The selective approach of human rights organisations in relation to certain events raises concerns. Though more than 6,500 people have died and millions displaced, no one clarifies why the numbers are growing. No one admits that these regions face a humanitarian catastrophe.

You may ask: What else can we do “to stop armed activities in the eastern part of Ukraine”, even though it is the paramount condition spelled out in the Minsk agreements signed by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France, and supported by the U.S.?

First, of course, is to ensure that the Ukrainian authorities unreservedly honour the ceasefire. Secondly, if Kiev does not control certain military groups in territories under its control, then they should be disarmed by the OSCE peacekeepers.

Unfortunately, the structures of international organisations, including U.N. human rights structures, are subject to political influence from the United States and its NATO allies, which has led to a sharp decline in credibility of these establishments.

As we know, the U.S. continues its attempts to control world affairs – including world football. If this trend continues, the principles and norms of international law enshrined in the U.N. Charter will cease to operate – paving the way for military commanders to solve world problems. Any child understands that it would lead to the death of our civilisation.

The U.N. Charter states that “All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.”

There is no dispute in the world that cannot be resolved by peaceful negotiations. Figuratively speaking, we live in an “armed peace”, and in conditions of increasing threats and challenges.

What we need is the political will of world leaders to decide what kind of a world we want to live in – and for generations to come.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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: G20 Turkish Presidency Keen to Benefit the Global Community Sun, 07 Jun 2015 17:05:43 +0000 Selim Yenel Ambassador Selim Yenel. Credit: Permanent Delegation of Turkey to the EU

Ambassador Selim Yenel. Credit: Permanent Delegation of Turkey to the EU

By Selim Yenel
BRUSSELS, Jun 7 2015 (IPS)

Turkey assumed the Presidency of the Group of 20 (G20) on Dec. 1, 2014. It will culminate in the Antalya Summit on Nov. 15-16. Our priorities build upon the G20 multi-year agenda, but also reflect particular themes we see as important for 2015.

(The G20 comprises a mix of the world’s largest advanced and emerging economies, representing about two-thirds of the world’s population, 85 per cent of global gross domestic product and over 75 per cent of global trade. They include Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union.)We have a moral obligation to address inequality, which also hinders economic growth.

We want to channel the influence of the G20 also for the benefit of the global community. Spain, Azerbaijan, Singapore and the Chairs of ASEAN (Malaysia), African Union (Zimbabwe) and NEPAD-New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Senegal) are invited to G20 meetings.

We have an ambitious agenda, a clear focus and an intense work plan. We frame our priorities as ‘3 Is’. – Implementation, Inclusiveness, Investment.


– Turning words into actions. Implementing our collective G-20 commitments.

– G20 members committed themselves to policy measures over 1,000 in total, estimated to lift collective G20 growth by an additional 2.1 percent over the next five years. (the so-called “2 in 5” target)

– The IMF and OECD calculate that implementing G20 growth strategies can generate additional two trillion dollars to the world economy, an output equivalent to the size of the Indian economy.

– The first accountability report on how much progress we have collectively made towards our growth target will be presented to the G20 Summit in Antalya.


– The G20’s overarching aim has been to foster strong, sustainable and balanced growth. One of our primary goals is to add “inclusive” growth to this, both at the national and international level.

– We have a moral obligation to address inequality, which also hinders economic growth. It has been worsened by the effects of the global financial crisis. (Among OECD countries, inequality is at its highest level in 30 years)

– Last year, the G20 made a commitment to reduce the gender gap in labour force participation by 25 percent until 2025 (our 25 by 25 target). Its implementation will bring additional 100 million women into the workforce.

– We will strive to achieve a collective G20 target for youth unemployment.

– SMEs (small and medium enterprises) are another important element. They are the powerhouse of employment, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.

– We launched the World SME Forum (WSF) on May 23. Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan announced the official launch of this forum, a major new initiative to drive the contributions of SMEs to global economic growth and employment. For the first time, there will now be a united and global voice of SMEs.

– Low Income Developing Countries (LIDCs) are an important focal point. Our message: the G20 is not only concerned about its own interests but its policies should also benefit the entire community, resulting in a better global dialogue.


– Investment is key to unlocking growth and generating new jobs.

– The public sector cannot meet the global investment gap alone. Effective public and private sector partnership is a must. Nine out of 10 new jobs are created as a result of private investment.

– We proposed that G20 countries prepare national investment strategies to support their national growth strategies adopted last year. We have started to work on our national investment strategies and plan to have them submitted for the approval of at the Antalya Summit.

2015 is a critical year for shaping the global sustainable development agenda for the future.

We have the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Summit in New York in September. It is important that the G20’s decisions and actions strengthen the work of the U.N. (SDGs will follow and expand on the Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2000, due to expire at the end of 2015)

We aim to support the universal nature of the post 2015-development agenda. Our work on food security and nutrition, access to affordable and reliable energy to all, efforts to reduce the gender gap in female labour force participation, skills development and infrastructure are directly relevant to many of the proposed goals and targets.

The main topics of the G20 Agriculture Ministers Meeting on May 8, the second in G20 history (first was in 2011), were developing sustainable food systems and the challenges of food loss and waste.

Some 1.3 billion tonnes of food is lost or wasted each year. If we can reduce food losses and waste to zero, it would give us additional food to feed two billion people.

Our work on energy access in Sub Saharan Africa is another important element of our agenda. We are working in partnership with various African institutions.

Almost one-fifth of the global population still does not have access to electricity. Nearly 2.6 billion people lack access to modern cooking facilities. In Sub-Saharan Africa the problem is most acute. More than 620 million people, out of the region’s total population of 915 million, have no access to electricity.

A high-level conference with the participation of African leaders, investors, private sector and relevant international organisations back to back with the G20 Energy Ministers meeting is also planned. The G20 Energy Ministers Meeting on Oct. 2 will be a first in G20 history.

We are also working closely with the ILO and other international organisations on a range of employment and labour market outcomes.

Trade is an important part of our agenda. Representing 76 percent of world trade, G20 should lead by example in collective work to ensure an open and functioning multilateral trading system.

We are also working to strengthen outreach with engagement groups and non-members. Under our Presidency, G20 countries agreed to establish a new G20 engagement group: The Womens-20, to promote gender inclusive growth and enhance the role of women in business.

We also value direct outreach and dialogue with countries, regional groups and institutions. On Apr. 13, we convened in Washington the first Caribbean Region Dialogue with the G20 Development Working Group together with the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago. This was an opportunity to deepen the G20-Caribbean relationship.

Overall, Turkey believes it has a responsibility to use its Presidency of the G20 as a positive influence regarding growth, sustainability and development in all areas. Independent of the G20, Turkey in the last decade has been more and more involved with the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States.

It has developed its relations in the political, economic, commercial and development fields. Turkey has opened a large number of embassies in all the ACP countries and will continue to increase its contacts in the years to come for a mutually beneficial relationship.

Edited by Ramesh Jaura / Kitty Stapp

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: Immigration, Myths and the Irresponsibility of Europe Sat, 06 Jun 2015 06:30:53 +0000 Roberto Savio By Roberto Savio
ROME, Jun 6 2015 (IPS)

With little fanfare, the German IFO Institute for Economic Research recently published a report on population projections for Germany which states simply that the country’s population is shrinking fast.

The country has lost 1.5 million inhabitants since the last census in 2011 and it is estimated that it will have fallen from the 82.5 million in 2003 to 66 million in 2060, when Great Britain (if it still exists as such), will be the most populated country in Europe.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Meanwhile, a European Commission Population Policy Acceptance study found that 23 percent of German males thought that “zero” was the ideal family size, and this despite the 243 billion euros that the government spends each year in family subsidies.

The IFO report also states that, without immigrant families, the number of newly-born children would only reach 400,000 in a country of 82 million, and that even if German couples were to start having children again, it would take two decades to have citizens contributing to the social system.

It concludes that a decline in income and productivity because of the aging population is a serious concern for everybody for the near future.

This is happening in the European country which has most immigrants – close to 10 million.  Last year, Germany accepted almost 700,000 immigrants, placing itself after United States in terms of numbers. Nevertheless, even with that “open” policy, its population is destined to a massive decline.

“Instead of opposing populist parties with a campaign of facts, European governments try to neutralise them by incorporating their requests”
At European level, we see the same chilling trend. According to population projections from Eurostat, the official statistical agency of the European Union, the projected values for Europe’s population “are unprecedented in any human population.”

It says that “whereas in 1960 there were on average about three youngsters (aged 0-14 years) for every elderly person (aged 65 or over), by 2060 there may be more than two elderly people for each youngster: in other words, more grandparents for fewer grandchildren than in the past.”

Let us add to all this a Migration Policy Debate paper issued in 2014 by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) which states that ”contrary to widespread public belief, low-educated immigrants have a better fiscal position – the difference between their contributions and the benefits they receive – than their native born peers.”

“Where immigrants have a less favourable fiscal position, this is not driven by a greater dependence on social benefits, but rather by the fact they often have lower wages and thus tend to contribute less … Efforts to better integrate immigrants should be seen as an investment rather than a cost.”

Finally, the U.K. government has declared that, although migrants make up only eight percent of the population, they contribute 10 percent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), and that the economic growth rate of the United Kingdom would be some 0.5 percent lower for the next two years if net immigration were to cease.

Now, what is impressive is that those data remain for the specialists even though they have vital political implications. No newspaper has been publishing them and no parliamentarian – let alone government – has used them.

This simply because we now have anti-immigration (and usually right-wing and anti-euro) political parties which have sprung up in every European country, especially since the financial crisis of 2008, and this argument is now taboo.

The fact that the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) considers that Europe will no longer be competitive in just a few decades, because its aging population will not be competitive and a major burden on the social system, unless it opens the door to at least 10 million people, is totally ignored.

Instead of opposing populist parties with a campaign of facts, European governments try to neutralise them by incorporating their requests. After the anti-immigrant and anti-euro U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) took four million votes in May’s general elections, Prime Minister David Cameron has embarked on a campaign among European colleagues to demand that he be allowed to expel European immigrants if they do not find a job within six months and, among others, cancel their rights to social benefits.

This is a brilliant example of the difference between a statesman and a politician. A statesman does what is good for his country, even if that costs him dear.

When German Chancellor Helmut Khol was in favour of European integration and the euro, he had to face very hostile public opinion. For the Germans, the Deutsche mark was a symbol of stability and trust, and the idea of a new currency shared with other less responsible people revived memories of the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic. At the same time, Europeans were suspicious of German intentions.

Kohl decided to accept a non-German, Wim Duisenberg of the Netherlands, as the first governor of the European Central Bank to make the Euro possible.

Today, the existence of Pegida, a German far right anti-Islam political organisation which boasts a few thousand members at most, is enough to paralyse Chancellor Angela Merkel, a politician. She has voiced her opposition to the quota proposed by the European Union for sharing the load of immigrants entering Europe via the Mediterranean.

Her position has immediately been shared by France, with the United Kingdom and Denmark asking to be left out, and several Eastern and Central Europe countries agitating against immigrants … even though they are the countries which provide the bulk of internal immigrants in Europe!

So, we have the data, the projections, and the hard fact that Europe is heading for decline unless it changes policy and acts to increase its population. And, speaking of projections, in the meantime the population of Africa is expected to double.

When will the European political class wake up and realise that time is passing? (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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Q&A: ‘What if the Worst-Case Scenarios Actually Come to Pass?’ Fri, 05 Jun 2015 20:26:49 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida A satellite image of Typhoon Haiyan captures the scale of the storm. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/CC-BY-2.0

A satellite image of Typhoon Haiyan captures the scale of the storm. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/CC-BY-2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jun 5 2015 (IPS)

Imagine this, if you can: the world as we know it torn apart by ‘hypercanes’, storms with wind speeds of over 500 mph, capable of producing a system the size of North America. A tiny fraction of humanity driven to a civilisation underground, the remaining masses left to fend for themselves on the virtually uninhabitable Earth’s surface. Species extinction is complete and genetic engineering is at a new height, to ensure the continued survival of what’s left of the human race.

"I don't think I use the term "climate change" once in the book. That was deliberate. [The] last thing most people want is a preachy novel where the characters are obvious stand-ins for the author's opinion." -- Kat Ross
This is the setting for ‘Some Fine Day’, a novel for young adults by Kat Ross that falls into an emerging sub-genre of science fiction known as climate fiction, or ‘cli-fi’.

Readers follow the story of sixteen-year-old Jansin Nordqvist, who’s on the verge of graduating from a military academy when her parents surprise her with a trip to the surface.

Thrilled at the chance to see the ocean, breathe fresh air and experience real sunlight, Jansin cannot anticipate what her future holds: a period of captivity with the surface ‘savages’ she’s been warned about all her life, and discoveries about the underground regime that leave her questioning everything she’s ever been taught.

Over the past two years, cli-fi novels have gone from being a fringe sub-category to a widely referenced genre on sites like Amazon, as more and more writers turn their eye to the horrific realities of catastrophic climate change.

With global climate negotiations hamstrung and world leaders unable, or unwilling, to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40-70 percent by 2030 to prevent the worst forms of global warming, there is no doubt that natural disasters will become more frequent and more extreme.

Given that youth will bear the brunt of an increasingly savage climate, it is impossible to underestimate the role that cli-fi could play in informing and inspiring the younger generation to take action now against the worst-case scenarios of the future.

IPS sat down with Kat Ross to discuss the ways in which fiction can contribute to the debate that is raging around the world on the ‘ifs, whens and whats’ of climate change.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: When did you first become interested in the ‘cli-fi’ genre, and what drew you to this particular form of storytelling?

Cover art for Some Fine Day.

Cover art for Some Fine Day.

A: I have to give props to Dan Bloom for coining the term cli-fi. It’s super catchy, and he’s really given the genre a major boost. But when I sat down to write the book, there was no question that climate change would be a big part of the plot. As a journalist, I’d been covering it for almost a decade, and every year, the predictions got scarier. Some stopped being predictions about the future and started actually happening.

I was struck by the massive disconnect between what scientists and the public were saying – like hey, can we do something about this? – and the total lack of government action. The elephant in the room is obviously the fossil fuel lobby, among others. They spend billions of dollars spreading “doubt” about the science, which is ludicrous. I think fiction can be a great way into a conversation about these issues, especially with young people.

Some Fine Day starts with a basic question: what if the worst-case scenarios actually come to pass?

Q: Is the book, though set in the future, actually a commentary on our own times? If so, what do you think are the most important takeaways for young people at this moment in history?

A: Oh, definitely! I think it’s pretty explicit that the ravaged world in the story – about 80 years or so from now – is a direct result of doing too little, too late on runaway CO2 emissions. But the cool thing is that while we may have one toe at the edge of the precipice, we haven’t taken that plunge yet. There’s still time to change the future. And young people have been stepping up for years now. Adopt a Negotiator is a great initiative that works a lot with youth. They bring accountability to these very opaque negotiations.

Ultimately, it’s the people in their teens and twenties who will be living with the consequences of the choices we make today – and they’re not happy. Governments better start listening.

Q: The book both celebrates and condemns the limits to which humanity has pushed technology and scientific experimentation — on the one hand, an entire civilisation living underground entirely as a result of scientific innovation; on the other, genetic engineering gone horribly awry. What were your thoughts as an author navigating these two extremes?

Kat Ross, author of Some Fine Day. Credit: Courtesy Kat Ross

Kat Ross, author of Some Fine Day. Credit: Courtesy Kat Ross

A: Well, that’s the thing, right? Technology itself isn’t good or evil, it’s what we do with it. This is not a new question. Just look at Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, published in 1818. We’re still fascinated by her tale of death and reanimation, and the awful consequences of scientific hubris. The basic idea is that everything comes with a price, although in the case of a switch to renewables, there doesn’t seem to be quite the same downside as bringing a giant dead guy back to life.

For Some Fine Day, I had a lot of fun asking questions like, exactly how do you build an underground city? Where does the air come from, the food and water? Are hypercanes possible? (According to a scientist at MIT, the answer is yes) If all the icecaps melted, how much would the seas rise? What would that look like for the Eastern Seaboard?

In short, I have a fondness for creepy mutants and couldn’t help throwing a few into the mix.

Q: Themes of the surveillance state, fascist governance and the so-called ‘one percent’ run consistently through the book, with the protagonist first a product of, then an enemy of, all of the above. How did you imagine or hope your target audience would understand these ideas in the context of the story?

A: It’s become something of a fixture of the dystopian genre to have jack-booted thugs running things. But I think it actually made sense in the context of the story. These are people who have lost everything. They’ve been driven from the surface by massive storms, ocean acidification, species extinction, the whole enchilada. The transition to underground prefectures was spearheaded by the military, and now they’re facing very limited resources. Every drop of water, every bite of food is rationed. There’s a tendency to hoard, and to fight with your neighbours. So it’s not a very democratic society.

As you say, what’s interesting about the main character, Jansin, is that she starts off as one of the true believers – a special ops cadet who’s been trained all her life to never question orders. But she evolves over the course of the story to understand that she doesn’t have to live like that. It doesn’t have to be “us versus them.” Which is the most powerful propaganda tool ever invented.

It’s one of the reasons I like to write about young protagonists. I think in general, their minds are more open. Their core beliefs haven’t yet fossilized.

Q: There is a sense of urgency to the book that makes it an absolute page-turner. While this is a work of fiction, it does in many ways mirror the current emergency humanity finds itself in. Was this intentional? Or was the point more to create a thriller, and leave the readers to draw their own conclusions about the ‘climate politics’ of the world you create?

A: I don’t think I use the term “climate change” once in the book. That was deliberate. It’s pretty clear what’s happened, and frankly, the last thing most people want is a preachy novel where the characters are obvious stand-ins for the author’s opinion. Or maybe you do, but it’s easy to go out and find that kind of book if it’s your bag.

Some Fine Day is targeted at the young adult audience (though I think it’s for anyone), so I needed to be extra-careful there. Stealth indoctrination! Just kidding. No, I mainly wanted to tell a ripping good story, with characters you care about, and build a world that felt real in every sense.

Margaret Atwood pretty much summed it up. She says: “It’s rather useless to write a gripping narrative with nothing in it but climate change because novels are always about people even if they purport to be about rabbits or robots. They’re still really about people because that’s who we are and that’s what we write stories about.”

But if anyone reads my book and it inspires them to say to themselves, “Holy sh*t, this really sounds bad. Could any of this actually happen? Hey, I heard there’s a rally going on in the town square on Sunday. Maybe I should go see what they have to say…”

Well, I’d be just fine with that.

Edited by Roger Hamilton-Martin

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Ceuta, An Enclave For Migrating Birds Not Humans Wed, 03 Jun 2015 08:08:03 +0000 Andrea Pettrachin Spanish radar works silently and ceaselessly from the top of Mount Hacho overlooking Ceuta, identifying migrants trying to reach the enclave, but many of the inhabitants of the area will tell you that they have never seen the enormous fences that stand in the middle of the hills just four or five kilometres away from the city centre. Credit: Andrea Pettrachin/IPS

Spanish radar works silently and ceaselessly from the top of Mount Hacho overlooking Ceuta, identifying migrants trying to reach the enclave, but many of the inhabitants of the area will tell you that they have never seen the enormous fences that stand in the middle of the hills just four or five kilometres away from the city centre. Credit: Andrea Pettrachin/IPS

By Andrea Pettrachin
CEUTA, Spain, Jun 3 2015 (IPS)

A few kilometres before the border between the Spanish enclave of Ceuta and Morocco, a sign informs passers-by that this outpost of Spain on African soil stands in a privileged position for those who wish to observe the annual migration of birds across the Strait of Gibraltar, their shortest route from Africa to Europe.

At the border itself, huge fences have been erected to block the daily attempts of human migrants seeking to escape hunger, despair and often conflict, a phenomenon that the people of Ceuta are less proud to advertise and about which they prefer silence.

That silence was dramatically broken at the beginning of May when a border control X-ray machine detected Abou, an eight-year-old boy from Cote d’Ivoire, inside a suitcase being carried into the Spanish enclave.

That was only the most recent of a number of (more or less ingenious) strategies used by migrants amassed in the Moroccan woods next to the Spanish border to try to enter the so-called ‘Fortress Europe’.“What strikes the visitor most about Ceuta is its incredible contradictions. The city, with its population of just over 80,000 people living in 18.6 square kilometres and proudly Spanish since 1668, gives the idea of wanting to live as if the migrants and their attempts to reach the enclave do not exist”

Ceuta is one of the main (and few) ‘doors’ leading from northern Africa to the territory of the European Union, and is a ’door’ that has been closed since the end of the 1990s, when the Spanish authorities started to build two six-metre fences topped with barbed wire – complete with watch posts and a road running between them to accommodate police patrols in case of need – that surrounds the whole enclave (as in the other Spanish enclave in Africa of Melilla).

Even if they do not catch the attention of the media as in the case of Abou, every day Ceuta is the scene of young African migrants, almost all aged between 15 and 30, trying to reach Spanish territory in ways that are as, if not more, dangerous than the one chosen by Abou’s father.

The vast majority of them attempt to do so by sea, mainly in dinghies or hidden under the inflatable boats usually used by children on the beach. In February 2014, 15 Africans died  trying to swim around the fence, when border guards fired rubber bullets at them in the water. Others attempt the border crossing hidden in secret compartments under cars, and some even try scaling the fences.

What strikes the visitor most about Ceuta is its incredible contradictions. The city, with its population of just over 80,000 people living in 18.6 square kilometres and proudly Spanish since 1668, gives the idea of wanting to live as if the migrants and their attempts to reach the enclave do not exist.

On one of the days that Abou was capturing the headlines of media around the world, the main news reported on the website of one of the enclave’s two newspapers was the results of an opinion poll on upcoming administrative elections.

The “Centre for Temporal Stay of Immigrants”, where all migrants that manage to enter the enclave are accommodated, is an enormous structure which is incredibly hidden and impossible to be seen from any point in the city and from the hills behind it.

Spanish radar works silently and ceaselessly from the top of Mount Hacho overlooking Ceuta, identifying migrants trying to reach the enclave, but many of the inhabitants of the area will tell you that they have never seen the enormous fences that stand in the middle of the hills just four or five kilometres away from the city centre.

The enclave, described by the Lonely Planet travel guide as looking like a “grand social experiment concocted by rival political systems” and a sort of “cultural island”, is unique from a demographical point of view in that 50 percent of the population is Moroccan or of Moroccan origin.

The city is divided into a sort of well-established and quite rigid “caste system”.

The first and richest group is that of the Spanish, generally very conservative, very religious and devoted to traditions. The Popular Party has governed the city for decades and mostly opposes any change in the status quo – thus, for example, the Arabic language is not taught in schools.

The second group is that of the “Moroccan Ceutans”, sometimes Spanish citizens with Moroccan origin, in other cases Moroccan citizens with regular residence and work permits. Many of them have adopted the Spanish lifestyle and speak Spanish better than Moroccan Arabic but most of them respecting the religious precepts of their fathers.

Some of these “Moroccan Ceutans” have accumulated huge amounts of money thanks to the flourishing illegal smuggling of goods across the border and live in the most elegant and beautiful houses of the city, while others – many others – live in the degraded district of El Principe, where friction with the Spanish population is sometimes serious.

This latter sub-group contains a small but significant number of stateless children, born in the Spanish enclave of Moroccan parents who, mainly as a consequence of expiry of their residence permits having left them in an illegal position in Spanish territory, have never had the possibility to register the births of their children in Morocco.

None of these children have access to school, even if Spanish law has established the right to education for all the children in Spanish territory, irrespective of their nationality or legal position.

The third group is that of the so-called transfronterizos, Moroccan citizens residing mainly in the nearby Moroccan village of Fnideq who cross the border every day to work in the enclave city or, more often, to buy and sell goods in the black market.

They can be seen every day in the Poligono area next to the border post, carrying enormous packs of goods on their shoulders to be sold on the other side of the border. Police on both sides observe this continuous movement of people in silence – under an agreement signed by the Moroccan and Spanish governments in the 1960s, goods that a person is able to carry on the shoulders are exempt from customs duties.

A fourth group is that of the “black people”, the “caste” that the city tries to ignore and hide, not considering that they are the source of its major wealth – the funds that are assigned to the local authorities by the Spanish state and the European Union every year – and that their presence in fact provides many jobs in the public and security sectors.

Ceuta has always been and continues to be above all a military outpost. The number of police, guardia civil and soldiers patrolling or simply passing through the few roads of the enclave is impressive, as is the number of military training exercises that take place in the enclave, but just a few hundred meters beyond the border post and the Poligono is what appears to be part of another world.

The tiny village of Benzù sums up the contradictions of the whole enclave. Situated at the end of the beautiful coastal road in the western part of the enclave, it is the last Spanish establishment before the northern frontier post, and has been closed to the passage of people for many years.

With its beautiful sea and coloured houses facing the Spanish coast on the other side of the Strait of Gibraltar, the village would not be out of place on a Greek holiday island. However, two hundred metres beyond the village, the presence of the last pillars of Ceuta’s border fences contaminate the crystalline water of the bay of Beliones.

The sea is discretely but constantly patrolled by the rubber boats of the army and police of both Spain and Morocco. The distance between the last Spanish houses and the first houses of the Moroccan village of Beliones is only of a few metres, divided by the iron and steel of the two fences covered with the barbed wire. You bump into them walking along the small road of the village, between a bakery and a small shop.

Nobody is outside, the silence all around is deafening. Groups of midges cross the border undisturbed without having to show passports to the border authorities. Three metres beyond, the beginning of another country, another time zone, another culture.

Looming over the landscape is Jebel Musa, the so-called Mujer Muerta (Dead Woman), a spectacular rocky mountain constantly covered by clouds that are constantly scurrying as if to compensate the slowness of the human movements blocked by the fences. Here, the spectre of death, the death that many people have met trying to cross this border, lingers even in the name of the mountain.

The Moroccan woods behind the village of Beliones are populated by groups of monkeys which, before construction of the border fences, periodically reached the hills of the Spanish enclave. A small group of monkeys still lives, however, in Ceuta’s “San Amaro” park not far from the city centre – closed in a cage.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Growing Mobilisation Against Introduction of Fracking in Spain Tue, 02 Jun 2015 08:01:09 +0000 Ines Benitez Hundreds of demonstrators protest against fracking in Santander, the capital of the northern Spanish region of Cantabria. Credit: Courtesy of Asamblea Contra el Fracking de Cantabria

Hundreds of demonstrators protest against fracking in Santander, the capital of the northern Spanish region of Cantabria. Credit: Courtesy of Asamblea Contra el Fracking de Cantabria

By Inés Benítez
MALAGA, Spain, Jun 2 2015 (IPS)

Thousands of people in Spain have organised to protest the introduction of “fracking” – a controversial technique that involves pumping water, chemicals and sand at high pressure into shale rock to release gas and oil.

“We are all different kinds of people, local inhabitants, who love our land and want to protect its biodiversity,” activist Hipólito Delgado with the Asamblea Antifracking de Las Merindades, a county in the northern province of Burgos, told Tierramérica.

The company BNK España, a subsidiary of Canada’s BNK Petroleum, has applied for permits to drill 12 exploratory wells and is awaiting the environmental impact assessment required by law.

On May 3 some 4,000 people demonstrated in the town of Medina de Pomar in the province of Burgos, demanding that the government refuse permits for exploratory wells because of the numerous threats they claimed that hydraulic fracturing or fracking posed to the environment and health.

While no permit for fracking has been issued yet in Spain, 70 permits for exploration for shale gas have been granted and a further 62 are awaiting authorisation, according to the Ministry of Industry and Energy.

“Thanks to the fight put up by local inhabitants, “a permit for exploration in the northern region of Cantabria was cancelled in February 2014, activist Carmen González, with the Asamblea Contra el Fracking de Cantabria, an anti-fracking group mainly made up of people from rural areas in that region, told Tierramérica.

Critics of fracking say it pollutes underground water supplies with chemicals, releases methane gas – 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas – into the atmosphere, and can cause seismic activity.

“There are more and more negative reports on fracking,” geologist Julio Barea, spokesman for Greenpeace Spain, told Tierramérica. He said that in this country there is “complete social and political opposition to the technique, which no one wants.”

But Minister of Industry and Energy José Manuel Martínez Soria backs the introduction of fracking “as long as certain conditions and general requisites are fulfilled.”

A year ago, 20 political parties, including the main opposition party, the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), signed a commitment in the legislature to ban fracking when the government elected in December is sworn in, “because of its irreversible environmental impacts.”

Only four right-wing and centre-right parties, including the governing People’s Party, which is promoting unconventional shale gas development, refrained from signing the accord.

Thousands of protesters took part in a demonstration against fracking on May 3, 2015 in the northern municipality of Medina de Pomar, where 12 permits have been granted for shale gas exploration. Credit: Courtesy of Ecologistas en Acción

Thousands of protesters took part in a demonstration against fracking on May 3, 2015 in the northern municipality of Medina de Pomar, where 12 permits have been granted for shale gas exploration. Credit: Courtesy of Ecologistas en Acción

Fracking involves drilling a vertical well between 1,000 and 5,000 metres deep, down to gas-bearing layers of shale rock. Then the well is extended horizontally up to three km, and between 10,000 and 30,000 cubic metres of water, sand and chemicals are injected at high pressure to fracture the rock and release the oil and gas, which along with the additives is pumped up to the surface.

The companies interested in fracking in Spain downplay the dangers and stress this country’s shale gas potential, especially in Cantabria, the Basque Country and Castilla y León – where Burgos is located – in the north, although exploration permits have also been granted in other regions.

“Like any activity it involves risks, but the technological advances make it possible to minimise them,” said Daniel Alameda, director general of Shale Gas España, a lobbying group for prospectors in Spain.

In an interview with Tierramérica, Alameda said the companies “are totally aware that they have to respect the environment.”

He argued that it is “technically impossible” for fracking to pollute aquifers since the hydraulic fracturing takes place some 3,000 metres below the underground water reserves, and the wells are isolated with a protective barrier of steel and cement.

“It’s a load of eyewash to say fracking doesn’t pollute,” activist Samuel Martín-Sosa, international coordinator at Ecologistas en Acción, told Tierramérica.

He pointed out that a court sentence has already been handed down against fracking, in the U.S. state of Texas, where an oil company was ordered in 2014 to pay damages to a family who suffered numerous health problems because of the proximity of a number of natural gas wells.

Shale Gas España also denies any link between fracking and seismic activity. “We don’t cause earthquakes. We have all of the tools necessary to ensure that the activity does not pose a threat to local residents or to the companies themselves,” Alameda said.

But in a 2014 document, the Geological and Mining Institute of Spain warned that fracking could cause radioactivity in water, pollute aquifers and the atmosphere, and cause earthquakes.

Martín pointed out that most lawsuits never make it to trial because the companies reach out-of-court settlements containing confidentiality clauses that prevent those affected by the wells from speaking out.

The United States is the world’s leading producer of shale oil and gas, followed by Argentina. In July 2011 France became the first country in the world to ban fracking, and 16 other European Union countries have since followed suit, while Spain and 10 others permit the use of hydraulic fracturing, with the United Kingdom in the lead.

Alameda said shale gas would create jobs, reduce energy dependency and improve the country’s trade balance.

Spain imports around 80 percent of the energy it consumes, according to statistics from the 2011-2020 Energy Efficiency and Savings Action Plan. Those involved in the exploitation of unconventional gas estimate that their wells will make the country self-sufficient for 90 years – although that can only be proven through exploration.

But to reduce dependency, “the way forward is not the extraction of gas; we can’t allow the continued burning of fossil fuels,” said Martín-Sosa of Ecologistas en Acción.

The environmentalist criticised “the absolute promotion” of shale gas by the government, when what is needed, he said, is “a change in energy model” starting with the replacement of fossil fuels by renewable energy sources.

But clean energy “faces more hurdles than ever” from the national government, he complained.

Shale Gas España, meanwhile, asserts that “the oil and gas industry is compatible with renewable energies.”

In 2013 and 2014, four of Spain’s 17 “autonomous communities” or regions passed laws banning fracking. But the central government introduced changes in the authority over the development of fracking, which allowed the regional laws to be revoked by the Constitutional Court.

Martín-Sosa said that what is needed is a national ban on fracking, rather than attempts to regulate it.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Indigenous Voices Ignored in Financing Panamanian Dam Project Tue, 02 Jun 2015 07:38:18 +0000 Kwame Buist By Kwame Buist
AMSTERDAM, Jun 2 2015 (IPS)

Indigenous people who would be directly affected by the impact of a hydroelectric project in Panama were not consulted despite national and international human rights obligations to obtain their free, prior and informed consent, according to a just-released report.

Acting on behalf of communities in Panama’s Ngöbe-Buglé indigenous territory, the Movimiento 10 de Abril (M-10) had filed a complaint with the Independent Complaints Mechanism (ICM) of the Dutch FMO and German DEG development banks alleging that the Barro Blanco dam project which the banks were financing would lead to the flooding of the communities’ homes, schools, and religious, archaeological and cultural sites.

The two banks were accused of failing to adequately assess the risks to indigenous rights and the environment before approving a 50 million dollar loan to GENISA, the project’s developer.

The independent panel’s report, released May 29, found that the “lenders should have sought greater clarity on whether there was consent to the project from the appropriate indigenous authorities prior to project approval,” adding that “the lenders have not taken the resistance of the affected communities seriously enough.”

“We did not give our consent to this project before it was approved, and it does not have our consent today,” said Manolo Miranda, a representative of the M-10.  “We demand that the government, GENISA and the banks respect our rights and stop this project.”

According to the ICM’s report, “significant issues related to social and environmental impact and, in particular, issues related to the rights of indigenous peoples were not completely assessed.”

The environmental and social action plan (ESAP) accompanying the project “contains no provision on land acquisition and resettlement and nothing on biodiversity and natural resources management. Neither does it contain any reference to issues related to cultural heritage.”

Ana María Mondragón, a lawyer at the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), said: “This failure constitutes a violation of international standards regarding the obligation to elaborate adequate and comprehensive environmental and social impact assessments before implementing any development project, in order to guarantee the right to free, prior and informed consent, information and effective participation of the potentially affected community.”

In February this year, the Panamanian government provisionally suspended construction of the Barro Blanco dam and subsequently convened a dialogue table with the Ngöbe-Buglé, with the facilitation of the United Nations, to discuss the future of the project.

The Barro Blanco project was registered under the Clean Development Mechanism, a system under the Kyoto Protocol that allows the crediting of emission reductions from greenhouse gas abatement projects in developing countries.

“As climate finance flows are expected to flow through various channels in the future, the lessons of Barro Blanco must be taken very seriously,” said Pierre-Jean Brasier, network coordinator at Carbon Market Watch. “To prevent that future climate mitigation projects have negative impacts, a strong institutional safeguard system that respects all human rights is required.”

The ICM will monitor the banks’ implementation of corrective actions and recommendations, while M-10 said that it expects FMO and DEG to withdrawal their investment from the project and ask that the Dutch and German governments show a public commitment to ensuring the rights of the affected Ngöbe-Buglé.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Despite Ukraine Cease-Fire, Civilians Still Living in Fear Mon, 01 Jun 2015 16:38:22 +0000 Kitty Stapp Independence Square in Kiev in February 2014 following mass protests. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/IPS

Independence Square in Kiev in February 2014 following mass protests. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/IPS

By Kitty Stapp

The civilian population in Ukraine continues to suffer serious human rights abuses, intimidation and harassment by armed groups, including summary executions, as well as torture and ill-treatment by authorities in detention, according to the latest report from the U.N. Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine released Monday.

For more than a year, a climate of insecurity and impunity has prevailed in Ukraine, says the report, where at least 6,417 people have died in the conflict.

Accountability for gross human rights violations committed during the Maidan protests, during which at least 117 people died and more than 2,295 were wounded, and in the May 2, 2014 violence in Odesa, when 48 people died, is still pending.

The unrest began some 15 months ago in eight eastern and southern provinces of Ukraine. In several cities in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, armed men, declaring themselves local militia, seized government buildings, police and special police stations in several cities of the regions, and held unrecognised status referendums.

In February 2015, after a summit hosted in Belarus, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko negotiated a ceasefire with the separatist troops. This included conditions such as the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the front line and decentralisation of rebel regions by the end of 2015.

It also included Ukrainian control of the border with Russia in 2015 and the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Ukrainian territory.

However, the U.N. report says the current ceasefire in eastern Ukraine is not fully respected.

“The shelling has not stopped, nor have armed hostilities between Ukrainian armed forces and armed groups, meaning that civilians continue to live in fear,” the human rights office said in a statement released with its report, which focuses on the three months leading up to May 15.

“Even with the decrease in hostilities, civilians continue to be killed and wounded,” High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stressed. “We have documented alarming reports of summary executions by armed groups and are looking into similar allegations against Ukrainian armed forces.

“Millions of ordinary women, men and children in Ukraine have suffered tremendous hardship, violence and have been living in fear for more than a year now,” the High Commissioner said. “Too many have had their homes and livelihoods destroyed and their lives torn apart, with no sign of justice, accountability, compensation or redress.”

“I urge all parties involved in the hostilities to seek common ground, through sustained dialogue, to fully implement the 12 February Package of Measures, to end the fighting, and to ensure that all violations of human rights and international humanitarian law are investigated, regardless of the perpetrators,” he said.

More than 1.2 million people, who have been internally displaced since the onset of the conflict, also suffer from impeded access to healthcare, housing and employment.

Meanwhile, the proliferation of arms, the lack of job opportunities, limited access to medical care and psycho-social services for demobilised soldiers and a deep anxiety that the ceasefire may not hold have a serious impact on the population and the prospects for reconciliation.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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First Dutch Town to Ban Trade in Nazi Gear Fri, 29 May 2015 18:02:31 +0000 Sean Buchanan By Sean Buchanan
AMSTERDAM, May 29 2015 (IPS)

Huizen, a small town of less than 50,000 inhabitants, has become the first town in the Netherlands to prohibit the sale of Nazi paraphernalia.

The Huizen town council has banned the sale of Nazi objects at the town’s militaria fair, scheduled for Jun. 31, following a petition from the Dutch AFVN/BvA Anti-fascist League. The fair has been running unhindered for 35 years, with an average of five fairs each year.

In March the AFVN/BvA lodged a formal criminal complaint with the police against the organisers of the fair, saying that it was prepared to withdraw the charges if the fair stopped dealing in Nazi objects.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles had earlier endorsed the AFVN/BvA in its struggle to curb the Dutch trade in Nazi objects.

AFVN/BvA spokesman Arthur Graaff, the 66-year-old son of a decorated Dutch resistance fighter who was condemned to death by the Nazis and spent three years in Nazi prisons, praised the town council for its boldness and courage which, he noted, contrasts sharply with the unveiling of a Nazi monument by a mayor in the Dutch town of Schaijk in February.

Huizen’s decision, he noted, “shows that positive moves are possible but there are still about 30 other fairs and large dealers in Nazi gear in the Netherlands, so we’re not done yet.”

Graaff, who pointed out that Germans often use Dutch militaria fairs to sell Nazi items that they cannot legally offer for sale in Germany, said that the Dutch e-bay,, plays a major role in the trade in Nazi objects, usually offering some 3,000 items each day.

Historian and journalist Graaff made news in March this year when he discovered the sale on the Dutch e-Bay of a bar of soap which its owners claimed was made from the fat of Jewish people murdered at a Nazi death camp.

The soap, which was removed after Dutch prosecutors blocked its sale, is still being examined by the official Dutch forensic laboratory, the NFI.

At the previous fair in Huizen on Mar. 8, the AFVN/BvA found a copy of Adolf Hitler’s banned ‘Mein Kampf’ on sale at one stand and another stand full of forbidden Nazi-daggers. According to Anti-fascist League, 50 of the 80 exhibitors were selling Nazi objects, including flags, uniform parts, steel helmets, rifles and even shoes that were said to have belonged to a concentration camp prisoner.

Graaff said he hoped that no further trouble would be caused by the ban, although he voiced his concern. “I was threatened with my life after I and others had demonstrated in front of an Amsterdam shop where a copy of the forbidden ‘Mein Kampf’ was on sale. Although the threat didn’t sound very serious, there will always be plenty of offensive reactions after our actions in many sites.”

Edited by Phil Harris    

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