Inter Press Service » Europe http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Sun, 21 Sep 2014 12:38:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 Georgia’s Female Drug Addicts Face Double Strugglehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/georgias-female-drug-addicts-face-double-struggle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=georgias-female-drug-addicts-face-double-struggle http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/georgias-female-drug-addicts-face-double-struggle/#comments Sun, 21 Sep 2014 09:27:33 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136769 By Pavol Stracansky
TBILISI, Sep 21 2014 (IPS)

Irina was 21 when she first started using drugs. More than 30 years later, having lost her husband, her home and her business to drugs, she is still battling her addiction.

But, like almost all female drug addicts in this former Soviet state, she has faced a desperate struggle not only with her drug problem, but with accessing help in the face of institutionalised and systematic discrimination because of her gender.

“Georgia’s society is very male-dominated,” she told IPS. “And this is reflected in the attitudes to drugs. It’s as if it’s OK for men to use drugs but not women. For women, the stigma of drug use is massive. There are many women who do not join programmes helping them as they would rather not be seen there.”

Women make up 10 per cent of the estimated 40,000 drug users in Georgia, according to research by local NGOs working with drug users.“Georgia’s society is very male-dominated and this is reflected in the attitudes to drugs. It’s as if it’s OK for men to use drugs but not women. For women, the stigma of drug use is massive. There are many women who do not join programmes helping them as they would rather not be seen there” – Irina, now in her 50s, who has been taking drugs for 30 years

However, because of very strong gender stereotyping, women users have very low access to harm reduction services – only 4 percent of needle exchange programme clients are women and the figure is even less for methadone treatment.

Local activists say this startling discrepancy is down to the massive social stigma faced by women drug users.

Dasha Ocheret, Deputy Director for Advocacy at the Eurasian Harm Reduction Network (EHRN) told IPS: “In traditional societies, like Georgia’s, there is a much stronger negative attitude to women who use drugs than to men who use drugs. Women are supposed to be wives and mothers, not drug users.”

Many female addicts are scared to access needle exchanges or other harm reduction services because they fear their addiction will become known to their families or the police. Many have found themselves the victims of violence as their own families try to exert control over them once their drug use has been revealed. Others fear their drug use will be reported to the authorities by health workers.

Registered women drug users can have their children taken away while they routinely face violence – over 80 percent of women who use drugs in Georgia experience violence, according to the Georgian Harm Reduction Network– and extortion at the hands of police helping to enforce some of the world’s harshest drug laws. Possession of cannabis, for example, can result in an 11-year jail sentence.

Irina, who admits that she arranges anonymous attendance at an opioid substitution therapy (OST) programme so that as few people as possible can see her there, told IPS that she had herself been assaulted by a police officer and that police automatically viewed all female drug users as “criminals”.

But those who do want to access such services face further barriers because of their gender.

Free methadone substitution programmes in the country are extremely limited and because levels of financial autonomy among women in Georgia are low, other similar programmes are too expensive for many female addicts.

Discrimination is not uncommon among health service workers. Although some say that they have been treated by very sympathetic doctors, other female drug users have complained of abuse and denigration by medical staff and in some cases being denied health care because of their drug use.

Pregnant women are discouraged from accessing OST, despite it being shown to be safe in pregnancy and resulting in better health outcomes for both mother and child.

Eka Iakobishvili, EHRN’s Human Rights Programme Manager, told IPS: “Pregnant women don’t have access to certain services – they are strongly advised by doctors and health care workers to abort a baby rather than get methadone substitution treatment because they are told the treatment will harm the baby.”

While some may then undergo abortions, others will not, instead continuing dangerous drug use and the potential risk of contracting HIV/AIDS which could then be passed on to their child.

Meanwhile, those harm reduction services accessible by women are not gender-sensitive, according to campaigners, who say that female drug users need access to centres and programmes run and attended only by women.

Irina told IPS: “On some [harm reduction] programmes, the male drug users there will abuse the women drug users for taking drugs. This puts a lot of women off attending these programmes.”

She said that she had asked for a women-only service to be set up at the OST centre she attends but that it had been rejected on the grounds that only a few women were enrolled in it.

Together, these factors mean that many women are unable to access health services and continue dangerous drug-taking behaviour, sharing needles and injecting home-made drug cocktails made up of anything, including disinfectants and petrol mixed with over the counter medicines.

But there is hope that the situation may be about to change, at least to some degree, as local and international groups press to have the problem addressed.

At the end of July, CEDAW (UN Commission on Elimination of Discrimination against Women) released a set of recommendations for the Georgian government to ensure that women obtain proper access to harm reduction services after local NGOs submitted reports on the levels of discrimination they face.

These include, among others, specific calls for the government to carry out nationwide studies to establish the exact number of women who use drugs, including while pregnant, to help draw up a strategic plan to tackle the problem, and to provide gender-sensitive and evidence-based harm reduction services for women who use drugs.

The government has yet to react publicly to the recommendations but local campaigners have said they are speaking to government departments about them and are preparing to follow up with them on the recommendations.

Tea Kordzadze, Project Manager at the Georgian Harm Reduction Network in Tibilisi, told IPS: “We are hoping that at least some of the recommendations will be implemented.”

The Georgian government has been keen to show the country is ready to embrace Western values and bring its legislation and standards into line with European nations in recent years as it looks to create closer ties to the European Union. Rights activists say that this could come into play when the government considers the recommendations.

Iakobishvili said: These are of course just recommendations and the government is not obliged at all to accept or implement any of them. But, having said that, Georgia does care what other countries and big international rights organisations like Amnesty International and so on say about the country.”

Irina told IPS that only outside pressure would bring any real change. “The European Union, the Council of Europe and other international bodies need to put pressure on the Georgian government to make sure that the recommendations don’t remain on paper only.”

But, she added, “in any case, the recommendations alone won’t be enough. The whole attitude in society to women drug users is very negative. It has to be changed.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Surprisingly Equal, Surprisingly Unequalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/surprisingly-equal-surprisingly-unequal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=surprisingly-equal-surprisingly-unequal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/surprisingly-equal-surprisingly-unequal/#comments Sat, 20 Sep 2014 08:01:47 +0000 Judith Niehues http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136751

Judith Niehues is an economist at the Cologne Institute for Economic Research. She can be contacted at niehues@iwkoeln.de

By Judith Niehues
COLOGNE, Sep 20 2014 (IPS)

Thomas Piketty, a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality, has triggered a debate on the distribution of income and wealth in many countries. This is no small issue because views on income inequality and concomitant redistributive preferences are crucial to the design of tax and transfer systems.

Particularly in many European countries, society is concerned about distributional issues, reflected in recurring debates on redistributive policies. However, a study presenting international survey data on subjective perceptions of inequality and redistributive preferences reveals that perceived and actual inequality diverge quite substantially in many of these countries.

Dr Judith Niehues

Dr Judith Niehues

According to the 2009 Social Inequality Module of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), more than 50 percent of Germans strongly agree that differences in income are too large.

Correspondingly, a similar portion of Germans thinks that it is “the responsibility of the government to reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and those with low incomes” – a questionnaire item which is commonly used to capture subjective preferences for redistribution.

Regarding this majority of critical views on inequality, social justice and redistribution are topics for debate that continually feature on the political agenda in Germany – reflected in the current introduction of redistributive policies, such as a minimum wage and additional pension benefits for mothers.

On the other hand, in the United States – which is characterised by a far higher degree of actual income inequality – people are less concerned about income differences, and they do not see any reason for redistributive state intervention. There is virtually no empirical relationship between the actual size of inequality within a country and how critical people view these income differences to be.

The missing link between inequality and its assessment is not specific to these two countries. In a sample of 23 European countries and the United States, there is virtually no empirical relationship between the actual size of inequality within a country and how critical people view these income differences to be.

Obviously, there might be a range of individual and national factors which may explain cross-country differences in critical views on income differences and related redistributive preferences.

For example, in line with the argument of the “American exceptionalism”, people in the United States might just accept certain inequalities as incentives because they believe in the chance of upward mobility.

On the other hand, Germans may be more convinced that income positions arise from luck or other exogenous circumstances, thus regarding inequality as more unfair, and therefore they might demand more state redistribution.

However, current research on mobility reveals that there is a tendency for countries with higher inequality to also be associated with less income mobility.

Looking instead at how types of societies are perceived – a questionnaire item also included by the ISSP – gives some clues: 54.2 percent of Germans believe that the bulk of the German population lives rather at the bottom of society.

To what extent does this perceived type of society match with actual income distribution in Germany? Although there are different ways of demarcating society into a “bottom”, a “middle” and a “top”, studies generally reveal that the middle class represents by far the largest group in German society.

In particular, independently from the chosen definition of income groups, people on middle incomes are far more numerous than those at the bottom of the income distribution scale. This rather pessimistic view on income equality is typical of the European countries studied.

In most countries, the population significantly overestimates the degree of inequality. This is particularly true for former socialist countries such as Hungary, Slovenia as well as the Czech and Slovak republics.

In Hungary, for example, 56.6 percent of the population views Hungarian society as “a small elite at the top, very few people in the middle and the great mass of people at the bottom”, although the country is characterised by one of the lowest income inequalities in the European Union.

Thus, it is not that former socialist countries view already small income differences as much more critical, but that the population is just not aware of the small level of income inequality.

The situation is different in the Scandinavian countries. Here the various populations are much more realistic about the low levels of inequality and truly identify their societies as “typical middle class models”.

In contrast to the European countries, the United States reveals a completely different picture: U.S. citizens substantially underestimate the extent of inequality in their country. The lower income group in the United States is considerably larger than Americans suppose

This varnished view on inequality in the United States is not new – but it is rather new that in European countries it tends to be the other way round.

These results provide an explanation of why redistributive policies find more support in some countries than in others.

Although results from previous ISSP surveys suggest that cross-country differences in views on inequalities and redistributive preferences tend to change slowly, it would nevertheless be interesting to see if critical views on income differences and redistributive preferences would change if citizens were aware of the actual degree of inequality in their countries.

Interestingly, the overestimation of inequality is adversely related to the absolute level of living standards in corresponding countries. Thus, it might also be the case that the perceived structuring of the society is more associated with absolute levels of living standards than commonly suggested.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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OPINION: Free Scotland, Nuclear-Free Scotlandhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-free-scotland-nuclear-free-scotland/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-free-scotland-nuclear-free-scotland http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-free-scotland-nuclear-free-scotland/#comments Tue, 16 Sep 2014 18:26:21 +0000 Phil Harris http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136655 The blue and white Saltire flag of Scotland flutters next to the Union Jack during the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Credit: Vicky Brock/cc by 2.0

The blue and white Saltire flag of Scotland flutters next to the Union Jack during the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Credit: Vicky Brock/cc by 2.0

By Phil Harris
ROME, Sep 16 2014 (IPS)

After a two-year referendum campaign, Scots are finally voting Thursday on whether their country will regain its independence after more than 300 years of “marriage” with England.

It is still uncertain whether those in favour will win the day, but whichever way the wind blows, things are unlikely to be the same – and not just in terms of political relations between London and Edinburgh.If an independent Scotland were actually to abolish nuclear weapons from its territory, the government of what remains of today’s United Kingdom would be forced to look elsewhere for places in which to host its sea-based nuclear warheads – and this will be no easy task.

One bone of contention between Scots and their “cousins” to the south of Hadrian’s Wall – built by the Romans to protect their conquests in what is now England and, according to Emperor Hadrian’s biographer, “to separate the Romans from the barbarians” to the north – is the presence on Scottish territory of part of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal.

The Scottish National Party (SNP), which supports an independent and non-nuclear Scotland, wants Scotland to become a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and the European Union, but rejects nuclear weapons.

The United Kingdom currently has four Vanguard class submarines armed with nuclear-tipped Trident missiles based at Gare Loch on the west coast of Scotland, ostensibly there for the purpose of deterrence – but that was back in the days of the Cold War.

If an independent Scotland were actually to abolish nuclear weapons from its territory, the government of what remains of today’s United Kingdom would be forced to look elsewhere for places in which to host its sea-based nuclear warheads – and this will be no easy task.

The search would be on for another deep-water port or ports, and the UK government has already said that other potential locations in England are unacceptable because they are too close to populated areas – although that has not stopped it from placing some of its nuclear submarines and their deadly cargo  not far from Glasgow since 1969.

In any case, if those in favour of Scottish independence win, just the possibility that Scotland might even begin to consider the abolition of nuclear arms would oblige the UK government to give the nature of its commitment to nuclear weapons a major rethink.

The same would be true even if those in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom win because there would still be a not insignificant number of Scots against nuclear weapons.

Either scenario indicates that Scotland could come to play a significant role in discussions on nuclear disarmament although, clearly, this role would be all the more important as an independent nation participating in NATO, following in the footsteps of NATO member countries like Canada, Lithuania and Norway which do not allow nuclear weapons on their territory.

And what could come of NATO initiatives such as that taken at its summit in Wales earlier this month to create a new 4,000 strong rapid reaction force for initial deployment in the Baltics?

As Nobel Peace Laureate Maired Maguire has said, that “is a dangerous path for us all to be forced down, and could well lead to a third world war if not stopped. What is needed now are cool heads and people of wisdom and not more guns, more weapons, more war.”

An independent Scotland could raise its voice in favour of prohibiting nuclear weapons at the global level and add to the lobby against the threats posed by the irresponsible arms brandishing of NATO.

Representatives of the SNP have said that they are ready to take an active part in humanitarian initiatives on nuclear weapons and support negotiations on an international treaty to prohibit – and not just limit the proliferation of – nuclear weapons, even without the participation of states in possession of such weapons.

What justification would then remain for these states?

Meanwhile, as Scots go to vote in their independence referendum, there is another aspect of the nuclear issue that the UK government still has to come to terms with – nuclear energy.

Scotland used to be home to six nuclear power stations. Four were closed between 1990 and 2004, but two still remain – the Hunterston B power station in North Ayrshire and the Torness power station in East Lothian – both of which are run by EDF Energy, a company with its headquarters in London.

A YouGov public opinion poll in 2013 showed that Scots are twice as likely to favour wind power over nuclear or shale gas. Over six in 10 (62 percent) people in Scotland said they would support large-scale wind projects in their local area, well more than double the number who said they would be in favour of shale gas (24 percent) and almost twice as many as for nuclear facilities (32 percent).

Hydropower was the most popular energy source for large-scale projects in Scotland, with an overwhelming majority (80 percent) in favour.

So, with a strong current among Scots in favour of ‘non-nuclear’, whatever the outcome of Thursday’s referendum, London would be well-advised that the “barbarians” to its north could teach a lesson or two in a civilised approach to 21st century coexistence.

Phil Harris is Chief, IPS World Desk (English service). He can be contacted at pharris@ips.org

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Rattled by Russian Expansionism, Tashkent Looks Easthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/rattled-by-russian-expansionism-tashkent-looks-east/#comments Sat, 13 Sep 2014 13:25:53 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136612 By Joanna Lillis
TASHKENT, Sep 13 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Russia’s aggressive actions toward Ukraine are vexing Central Asian states.

First, officials in Kazakhstan were chagrined to hear comments by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, during a recent town-hall-style meeting with university students, appeared to denigrate Kazakhstani statehood. Now, Uzbek leaders are showing signs of displeasure with Moscow.“Tashkent is deeply concerned about the potency of Russian media and disinformation campaigns, as well as the potential political vulnerability of the status of millions of Uzbek [labor] migrants in Russia." -- Alexander Cooley

Insular Uzbekistan has long viewed Russia with a wary eye: it has kept its distance from Moscow-led regional bodies and has shown no interest in joining the Eurasian Economic Union, Putin’s pet project to reassert Kremlin influence across the former Soviet Union.

The rhetoric currently coming out of Tashkent suggests that the conflict playing out in Ukraine has unsettled President Islam Karimov’s administration, and is prompting Uzbek officials to consider new steps to distance themselves further from the Kremlin.

During Independence Day celebrations on Sep. 1, Karimov pointedly denounced the tyranny of the Soviet past – and effectively thumbed his nose at Moscow. The “totalitarian” Soviet period, Karimov said, was a time of “oppressive injustice” and “humiliation and affront, when our national values, traditions, and customs were trampled upon.”

Karimov was harking back to the past, but given the battles raging in southeastern Ukraine, and with Putin making no secret of his ambition to expand Russia’s sway over former Soviet territory, the remarks were a clear sally at the Kremlin.

Karimov did not name Ukraine, but spoke of the need to prevent the escalation of conflicts into full-blown warfare in the current “alarming situation.” In comments clearly aimed at Russia, he went on to call for sovereignty and borders to be respected, and the use of force rejected.

Like other post-Soviet states, Tashkent has struggled to formulate a response to the Ukraine conflict, in large part because the Karimov administration finds neither side appealing. On one hand, Tashkent is leery of Kremlin expansionism; on the other, the dictatorial Karimov is no fan of popular uprisings, such as that embodied in the Euromaidan movement.

Analysts say Uzbek President Islam Karimov is clearly apprehensive about the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line. Credit: Agência Brasil/cc by 3.0

Analysts say Uzbek President Islam Karimov is clearly apprehensive about the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line. Credit: Agência Brasil/cc by 3.0

Ukraine “has raised grave concerns [for Uzbekistan], precisely because each side has given the [Karimov] regime something to fear,” Alexander Cooley, a professor at New York’s Barnard College who specialises in Central Asian affairs, told EurasiaNet.org.

Until recently, Karimov’s government may have viewed Euromaidanist Ukraine as representing the larger threat to Uzbekistan’s status quo. But attitudes in Tashkent may be shifting.

“[The] revolutionary change of power seen in Ukraine is something that Uzbek authorities under President Karimov have been tirelessly working to prevent in their country by effectively rooting out any potential pockets of political dissent,” Lilit Gevorgyan, a regional analyst at IHS Global Insight, told EurasiaNet.org.

“It is hard to see Uzbekistan cheering for the popular uprising in Ukraine,” she added – but “they are still likely to be critical, albeit not openly, of Russia’s meddling in Ukraine.”

What Karimov is clearly apprehensive about is the Kremlin’s capacity to use soft power to undermine his long rule if he fails to toe Russia’s line, suggested Cooley.

“Tashkent is deeply concerned about the potency of Russian media and disinformation campaigns, as well as the potential political vulnerability of the status of millions of Uzbek [labour] migrants in Russia,” said Cooley. “They could be a lever for Moscow to bring Uzbekistan further in line with its position.”

Uzbekistan could face a destabilising social crisis if Russia opted to expel Uzbek guest workers. Uzbekistan’s economy would be ill-equipped to absorb such a vast number of returning workers.

Russia’s assertion of a right to defend Russian-speakers abroad is also viewed with trepidation in Tashkent, David Dalton, Uzbekistan analyst at the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit, told EurasiaNet.org.

“As with the other Central Asian countries that have a Russian minority, the Uzbek leadership, already wary of Russia’s ambitions in the area, will have viewed with great alarm Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine on the pretext of protecting Russian-speakers,” he said.

Uzbekistan does not share a border with Russia and has a relatively small ethnic Russian minority, comprising 5.5 percent of the country’s overall population of almost 29 million, but Kremlin policies still make Tashkent nervous.

The Kremlin’s muscle-flexing incentivizes Uzbekistan to boost other alliances, analysts believe. “It will emphasise Uzbekistan’s need to diversify security and economic partnerships to the greatest extent possible,” Cooley said, mainly “through growing partnership with China, as well as economic partnerships with emerging Asian powers such as South Korea, Japan and the Gulf States.”

Tilting east is more promising for Tashkent than attempting to turn westward: partly since Uzbekistan’s geopolitical importance to the West is waning as NATO withdraws from Afghanistan; and partly since many Western states consider doing business with Karimov toxic due to Uzbekistan’s poor human rights record.

Western states, especially the United States and United Kingdom, “remain constrained from increasing their engagement by political and human rights concerns, as well as the negative blowback they received from forging close security ties with Tashkent in the 2000s,” Cooley pointed out.

After 9/11, Washington wooed Uzbekistan (which sits on Afghanistan’s northern border) to open a military base – from which it was summarily ejected after criticising the killing of protesters by Uzbek security forces in Andijan in 2005.

“Uzbekistan has tended to ‘turn West’ when it finds that Russia is becoming too assertive, and then back again to Russia when pressed too strongly by the West on its poor human rights record,” said Dalton. “This could happen again this time – although with most of its gas pipelines connecting with China, and Western forces pulling out from Afghanistan this year, it is not clear what Uzbekistan could offer the West in return.”

Ultimately, China – now a major purchaser of Uzbek gas – stands to benefit from Uzbekistan’s present dilemma. Karimov’s visit to Beijing in August was “an important signal,” said Dalton, “that Uzbekistan wishes to maintain good ties with strong foreign partners, to counterbalance Russian influence.”

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

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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OPINION: At Last, New Faces at the European Unionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-at-last-new-faces-at-the-european-union/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-at-last-new-faces-at-the-european-union http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-at-last-new-faces-at-the-european-union/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 15:47:34 +0000 Joaquin Roy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136533

In this column Joaquín Roy, Joaquin Roy, Jean Monnet Professor of European Integration and Director of the European Union Centre at the University of Miami, analyses the new faces and the balance of power among the men and women who are leading Europe.

By Joaquín Roy
BARCELONA, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

At last, after the obligatory summer break, the European Union (EU) has some new faces to fill the top vacancies on the team that began to emerge from the May 25 parliamentary elections.

Before the recess, conservative Luxembourger Jean-Claude Juncker had been appointed to the presidency of the European Commission, the executive body of the 28-nation bloc.

Joaquín Roy

Joaquín Roy

There was stiff opposition from some governments, particularly from British Prime Minister David Cameron, but in the spirit of the Treaty of Lisbon the post was offered to the candidate of the political group winning most seats in the new European Parliament, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

The second agreement was to leave German socialist Martin Schultz in his present post as president of the Parliament for another two and a half years. A balance was thereby struck between moderates of the right and of the left.

The thorniest issues remained to be faced. The traditional “Carolingian” (Franco-German) Europe was still in control of the bloc, and renewal was needed. Eastern Europe was demanding a larger role and there was a notable absence of women.

Juncker had already made it known that he would not accept a new Commission that did not have at least one-third women members. The established order, an unabashedly male-dominated club, gave no signs of correcting itself. The EU’s customary intricate balancing act was set in motion.“Renzi wanted to attack head-on Italy’s poor track record in European affairs in recent years, tarnished by the deplorable presence of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in power and in opposition, a handicap that affected his predecessor Enrico Letta before him”

The jigsaw pieces began to fall into place. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s candidacy fell out of favour. Then followed a dual move by the community. First, Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, a conservative from the entourage of former president Lech Walesa, was appointed president of the EU Council, made up of its heads of state and government.

Secondly, Federica Mogherini, the Italian foreign minister, was catapulted to the position of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (FASP).

Proposing her candidacy, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi doggedly fought resistance from representatives of the Baltic states who regarded her as too soft on Russia, citing the example of her invitation to President Vladimir Putin to a meeting in July.

The sweetener of Tusk’s designation mollified the resistance of Eastern European countries, but not the reluctance of other nations that regarded the inexperienced Mogherini, just 41 in June, as not strong enough to face external enemies in a convulsed world.

However, Renzi, himself only 39, was playing a risky juggling act with several balls in the air. Mogherini was his message to the power clique in Rome to try to end the illusion that political respect requires having reached an age of around 100.

Moreover, Renzi wanted to attack head-on Italy’s poor track record in European affairs in recent years, tarnished by the deplorable presence of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi in power and in opposition, a handicap that affected his predecessor Enrico Letta before him.

Furthermore, Renzi wanted to create an opportunity to influence European Union foreign policy through Mogherini’s cooperation.

Renzi’s bold proposal may backfire on him, precisely because of the weakness of the Italian system, which is tolerating leadership by a moderate Socialist so long as he does not shake its foundations.

Within the European community, Renzi will have to rely on the support of his Socialist counterparts, who have been going through a bad patch recently. They have suffered from the crisis, which has forced them to apply neoliberal austerity policies, causing heads to roll from Scandinavia to Portugal and Greece.

For her part, Mogherini will have to face traditional problems and new challenges. The establishment already mistrusts her because of her age. She will find little support from a group of people, most of whom could be her parents.

On the Commission, where she is vice president, she will hardly be comforted by the handful of women Juncker manages to recruit. On the Council she will have the support of only four ladies, led by Angela Merkel, in a boardroom full of boring men in dark suits and dreadful ties, each of them obsessed with managing foreign policy on their own terms and at their own risk.

The worst of the bad omens for the appointment is the suspicion that the EU’s hard core does not believe the position of High Representative to be important, given that the main security and defence competences remain in the national domains.

Mogherini’s second challenge, like that of her predecessor Catherine Ashton of the United Kingdom, is to cope with the enduring imprint of the founder of the position, Javier Solana of Spain.

However, her ambition and track record already surpass those of the eminently forgettable Ashton, a Brussels official who had already booked her ticket on the Eurostar train under the Channel back to London when she was unexpectedly appointed to FASP.

Mogherini can document her solid preparation for such a high-profile job over two decades, with her degree in Political Science, her exchange experience on an Erasmus scholarship in the French city of Aix-en-Provence, and her thesis on political Islam.

A mother of two with a gentle smile and light-coloured eyes, she gives the impression of an assistant professor working up the academic ladder towards a full professorship. But she could surprise some of the detractors who are already prophesying her failure.

She is a professional in a field that needs new vocations and fresh vision. She will lead the most impressive diplomatic team on the planet, made up of the ministries of 28 countries and the European External Action Service. She deserves good luck, not just for herself and Renzi, but for all Europeans and people beyond. (END/IPS COLUMNIST SERVICE)

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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Mideast Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Remains in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 06:08:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136575 A proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

A proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

After four long years of protracted negotiations, a proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo – and perhaps virtually dead.

But United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a relentless advocate of nuclear disarmament, is determined to resurrect the proposal.

“I remain fully committed to convening a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone, free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction,” he said in his annual report to the upcoming 69th session of the General Assembly, which is scheduled to open Sep. 16.

Ban said such a zone is of “utmost importance” for the integrity of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

"Western governments which helped Israel to go nuclear compound the problem, participating in this conspiracy of silence by never mentioning Israel's nuclear weapons.” -- Bob Rigg, former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament
“Nuclear weapons-free zones contribute greatly to strengthening nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regimes, and to enhancing regional and international security,” he noted.

The existing nuclear weapons-free zones include Central Asia, Africa, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, South Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Antarctica and Outer Space – all governed by international treaties.

Still, the widespread political crises in the Middle East – destabilising Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Palestine – may threaten to further undermine the longstanding proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the militarily-troubled region.

The proposal, which was mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference may not take off – if at all – before the 2015 Review Conference scheduled for early next year.

If it does not, it could jeopardize the review conference itself, according to anti-nuclear activists.

Finland, which has taken an active role in trying to host the conference, has been stymied by implicit opposition to the conference by the United States, which has expressed fears the entire focus of the meeting may shift towards the de-nuclearisation of one of its strongest Middle East allies: Israel.

Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS while it would appear that the recent Gaza-Israel war might have created additional problems for the convening of the conference, it actually opens new opportunities for progress.

Egypt played a key role as the host and major facilitator of the negotiations to arrive at a cease-fire, and Cairo remains the hub for the follow-up negotiations for dealing with the issues not dealt with in the initial cease-fire agreement, he said.

In the course of the current tragic round of mutual violence, he pointed out, there was a perception that a common strategic interest has evolved between Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and the Palestinian Authority led by President Abbas, against Hamas, which spills over to the threat from the Islamic fundamentalist forces that are active in Iraq and Syria.

“This unofficial alliance creates possibilities for the development of new regional security understandings,” Schenker added.

Such a development would require initiatives beyond a cease-fire, and the resumption of serious negotiations to resolve the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

Bob Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament, told IPS there have already been many attempts at a conference on the weapons-free zone.

“All have come to nothing, principally because a regional nuclear weapons-free zone would pre-suppose the destruction, under international control, of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.”

The acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability was a key priority of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first leader, and has continued to be at the heart of its security policies ever since, said Rigg, an anti-nuclear activist and a former senior editor at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

He said while the government of Israel continues to be unwilling, in any context, to formally admit to the possession of nuclear weapons, there is no basis for any meaningful discussion of the issue, even if a conference actually takes place.

“Western governments which helped Israel to go nuclear compound the problem, participating in this conspiracy of silence by never mentioning Israel’s nuclear weapons.”

For example, he said, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was once ferociously attacked by U.S. politicians and the media for saying that Israel had nuclear weapons.

Alice Slater, New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation who also serves on the coordinating committee of Abolition 2000, told IPS that U.N. chief Ban quite correctly raised a serious warning last week about the future viability of the NPT in the absence of any commitment to make good on a pledge to hold a conference to address the formation of a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The NPT took effect in 1970 providing that each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, she pointed out.

All but three nations in the world signed the treaty, including the five nuclear weapons states (UK, Russia, the United States, France, China).

Only India, Pakistan, and Israel refused to join the treaty and went on to acquire nuclear arsenals.

North Korea, taking advantage of the treaty’s unholy bargain for an inalienable right to so-called peaceful nuclear power, acquired the civilian technology that enabled it to produce a bomb, and then walked out of the treaty, said Slater.

The NPT was set to expire in 25 years unless the parties subsequently agreed to its renewal.

Schenker told IPS that without active American involvement, the conference will not be convened.

Whatever the outcome of the mid-term elections in November, President Barack Obama will then have two more years to establish his presidential legacy, to justify his Nobel Peace Prize and to advance the vision he declared in his 2009 Prague speech of “a world without nuclear weapons”.

He said the U.N. secretary-general issued a timely warning that a failure to convene the Mideast weapons-free-zone conference before the 2015 NPT review conference “may frustrate the ability of states to conduct a successful review of the operation of the (NPT) treaty and could undermine the treaty process and related non-proliferation and disarmament objectives.”

He said one of the primary tools that could be used to advance this process is the Arab Peace Initiative (API), launched at the Arab League Summit Conference in Beirut in 2002, which has been reaffirmed many times since.

The API offers Israel recognition and normal relations with the entire Arab world, dependent upon the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, alongside the State of Israel.

He said the API could also be a basis for establishing a new regional regime of peace and security.

The convening of the international conference mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference, if approached with diplomatic wisdom on all sides, could become one of the components of progress towards this new regional regime of peace and security, he noted.

The new strategic “alliance” in the region could be used as a basis for the convening of the conference, said Schenker.

A successful outcome of the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear programme could be another constructive building block towards the convening of the conference.

Slater told IPS the prospects for any success at this upcoming 2015 NPT Review, are very dim indeed and it is unclear what will happen to the badly tattered and oft-dishonored treaty.

“It is difficult to calculate whether the recent catastrophic events in Gaza and Israel will affect any change in Israel’s unwillingness to participate in the promised Middle East conference.”

All the more reason to support the efforts of the promising new initiative to negotiate a legal ban on nuclear weapons, just as the world has banned chemical and biological weapons, she declared.

(END)

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OPINION: A New European Foreign Policy in an Age of Anxietyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-new-european-foreign-policy-in-an-age-of-anxiety/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-a-new-european-foreign-policy-in-an-age-of-anxiety http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-a-new-european-foreign-policy-in-an-age-of-anxiety/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 17:47:37 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136572 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Sep 10 2014 (IPS)

The appointment of Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini as the new European Union foreign policy chief offers the opportunity for an overhaul of EU foreign and security policy.

With many EU leaders, ministers and senior officials slow to respond to world events given Europe’s traditionally long summer break, the 2014 summer of death and violence has left the reputation of ‘Global Europe’ in tatters, highlighting the EU’s apparent disconnect from the bleak reality surrounding it.

When she takes charge in November along with other members of the new European Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, Mogherini’s first priority must be to restore Europe’s credibility in an increasingly volatile and chaotic global landscape.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

It cannot be business as usual. A strategic rethink of Europe’s global outreach is urgent.

Europe can no longer pretend that it is not – or only mildly – shaken by events on its doorstep. In a world where many countries are wracked by war, terrorism and extremism, EU foreign policy cannot afford to be ad hoc, reactive and haphazard.

Given their different national interests and histories, European governments are unlikely to ever speak with “one voice” on foreign policy. But they can and should strive to share a coherent, common, strategic reflection and vision of Europe’s future in an uncertain and anxious world.

Changing gears is going to be tough. Many of Europe’s key beliefs in the use of soft power, a reliance on effective multilateralism, the rule of law and a liberal world order are being shredded by governments and non-state actors alike.

With China and other emerging nations, especially in Asia, gaining increased economic and political clout, Europe has been losing global power and influence for almost a decade.“Europe can no longer pretend that it is not – or only mildly – shaken by events on its doorstep. In a world where many countries are wracked by war, terrorism and extremism, EU foreign policy cannot afford to be ad hoc, reactive and haphazard”

Despite pleas by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the crisis in Ukraine, most European governments remain reluctant to increase military and defence spending. At the same time, the Eurozone crisis and Europe’s plodding economic recovery with unacceptably high unemployment continue to erode public support for the EU both at home and abroad.

Populist far-right and extreme-left groups in Europe – including in the European Parliament – preach a protectionist and inward-looking agenda. Most significantly, EU national governments are becoming ever greedier in seeking to renationalise important chunks of what is still called Europe’s “common foreign and security policy”.

To prove her critics wrong – and demonstrate foreign policy expertise and flair despite only a six-month stint as Italy’s foreign minister – Mogherini will have to hit the ground running.

Her performance at the European Parliament on September 2, including an adamant rejection of charges of being “pro-Russian”, appears to have been impressive. Admirers point out that she is a hard-working team player, who reads her briefs carefully and speaks fluent English and French in addition to her native Italian.

These qualities should stand her in good stead as she manages the unwieldy European External Action Service (EEAS), plays the role of vice president of the European Commission, chairs EU foreign ministerial meetings, chats up foreign counterparts and travels around the world while also – hopefully – spearheading a strategic review of Europe’s global interests and priorities.

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

The tasks ahead are certainly daunting. There is need for reflection and action on several fronts – all at the same time. Eleven years after the then EU High Representative Javier Solana drew up the much-lauded European Security Strategy (partially revised in 2008), Europe needs to reassess the regional and global security environment, reset its aims and ambitions and define a new agenda for action.

But this much-needed policy overhaul to tackle new and evolving challenges must go hand-in-hand with quick fire-fighting measures to deal with immediate regional and global flashpoints.

The world in 2014 is complex and complicated, multi-polar, disorderly and unpredictable. Russia’s actions in Ukraine have up-ended the post-World War security order in Europe. The so-called “Islamic State” is spreading its hateful ideology through murder and assassination in Syria and Iraq, not too far from Europe’s borders. A fragile Middle East truce is no guarantee of real peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Relations with China have to be reinforced and consolidated. These and other complex problems require multi-faceted responses.

The days of ‘one-size-fits-all’ foreign policy are well and truly over. In an inter-connected and interdependent world, foreign policy means working with friends but also with enemies, with like-minded nations and those which are non-like-minded, with competitors and allies.

It is imperative to pay special attention to China, India and other headline-grabbing big countries, but it could be self-defeating to ignore the significance and clout of Indonesia, Mexico and other middle or even small powers. Upgrading ties with the United States remains crucial. While relations with states and governments are important they must go hand-in-hand with contacts with business leaders, civil society actors and young people.

Finally, Europe needs to acquire a less simplistic and more sophisticated understanding of Islam and its Muslim neighbours, including Turkey, which has been left in uncertainty about EU membership for more than fifty years.

Europe’s response to the new world must include a smart mix of brain and brawn, soft and hard power, carrots and sticks. Isolation and sanctions cannot work on their own but neither can a foreign policy based only on feel-good incentives. The EU’s existing foreign policy tools need to be sharpened but European policymakers also need to sharpen and update their view of the world.

Mogherini’s youth – and hopefully fresh stance on some of these issues – could be assets in this exercise. Importantly, Mogherini must work in close cooperation and consultation with other EU institutions, including the European Parliament and especially the European Commission whose many departments, including enlargement issues, trade, humanitarian affairs, environment, energy and development are crucial components of ‘Global Europe’.

The failure of synergies among Commission departments is believed to be at least partly responsible for the weaknesses of the EU’s “Neighbourhood Policy”.

Also, a coherent EU foreign policy demands close coordination with EU capitals. This is especially true in relations with China. Recent experience shows that, as in the case of negotiations with Iran, the EU is most effective when the foreign policy chief works in tandem with EU member states. Closer contacts with NATO will also be vital if Europe is to forge a credible strategy vis-à-vis Russia and Ukraine.

Such cooperation is especially important if – as I suggest – Mogherini embarks on a revamp of EU foreign and security policy.

Mogherini will not be able to do it on her own. Much will depend on the EEAS team she works with and the knowledge, expertise and passion her aides bring to their work. Team work and leadership, not micro-management, will be required.

Putting pressing global issues on the backburner is no longer an option. The change of guard in Brussels is the right moment to review and reconsider Europe’s role in the world. Global Europe’s disconnect needs to be tackled before it is too late.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Shada Islam, Head of the Asia Programme at Friends of Europe, a leading independent think tank in Brussels, is an experienced journalist, columnist, policy analyst and communication specialist with a strong background in geopolitical, foreign, economic and trade policy issues involving Europe, Asia, Middle East, Africa and the United States.

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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NATO Poised to Escalate Tensions over Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nato-poised-to-escalate-tensions-over-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nato-poised-to-escalate-tensions-over-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nato-poised-to-escalate-tensions-over-ukraine/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 22:26:26 +0000 John Feffer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136547 Ukraine, US, NATO and Partnership for Peace member nations kick off Exercise Rapid Trident 2011. Credit: DVIDSHUB/cc by 2.0

Ukraine, US, NATO and Partnership for Peace member nations kick off Exercise Rapid Trident 2011. Credit: DVIDSHUB/cc by 2.0

By John Feffer
WASHINGTON, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

The NATO summit that took place at the end of last week in Wales was supposed to celebrate the end of a long, draining war in Afghanistan. But with the presidential election still up in the air in Kabul, NATO couldn’t enjoy its “mission accomplished” moment.

Instead, the assembled ministers took steps to accelerate two new conflicts, one on its borders and the other in the distant Middle East."It seemed to me that the Summit offered an alternative vision of a period of intense geopolitical and arms rivalry that could soon prove as dangerous as the one that occupied our attention during the Cold War.” -- Ian Davis

NATO members have certainly not welcomed either the growing confrontation with Russia over Ukraine or with ISIS over the future of Iraq and Syria. But these developments have nevertheless provided the transatlantic alliance with greater purpose and cohesion than it has experienced in years.

The war in Afghanistan, after all, was not just costly in terms of money spent, lives lost, and objectives unmet. It also opened up various rifts in the alliance over strategy and resources.

Meanwhile, with European military spending on a downward trajectory over the last couple years, the vast majority of NATO members are not meeting their obligation of spending two percent of GDP on defence.

But the potential of the Ukraine conflict in particular to spill over into NATO territory has pumped new fire into the 65-year-old alliance’s veins.

In Wales, NATO agreed to a rapid reaction force – essentially a redesign of part of the already existing NATO Response Force — that would keep several thousand troops on standby to deploy in an emergency.

Designed to respond within 48 hours to a threat to the Baltic members, the force can be deployed anywhere in the world. The UK has already committed to providing a substantial contingent for this force.

NATO also upgraded Georgia to an “enhanced-opportunities partner,” which will involve the creation of a NATO training centre in the Caucasus country.

Despite these moves, NATO showed a measure of caution in not pushing too aggressively against Russia.

Although the Ukrainian government has also asked to join NATO, that option is currently not on the table. The alliance also decided not to send arms to the government in Kiev, though individual members can opt to do so.

Despite Ukraine’s announcement that several countries have decided to send lethal assistance, four of those countries, including the United States, immediately issued denials.

NATO didn’t agree to Poland’s request for a permanent force of 10,000 NATO troops stationed on its territory. Nor did it accede to a proposal from the Baltic nations to reorient missile defense against Russia.

“The NATO leaders clearly struggled over how strongly to push back against Russia,” observes Ian Davis, director of NATO Watch in the United Kingdom.

“While some no doubt argued against an overreaction that would risk military confrontation, it is clear that deterrence against Moscow is once again NATO’s top priority (despite the U.S. push for a coalition to combat ISIS). And the proposed limited buildup of forces along the latest East-West divide will take the ‘border’ hundreds of miles closer to Moscow than it was in the Cold War era.”

Joseph Gerson, who works with the American Friends Service Committee, agrees. “With the multiple military exercises across Eastern Europe and the Baltics, increased deployments in the region, and further military cooperation with Georgia and likely Ukraine, the United States has used the Ukraine crisis to more deeply integrate Eastern Europe into the U.S./NATO sphere.”

Gerson adds, “Also note Sweden and Finland are now to be NATO ‘host’ nations, though formally not yet full NATO members. The United States and NATO have been doing a host of military exercises in Sweden for some years, and there’s an electronic communications/intelligence base in Sweden’s north.”

The other major issue on NATO’s plate in Wales was addressing the challenge of ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The United States used the summit to pull together a “core coalition” of nine countries to coordinate a military response.

The strategy will be more of what the United States has already pursued, namely air strikes and support for forces already on the ground such as the Kurdish peshmerga and the Western-allied Syrian rebels.

The Barack Obama administration clearly stated that it would not send U.S. combat troops into the conflict.

Meanwhile, given Russia’s support for Bashar al-Assad in Syria and its opposition to radical Islam, the fight against ISIS offers the possibility of cooperation between Moscow and NATO.

But even with a fragile ceasefire in place between the Ukrainian government and the pro-Russian separatists, ties remain frayed between NATO and Russia. Most NATO members maintain sanctions against Russia, and the European Union is pushing through a new round to target additional Russian firms and officials.

Ian Davis is pessimistic on the prospects of exiting the spiral of conflict. “The decisions taken at the Summit raise the prospect of continual and possibly escalating NATO-European-Russian tensions,” he concluded.

“At some point, a ‘grand compromise’ between the United States, Europeans, and Russia will be required in which U.S., EU, and Ukrainian ‘vital’ interests and those of Moscow are eventually redefined and reconciled.

“But it seemed to me that the Summit offered an alternative vision of a period of intense geopolitical and arms rivalry that could soon prove as dangerous as the one that occupied our attention during the Cold War.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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New Anti-Discrimination Law Could Worsen Situation for Georgia’s LGBT Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-anti-discrimination-law-could-worsen-situation-for-georgias-lgbt-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-anti-discrimination-law-could-worsen-situation-for-georgias-lgbt-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-anti-discrimination-law-could-worsen-situation-for-georgias-lgbt-community/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 08:15:37 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136524 LGBT flag map of Georgia. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

LGBT flag map of Georgia. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

By Pavol Stracansky
TBILISI, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

Georgia’s LGBT community is sceptical that recently-introduced anti-discrimination legislation hailed by some rights groups as a bold step forward for the former Soviet state will improve their lives any time soon.

The law, which came into effect in May this year, is ostensibly designed to provide protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in a country where homophobia is deep-rooted at all levels of society and LGBT groups face daily discrimination.

But activists in Georgia say that introduction of the legislation has actually hardened attitudes against the LGBT community and that there are serious concerns over how effectively it can be applied.“Since the law was passed, things are actually worse now for LGBT people. When they make a complaint about something, people just say, ‘what more do you want? You’ve got your rights now in law’. It’s really obnoxious” – Irakli Vacharadze, head of Identoba, the Tbilisi-based rights organisation

Irakli Vacharadze, head of Identoba, the Tbilisi-based rights organisation, told IPS: “Since the law was passed, things are actually worse now for LGBT people. When they make a complaint about something, people just say, ‘what more do you want? You’ve got your rights now in law’. It’s really obnoxious.

“There are also questions over how it is going to be applied and at the moment, at least, it is definitely not effective.”

With a deeply religious society – 84 percent of the population identifies itself as Orthodox Christian – attitudes in Georgia to anything other than traditional heterosexual relationships are deeply negative among much of the population.

LGBT people say that they are often refused service by businesses and hospitals, bullied in school, and harassed by the police. Meanwhile, the Orthodox Church, which has a hugely influential role in society, has denounced LGBT equality and described support for LGBT rights as the “propaganda of sin”.

A 2013 survey by Identoba revealed how entrenched anti-LGBT sentiment is in society – 88 percent of respondents said homosexuality could “never be justified”.

A peaceful gay rights march marking International Day Against Homophobia last year ended in violence as protestors from a rival church-led counter-demonstration attacked and beat LGBT demonstrators.

But the country’s pursuit of closer ties with the European Union forced political parties, which had previously been at best apathetic towards the LGBT community, to address the issue.

As a condition of being granted coveted visa-free travel to EU countries, the government was told it had to implement anti-discrimination laws, including legislation specifically on gender expression and sexual orientation.

And although fiercely opposed by the Church, they were passed with the general support of all political parties.

However, LGBT people in Georgia remain far from convinced that, in its present form, it will help them. Although welcomed as a step forward, rights groups have criticised the fact that a devoted enforcement body was not approved and instead cases will go to the Ombudsman for Human Rights.

They say that the Ombudsman’s office lacks capacity and that effectively dealing with complaints will be compromised. They have called for the passage of additional measures to ensure enforcement of the law.

The Ombudsman’s office has yet to set up a department to deal with anti-discrimination complaints brought under the new legislation and one will not be functional before January.

Meanwhile, faith, or rather lack of it, in the country’s justice system is also likely to limit its effectiveness.

Viorel Ursu, Regional Manager of the Eurasia Programme at the Open Society Foundation, told IPS: “People do not trust the judiciary in general in Georgia. They feel that even when they bring legal action, there is no guarantee that justice will be served. And although there are laws designed to protect against discrimination of LGBT people, they will still face discrimination anyway.”

Activists are under no illusions about what the laws will bring the LGBT community. When asked whether he expected things to get better for LGBT people in Georgia in the near future, Vacharadze said: “Definitely not. There’s no chance.”

But the introduction of the legislation has already had at least one potentially positive effect. LGBT people say a profound ignorance of their gender expression and sexual orientation and their lifestyles contributes to the widespread antipathy towards them in Georgian society, but passage of the laws has at least promoted vitally-needed public discussion of the LGBT community.

Vacharadze told IPS: “The law alone will not change society’s attitudes towards LGBT people, it won’t get rid of homophobia. It won’t do anything to deal with the ignorance about LGBT issues and the community.

“The way to deal with it is to get information about LGBT out to the public and get them informed. One thing about the passage of this legislation was that it did actually create a debate about LGBT people in Georgia and got information about them out into the public and got people discussing it.”

The laws also have a wider significance in that they stand in stark contrast to the repression of LGBT communities in other former Soviet states, most notably Russia which is increasing its persecution of homosexuals through repressive legislation.

Just this week, the senior political figure in recently-annexed Crimea typified the Russian political stance to non-heterosexuals when he attacked LGBT people at a government meeting.

Sergei Aksyonov, leader of the new Russian region, said that if LGBT people held any meetings “police and self-defence forces will react immediately and in three minutes will explain to them what kind of sexual orientation they should stick to.”

He also said that “Crimean children should be brought up with a ‘positive attitude to family and traditional values’,” and that Crimea had “no need” for gays and lesbians.

Some observers say that the passing of the laws in Georgia, at a time when neighbours and other former Soviet states are attacking LGBT people, is proof that the country is set on moving closer to Europe and putting as much political distance between it and Russia, which has annexed some of its territory in recent years.

Indeed, as political parties debated the anti-discrimination laws, Davit Usupashvili, the parliamentary speaker, described the bill as a choice between Russia and the European Union.

Campaigners say that the government’s desire to cultivate closer and closer ties to the EU means that the legislation will, in time, become effective.

Ursu told IPS: “In the next year or so, the Georgian government should look to strengthen the law and try to prove that it is functioning simply because it remains under the scrutiny of the EU.

“The law not only had to be adopted but it also needed to be shown to be working effectively. It is in the government’s interest to ensure that it can be applied effectively.”

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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New Operation Could Hide Major Shift in Europe’s Immigration Control Policyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-operation-could-hide-major-shift-in-europes-immigration-control-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=new-operation-could-hide-major-shift-in-europes-immigration-control-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/new-operation-could-hide-major-shift-in-europes-immigration-control-policy/#comments Sat, 06 Sep 2014 17:27:05 +0000 Apostolis Fotiadis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136519 By Apostolis Fotiadis
ATHENS, Sep 6 2014 (IPS)

‘Mare Nostrum’ – the largest search and rescue immigration operation ever carried out in the Mediterranean Sea – has become an issue of bitter brinkmanship between human rights groups and anti-immigrant lobbies.

At a higher political level, it has produced a tough negotiation between Italy and Europe, with the former asking for a European solution to immigration control in the Mediterranean.

Abandoned migrant boats lie lifeless opposite the port of Lampedusa, Italy, an island which experiences frequent migration from nearby North Africa. Credit: UN Photo/UNHCR/Phil Behan

Abandoned migrant boats lie lifeless opposite the port of Lampedusa, Italy, an island which experiences frequent migration from nearby North Africa. Credit: UN Photo/UNHCR/Phil Behan

‘Mare Nostrum’ was launched in October 2013 by Italy in the wake of a shipwreck south of the island of Lampedusa – the southernmost part of Italy lying 176 km off the coast of Sicily – that took the lives of 368 immigrants, mostly refugees from Syria and African countries.

The search and rescue operation is a military naval operation supported by the Italian Air Force and Coast Guard as well as civilian volunteers and medical personnel. It has operated in a vast area of the Central Mediterranean.

Between October 2013 and August 2014, ‘Mare Nostrum’ rescued over 115,000 people, mostly refugees, and transferred them to Italian territory. About 2,000 people are estimated to have lost their lives in the Mediterranean during the same period.

Human rights activists have praised the operation for rescuing refugees while its opponents have blamed it for producing a pull factor for immigrants and providing an illicit shuttle to Europe for them, making the job of traffickers easier.

The European Commission has now decided to flank the ‘Mare Nostrum’ initiative, although it has no intention of replacing it. After a meeting on August 27, European Commissioner for Home Affairs Cecilia Malmstrom and Italian Minister of the Interior Angelino Alfano announced a new Frontex operation to stand by Italy’s ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation in the Mediterranean.

One of the main roles of Frontex – the European Union agency for external border security that started operations in May 2005 – is to protect Europe’s external borders from illegal immigration and people trafficking.

Announcing the new operation, which has temporarily been named ‘Frontex Plus’, Commissioner Malmstrom called on European member states to translate “oral solidarity into concrete action” by contributing resources and means.Humanitarian organisations in Italy have been quick to criticise ‘Frontex Plus’, saying that its description is still vague and that its primary aim is not the rescuing of immigrants and refugees but the upgrading of border surveillance and deterrence.

Ska Keller, Green Member of the European Parliament  told IPS that the new operation is “the result of pressure extorted by Italy on Brussels, but not what Italy has been asking for. It’s true Italy is rescuing a lot of people but this is not their main concern, they will not necessarily be happy to continue with Mare Nostrum.”

Humanitarian organisations in Italy have been quick to criticise ‘Frontex Plus’, saying that its description is still vague and that its primary aim is not the rescuing of immigrants and refugees but the upgrading of border surveillance and deterrence.

Silvia Canciani, press officer of the Association for Juridical Studies on Immigration (ASGI), told IPS that her association is “extremely concerned” because the only certainty about the new operation “is that ships will patrol only in European waters, 12 miles from the coast”, meaning they will no longer venture into international waters, like ‘Mare Nostrum’, which operated 170 miles from the Italian coast.

She added that it is still unknown whether Italian authorities plan to postpone, amend or carry on with ‘Mare Nostrum’ as it is, but a withdrawal from the operation might have a direct consequence on lives being lost in the Mediterranean.

Other critical voices stress how conservatives in the European Union see an opportunity in the negotiations that will follow on the new operation to capitalise on the issue of returning incoming migrants to safe third countries or to their countries of embarkation.

In a blog commenting on the announcement of ‘Frontex Plus’, Italian law professor Fulvio Vassalo Paleologo, a well-known commentator on immigration issues in the region, observed that in their joint announcement “the word ‘rescue’ has disappeared from Alfano’s and Malmstom’s vocabulary.” He also noted that neither of them had made a single remark about the conditions immigrants face in transit countries.

Both could be indications that the European Commission is seriously considering pushing for the control of population influxes outside European borders.

One day before the Malmstrom-Alfano announcement, the Italian edition of Huffington Post published an article citing an anonymous source in the Italian Ministry of the Interior, who was present at negotiations for the new operations in Brussels, as saying that “many people in Brussels see Mare Nostrum as an informal ferry for migrants.”

The unprecedented flows Europe is going to face given the geopolitical crisis in the Middle East will enforce a change of policy, which will translate into trying to “manage the flows of refugees and migrants in transit countries before they are on board for Italy,” the source said.

For this, he continued “we must work to re-negotiate readmission agreements with countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco” and then stop incoming immigrants on board and not let them proceed to Italy “unless they have already started the procedures for refugee status and we have already made identifications before they are on board.”

The policy scenario in the Huffington Post article was vividly mirrored in an Italian Interior Ministry’s press release two days later, after a meeting between Minister Alfano and his French counterpart Bernard Cazeneuve to discuss “illegal immigration in the Central Mediterranean”.

Notably the meeting took place only one day after the announcement of ‘Frontex Plus’ in which France is expected to be one of the most active partners.

In the ministry’s press release, the term ‘rescue’ is again absent and the definition of the aim of ‘Frontex Plus’ is to “ensure control and surveillance of the external sea borders of the European Union … according to the rules of Frontex.”

From the press release, it also appears that both the Italian and French ministers believe that the issue of immigration should increasingly be dealt with “as a foreign policy issue” with “more emphasis to be given to the role of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy”, meaning the European External Action Service (EEAS) which implements the European Union’s Common Foreign and Security Policy.

The two ministers also identified two key policy objectives to push for within the European Union: “the commitment of all Member States of the European Union to a strict application of the rules for the identification of illegal migrants provided by European legislation and the strengthening of cooperation with countries of origin and transit in the field of border surveillance, police cooperation and development aid to these countries.”

Frontex’s key role in a new operation could facilitate these objectives given that the regulation “establishing rules for the surveillance of the external sea borders in the context of operational cooperation coordinated by the European Agency for the Management of Operation Cooperation at the External Borders of the Member States of the EU (Frontex)” adopted on April 30, 2014, includes provisions for the interception of incoming vessels in international waters and their return to third countries.

Many pro-immigrant organisations such as Frontexit (a campaign led by associations, researchers and individuals from both North and South of the Mediterranean on the initiative of the Migreurop network), the Belgian Coordination Initiative for Refugees and Foreigners (CIRE), as well as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, the European Council on Refugees and Exiles, Amnesty International and the International Commission of Jurists, have indicated highly controversial legal gaps in the regulation that could compromise the rights of persons in need of international protection.

In a joint briefing, the latter said that despite some positive aspects, other aspects fail to meet the requirements of international law, including refugee law, human rights law, the law of the sea and E.U. law.

When asked to comment on the nature of the ‘Frontex Plus’ operation, Malmstroms’s office said: “At the moment we do not have anything to add in addition to the statement made by the Commissioner last week. The Commission is working on the definition of the adequate operational area and the components of a larger joint operation which can be a useful complement to the Italian efforts.”

It is thus clear that ‘Frontex Plus’ will eventually only play a merely auxiliary role alongside Italy’s ‘Mare Nostrum’ operation, particularly so when the costs of the operation are taken into account.

‘Mare Nostrum’ costs Italy over 9 million euro each month, while the current entire 2014 budget for Frontex is 89 million euro, with only 55 of them allocated for operational activities.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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OPINION: Sanctions and Retaliations: Simply Unconscionablehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/sanctions-and-retaliations-simply-unconscionable/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=sanctions-and-retaliations-simply-unconscionable http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/sanctions-and-retaliations-simply-unconscionable/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 05:16:42 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136480 Independence Square in Kiev. In the aftermath of the revolution Ukraine now faces a difficult path to EU integration. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/IPS.

Independence Square in Kiev. In the aftermath of the revolution Ukraine now faces a difficult path to EU integration. Credit: Natalia Kravchuk/IPS.

By Somar Wijayadasa
NEW YORK, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

The crisis in Ukraine is a man-made disaster created by world leaders who have been trying to pull Ukraine apart – either towards Europe or Russia.

As geo-political tensions in the world rage unabated, world powers rush to impose sanctions that cause unintended consequences.

A Washington Post editorial, ‘The Snake Oil Diplomacy: When Tensions Rise, The US Peddles Sanctions’, published as far back as July 1998, stated, “No country in the world has employed sanctions as often as the United States has… it has imposed economic sanctions more than 110 times.”

Historically, the League of Nations, United Nations, United States and the European Union have resorted to mandatory sanctions as an enforcement tool when peace has been threatened and diplomatic efforts have failed.

“No country in the world has employed sanctions as often as the United States has… it has imposed economic sanctions more than 110 times.” -- Washington Post
During the 1990s, we witnessed a proliferation of sanctions imposed by the U.N. and U.S. against Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Liberia, Somalia, Cambodia, Haiti – to name a few.

These sanctions brought disastrous consequences – where those in power thrived and the poor suffered.

A few countries such as Iran, Iraq and North Korea scoffed at U.S. sanctions as they had resources or the will power to survive. Sanctions against China and India failed to change the leadership or hinder the country’s economic drive and growth.

But in most countries, especially Cuba, Iraq and Haiti, sanctions deteriorated their economic, social and healthcare systems.

At times, sanctions were used as an ulterior motive for “regime change” which is a violation of the U.N. Charter and the basic norms of international law.

Such a devious practice has nothing to do with protecting human rights, and promoting democracy and freedom.

Now, the sanctions against Russia – over the crisis in Ukraine – have boomeranged.

By April, “Maidan” protests ousted Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovytch. U.S. missiles near Russia and NATO’s efforts to expand into former Warsaw Pact countries angered Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russia was blocked out of the G8.

The U.S. and the EU imposed sanctions on Russia when Crimea joined Russia after the Crimeans held a referendum to declare independence based on the right of nations to self-determination that is stipulated in Article 1 of the U.N. Charter.

The right to “self-determination” was applied when former Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were divided, and when several small states like East Timor declared independence.

People in East Ukraine – 70 percent of who are ethnic Russians – felt violated when the Ukrainian Government decided to ban the Russian language from its official status.

They too invoked their right to self-determination and held a referendum to establish their own State.

The U.S. broadened sanctions when the Malaysian plane was downed in East Ukraine. No evidence surfaced from the black boxes, satellite images or OSCE inspectors’ revelations to prove culpability – unless it was a deliberate, pre-meditated act to blame a warring faction.

Also Western leaders claim that Russia provides weapons to the rebels in Ukraine. It may be true, but again the U.S. has not provided any evidence and Putin denies the charge. It’s like Iraq’s WMDs all over again.

More U.S. and EU sanctions against Russia froze the assets of Russians in power, banned their travel to EU countries, restricted Russian banks’ sales of debt or stocks in European markets, and targeted Russia’s defense, energy and financial sectors – to name a few.

On Aug. 7, in a radical response to Western sanctions, Russia retaliated by banning imports of beef, pork, poultry, fish, cheese, dairy products, fruit and vegetables from the European Union, United States, Australia, Canada, Norway, for one year.

Russia’s agriculture minister, Nikolai Fyodorov, said, “We now have the unique chance to improve our agricultural sector and make it more competitive.” He said that Russia has already identified other non-Western countries to import banned food items, and that he is confident that Russians will use locally available food.

From what we hear, European growth has slowed down; some countries creeping back into recession; U.S. investors have withdrawn over four billion dollars from Euro stocks; European farmers and Norway’s fishermen are affected and the EU has set aside 167 million dollars to compensate farmers for their loss of revenue; and companies that transport cargo to Russia have come to a halt.

While it is difficult to predict how this tit-for-tat will ultimately affect both Russian and Western economies, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that the sanctions have, in fact, harmed the West more than they have hurt Russia. He said, “In politics, this is called shooting oneself in the foot.”

Also the toll on human suffering is increasing. The U.N. claims that the war in Ukraine has already killed over 2,500 and injured nearly 5,000 people.

According to UNHCR, over 730,000 Eastern Ukrainians have fled to Russia. The Ukrainian government acknowledges that over 300,000 of its citizens are displaced inside Ukraine.

The U.N. Charter and international law provide for settling conflicts between states through negotiations based on mutual respect for each other’s independence, sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of the other.

This disaster can be resolved only if power-hungry world leaders renounce their arrogance and interventionism, and help Ukraine become a prosperous but neutral buffer nation between Western Europe and Russia. If not, the partition of Ukraine will be inevitable.

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: Iraq On the Precipicehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-iraq-on-the-precipice/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-iraq-on-the-precipice http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-iraq-on-the-precipice/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 04:23:16 +0000 Bill Miller http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136478 Since Aug. 3, there has been a massive dislocation of some 200,000 people from Iraq, resulting in more than 1.2 million displaced. Credit: Mustafa Khayat/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Since Aug. 3, there has been a massive dislocation of some 200,000 people from Iraq, resulting in more than 1.2 million displaced. Credit: Mustafa Khayat/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Bill Miller
NEW YORK, Sep 4 2014 (IPS)

The catastrophic events in Iraq that are unfolding daily are more significant than at any point in recent memory.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is now calling itself the Islamic State (IS), steamrolled out of Syria into Iraq and appeared to be unstoppable in its march to Baghdad. The Iraqi military, which was far larger and better armed, was either unable or unwilling to confront this ragtag, but determined, force of about 1,000 fighters.

Simultaneously, the world was riveted on the minority Yazidi community that had to escape to Mount Sinjar to avoid certain annihilation.

What made the situation even more dangerous was that Mount Sinjar is a rocky, barren hilltop about 67 miles long and six miles wide, protruding like a camel’s back with a daytime high temperature of 110 degrees, as Kieran Dwyer, communications chief for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, recently reported from Erbil.

Dwyer also shared other staggering statistics:

– Since Aug. 3, there has been a massive dislocation of 200,000 people, as armed groups have ramped up their violence, and there are more than 1.2 million displaced people.

– The U.N. High Commission for Refugees is providing protection and assisting local authorities with shelter, including mattresses and blankets.

– The U.N. World Food Programme set up four communal kitchens in that Governorate and has provided two million meals in the past two weeks.

– The U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has provided drinking water and rehydration salts to help prevent or treat diarrhea, as well as provisions of high-energy biscuits for 34,000 children under the age of five in the past week.

– The U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) is supporting over 1,300 pregnant women with hygiene supplies and helping local authorities with medical supplies to support 150,000 people.

While returning from South Korea, Pope Francis sanctioned intervening in Iraq to stop Islamist militants from persecuting not only Christian, but also all religious minority groups.

This is a dramatic turnaround, given that the Vatican normally eschews the use of force. His caveat was that the international community must discuss a strategy, possibly at the U.N., so that this would not be perceived as ‘a true war of conquest.’

Shortly thereafter, French President Francois Hollande called for an international conference to discuss ways of confronting the Islamic State insurgents who have seized control of territory in Iraq and Syria.

Both suggestions tie directly into U.S. President Barack Obama’s intention to preside over a meeting of the United Nations Security Council during his attendance at the world body’s annual General Assembly meeting in mid-September.

Specifically, Obama’s agenda will focus upon counterterrorism and the threat of foreign fighters traveling to conflict zones and joining terrorist organisations.

Additionally, all major players in the region, even ones that have had a traditional animosity to one another such as Iran vs. Saudi Arabia and the U.S., must be at the table.

It is critical to remember that a major reason for the disasters occurring in many areas of the Middle East can be traced directly back to the misguided and widely-viewed illegal invasion of Iraq by former President George W. Bush in March of 2003.

Allegedly, the U.S. went to Iraq to disarm Saddam Hussein of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which did not exist.

When the bogus WMD argument collapsed, the rationale quickly moved to regime change and then to establishing democracy in the Arab world.

The real reasons were to control the oil fields and re-do that area so it could be manipulated by Western interests.

In reality, the legacy of the biggest U.S. foreign blunder in history left Iran as the powerhouse in the region, converted Iraq into a powder keg for conflict among the Sunnis and Shias, got 200,000 Iraqis and over 4,000 U.S. military personnel killed, and gave the American taxpayer a bill for two trillion dollars, which is a figure that will continue to rise because of the thousands of troops that will need medical and psychological assistance, as well as Iraq requesting financial, military and technical assistance in the future.

Tragically, some media outlets, such as Fox News and many right-wing talk radio stations, are putting the same purveyors of misinformation and disinformation – such as former Vice-President Dick Cheney, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, U.S. Administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer, Senator John McCain and Bill Kristol – back on the air to re-write history on how the Iraq War was really a glowing success.

In a democracy it is critical to have a cross-section of ideas and stimulating debate on Iraq and other issues, but it is questionable and foolish to heed the advice of such a devious and counterproductive group that adheres to the nonsensical tenets that if only the U.S. had stayed longer, left more troops or invested more blood and treasure in that region, there would have been a positive outcome.

They refuse to recognise that neither the Iraqis nor the Iranians wanted the U.S. to stay, and the American public was turning against a failed war.

Couple that with the fact that former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tried to isolate the Sunnis from any power-sharing or involvement in the political, financial and cultural facets of Iraq.

From the despicable beheadings of freelance photographer James Foley and freelance journalist Steven Sotloff, to the imposition of draconian Sharia Law that violates human and civil rights, the challenges in Iraq are multiplying daily.

Probably no one in the world knows this better than U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon who said recently, “… I can bring world leaders to the river, but I cannot force them to drink.”

When the leaders of the world meet later this month at the U.N., it will be time for them to ‘drink the water’ for everyone’s benefit.

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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In Azerbaijan, ‘Family Is the First Fear’ of LGBT Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/in-azerbaijan-family-is-the-first-fear-of-lgbt-community/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 18:09:15 +0000 EurasiaNet Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136476 By EurasiaNet Correspondents
BAKU, Sep 3 2014 (EurasiaNet)

The 19-year-old Azerbaijani man claims he awoke one morning in mid-August to the sound and feel of gasoline splashing on his body and his mother angrily screaming. Through a sleepy haze, he saw her burning a piece of paper. Suddenly, he alleged, his mother’s intentions became clear; he was about to be burned to death for being homosexual.

The story, recounted to EurasiaNet.org by the man, who calls himself Malik to protect his identity, forms part of a disturbing pattern of abuse and mistreatment of LGBT individuals in this Caspian-Sea country. For now, the government doesn’t appear interested in trying to address the issue — even though the country currently chairs the Committee of Ministers of Europe’s foremost human-rights body, the Council of Europe.Fifty-five-year-old Babi Badalov, an openly gay artist, left Azerbaijan for the United Kingdom eight years ago after his brother threatened to kill him for being homosexual.

Unlike in many Muslim societies, Azerbaijani law does not prohibit homosexuality, bisexuality or transgenderism. However, the level of disapproval that exists in this tightly knit society is high, and that places a heavy burden on LGBT Azerbaijanis, some say.

In Malik’s case, he claims his sister prevented his mother from setting him aflame. He alleges, though, that his mother scratched him to the point of drawing blood. Still in shock and physical pain from the experience, Malik says he lives now at a friend’s place. He claims his mother knew of his homosexuality, though “never admitted that.”

“When she got news about me attending an LGBT seminar in Baku, which was a public event, she realised it is impossible to deny the fact that I am homosexual,” he said. “That was unbearable for her.”

In Azerbaijan’s family-centric culture, disapproval from relatives can often hit hardest. “Family is the first fear of LGBT people,” according to Javid Atilla Nebiyev, director of Nefes LGBT, one of a handful of non-governmental organisations in Baku focusing on LGBT issues. “That is the first, small community where LGBT people experience trouble.”

Fifty-five-year-old Babi Badalov, an openly gay artist, left Azerbaijan for the United Kingdom eight years ago after his brother threatened to kill him for being homosexual. He blames such attitudes on the country’s 71-year Soviet history, when LGBT issues were never addressed.

“It was taboo,” said Badalov, who now lives in France. “People did not even know that there were non-traditional sexual orientations and genders.”

While now Azerbaijanis “have the freedom to know,” he continued, the Soviet past continues to influence present opinions. “Except for some tolerant circles in the capital, Baku, [a non-heterosexual identity] is seen as something extremely abnormal, extremely disgusting.”

Consequently, “for his own safety,” a gay man “constantly” has to think about “what to wear so that he does not look different,” or otherwise attract attention, he claimed. Many Azerbaijanis often presume that men who wear an earring or unusually colourful clothing are homosexual.

Defying such notions, Badalov said he opted for an earring.

One 22-year-old transsexual Azerbaijani can identify with those difficulties. Although born a woman, Leyla, who asked to be identified only by her first name, dresses in men’s clothes and considers herself male. She claims that her family sometimes hides her clothing, keeps her locked indoors and threatens her with death if she does not dress “like a woman.”

A recent university graduate with a degree in education, Leyla says that she nonetheless dresses as a man when she applies for teaching positions. She did not detail how she distinguishes between male and female clothing.

“At job interviews, they expect me to show up as a woman, but instead they see a woman dressed like a man,” she claimed. “I do not know what to answer when they ask why I dress like a man. I am turned down [for jobs] mostly because of that appearance.”

Azerbaijani legislation contains no protections against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation, noted activist Nebiyev. He alleged that, as a result, some LGBT Azerbaijanis turn to jobs as “sex workers to earn their living.”

The topic generally is not one for any form of public discussion, including by imams. Allegations of homosexuality, however, have been used as part of smear campaigns against opposition leaders.

Media and human-rights activists have paid relatively little attention to these problems. The Azerbaijani Commissioner for Human Rights’ Office could not be reached for comment on LGBT abuse.

For many, the Jan. 22 suicide of 20-year-old Isa Shahmarli, the head of the LGBT group Azad, illustrated the dangers involved in looking the other way. In a Facebook message before his death, Shahmarli blamed society at large for his suicide.

“He ended his life because society wanted him to do so,” said his former flatmate, Kamila Javadzadeh. “He was all alone, struggling to prove that nothing is wrong about being LGBT. But he failed to convince his own family.”

Yet one 32-year-old lesbian, who declined to give her name, stopped short of calling life in Azerbaijan as a LGBT person “a tragedy.” At least no public calls for violence against LGBT Azerbaijanis have been made, she explained. “But it is not OK at all,” she emphasised. After years of confronting hostility, however, she simply no longer expects tolerance.

This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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With Sewing and Sowing, Self-reliance Blooms in Central Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/with-sewing-and-sowing-self-reliance-blooms-in-central-asia/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 06:46:24 +0000 UN Women http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136467 Chairwoman of the local community fund, Mairam Dukenbaeva, in IssykKul, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: UN Women/MalgorzataWoch

Chairwoman of the local community fund, Mairam Dukenbaeva, in IssykKul, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: UN Women/MalgorzataWoch

By UN Women
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 3 2014 (IPS)

In the small rural village of Svetlaya Polyana, not far from the city of Karakol in Issyk Kul Province, north-eastern Kyrgyzstan, there is no sewage system and 70 percent of households lack access to hot water.

But still, gardening efforts are underway. In the houses of the women members of the community fund you can see seedlings of cucumbers, tomatoes, pepper and even some flowers being prepared for planting in the soil.

There are currently 29.9 million migrants in Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the majority of which are women. -- International Organisation for Migration (IOM)
These women are taking part in one of several agricultural trainings to learn how to plan vegetable gardens, prepare the soil, find good-quality seeds, plant and care for vegetables, as well as gardening tips, recipes and more.

“We all have learned a lot. Now I know what to do to get a good harvest,” said one beneficiary. “Now I have a beautiful and eco-friendly garden, I have healthy vegetables for my family that I know how to plant myself and I do not have to buy anything more at the bazaar.”

Through collective vegetable cultivation, their harvest in 2013 garnered a profit of 48,000 Kyrgyz SOM (about 930 dollars), which was put back into community projects and to buy high-quality seeds.

The small businesses established through the programme are now generating employment in this rural area, increasing independence and boosting household income not only in summer but also during the harsh winter months, when preserved vegetables and fruit jams are sold.

“The [...] project is highly important for the development of our community,” says Jylkychy Mamytkanov, head of the municipality of Svetlaya Polyana. “Programme participants have managed to build solidarity and mutual assistance among themselves. … Moreover, the income that we have already received from selling our vegetables will allow our community to make new investments in the future, such as construction of greenhouses.”

Across Central Asia, many families and individuals living in poverty migrate in order to find work. According to the IOM, there are currently 29.9 million migrants in Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the majority of which are women. Migration provides a vital source of income, but those left behind often feel dependent and have a hard time making ends meet.

To tackle such challenges, the Central Asia Regional Migration Programme (CARMP) was created in 2010, with the second phase currently underway, until March 2015.

Jointly implemented by UN Women, the World Bank and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), with financial support from the UK Government, the programme focuses on reducing poverty by improving the livelihoods of migrant workers and their families, protecting their rights and enhancing their social and economic benefits.

The regional migration programme focuses on families from the region’s top two migrant-sending countries – Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. In 2011-2013 more than 5,324 labour migrants’ families in both countries received training, access to resources and micro-credits and became self-reliant entrepreneurs through the programme.

The RMP programme also promotes policy development, provides technical assistance and fosters regional dialogue on migration and the needs of migrant workers across Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and the Russian Federation. In those four countries, more than 520,000 migrant workers and their families have benefitted from a wide range of services, including legal assistance and education.

Dreams and designs in Tajikistan

Born in the remote district of Gonchi, northern Tajikistan, Farangis Azamova had a dream of becoming a designer, but with no means to finance university studies, the young rural woman had to find another means to realize her dreams.

With assistance from the Association of Women and Society, a long-time partner of UN Women and beneficiary of the regional migration programme, Farangis and five like-minded women established a community-based “self-help group” to sew curtains.

They took part in various seminars, learning how to set up, plan and manage a business. They rented a small place and established an atelier.

At first they sold curtains to neighbours, but with time their clientele grew. In June of 2014, her group took part in the annual traditional ‘Silk&Spices’ festival in Bukhara, eastern Uzbekistan, which brings together handicrafts from the entire Ferghana Valley.

It was an exciting opportunity for young women entrepreneurs to exchange experiences, learn to become more competitive in the labour market, take craft-master classes as well as present their handicrafts and find new buyers.

(END)

                                 This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information, visit the Beijing+20 campaign websiteimage002

 

 

 

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OPINION: Civil Society Calls For Impartial Inquiry on Air Crash and Catastrophe in Ukrainehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-civil-society-calls-for-impartial-inquiry-on-air-crash-and-catastrophe-in-ukraine/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 10:30:09 +0000 Alice Slater http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136453 Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0

Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO chief, addresses a crowd in Austin, Texas. Credit: DVIDSHUB/Texas Military Forces/Photo by Staff Sgt. Eric Wilson/CC-BY-2.0

By Alice Slater
NEW YORK, Sep 2 2014 (IPS)

It is ironic that at this moment in history when so many people and nations around the world are acknowledging the 100th anniversary of our planet’s hapless stumble into World War I, great powers and their allies are once again provoking new dangers where governments appear to be sleepwalking towards a restoration of old Cold War battles.

A barrage of conflicting information is broadcast in the various national and nationalistic media with alternative versions of reality that provoke and stoke new enmities and rivalries across national borders.

Moreover, NATO’s new disturbing saber-rattling, with its chief, Anders Rasmussen, announcing that NATO will deploy its troops for the first time in Eastern Europe since the Cold War ended, building a “readiness action plan”, boosting Ukraine’s military capacity so that, “ In the future you will see a more visible NATO presence in the east”, while disinviting Russia from the upcoming NATO meeting in Wales, opens new possibilities for endless war and hostilities.

The world can little afford the trillions of dollars in military spending and trillions and trillions of brain cells wasted on war when our very Earth is under stress and needs the critical attention of our best minds [...].
With the U.S. and Russia in possession of over 15,000 of the world’s 16,400 nuclear weapons, humanity can ill-afford to stand by and permit these conflicting views of history and opposing assessments of the facts on the ground lead to a 21st Century military confrontation between the great powers and their allies.

While sadly acknowledging the trauma suffered by the countries of Eastern Europe from years of Soviet occupation, and understanding their desire for the protection of the NATO military alliance, we must remember that Russia lost 20 million people during WWII to the Nazi onslaught and are understandably wary of NATO expansion to their borders in a hostile environment.

This despite a promise to Gorbachev, when the wall came down peacefully and the Soviet Union ended its post-WWII occupation of Eastern Europe, that NATO would not be expanded eastward, beyond the incorporation of East Germany into that rusty Cold War alliance.

Russia has lost the protection of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which the U.S. abandoned in 2001, and warily observes missile bases metastasizing ever closer to its borders, in new NATO member states, while the U.S. rejects repeated Russian efforts for negotiations on a treaty to ban weapons in space, or Russia’s prior application for membership in NATO.

Why do we still have NATO anyway? This Cold War relic is being used to fire up new hostilities and divisions between Russia and the rest of Europe.

Civil Society demands that an independent international inquiry be commissioned to review events in Ukraine leading up to the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and of the procedures being used to review the catastrophic aftermath, including this latest outbreak of hostile actions from NATO.

Indeed, Russia has already called for an investigation of the facts surrounding the Malaysian airplane crash. The international investigation should factually determine the cause of the accident and hold responsible parties accountable to the families of the victims and the citizens of the world who fervently desire peace and peaceful settlements of any existing conflicts.

More importantly, it should include a fair and balanced presentation of what led to the deterioration of U.S.–Russian relations since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the new hostile and polarized posture that the U.S. and Russia with their allies find themselves in today with NATO now threatening greater militarisation and provocations against Russia in Eastern Europe.

The United Nations Security Council, with U.S. and Russian agreement, has already passed Resolution 2166 addressing the Malaysian jet crash, demanding accountability, full access to the site and a halt to military activity, which has been painfully disregarded at various times since the incident.

One of the provisions of Resolution 2166 notes that the Council “[s]upports efforts to establish a full, thorough and independent international investigation into the incident in accordance with international civil aviation guidelines.”

Further, the 1909 revised Convention on the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes adopted at the 1899 Hague International Peace Conference has been used successfully to resolve issues between states so that war was avoided in the past.

Regardless of the forum where the evidence is gathered and fairly evaluated, all the facts and circumstances should be made known to the world as to how we got to this unfortunate state of affairs on our planet today and what might be the solutions.

All the members of NATO together with Russia and Ukraine are urged to end the endless arms race, which only feeds the military-industrial complex that U.S. President Eisenhower warned against.

They must engage in diplomacy and negotiations, not war and hostile alienating actions.

The world can little afford the trillions of dollars in military spending and trillions and trillions of brain cells wasted on war when our very Earth is under stress and needs the critical attention of our best minds and thinking, and the abundance of resources mindlessly diverted to war to be made available for the challenges confronting us to create a livable future for life on earth.

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

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Europe’s Two-Time Turnabout on Syria/Iraqhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/europes-two-time-turnabout-on-syriairaq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=europes-two-time-turnabout-on-syriairaq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/europes-two-time-turnabout-on-syriairaq/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 22:33:30 +0000 Peter Custers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136434 By Peter Custers
LEIDEN, Netherlands, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

Is this one of those rare occasions where policy-makers self-critically correct a gigantic blunder? Or is it a cold turnabout guided by pure self-interest?

On August 15, the foreign ministers of the European Union gathered in Brussels and decided that each would henceforth be free to supply arms to Kurdish rebels fighting Sunni extremists of the Islamic State in the north of Iraq. Even Germany which in the past had been unwilling to furnish military supplies to warring parties  in ‘conflict zones’, is now ready to provide armoured vehicles and other hardware to the Kurds opposing the Islamic State’s advance.

The decision of Europe’s foreign ministers may surprise some because, barely a year and four months ago, in April 2013, the European Union had lifted a previously instituted ban on all imports of Syrian oil.

Peter Custers

Peter Custers

Moreover, the lifting of this boycott was quite explicitly intended to facilitate the flow of oil from areas in the north-east of Syria, where Sunni extremist rebel organisations had established a strong foothold, if not overall predominance over the region’s oil fields.

The Islamic State was not the only Sunni extremist organisation disputing control over Syrian oil fields. Yet there is little doubt that the fateful decision that the European Union took last year helped the Islamic State consolidate its hold over Syrian oil resources and prepare for a sweeping advance into areas with oil wells in the north of Iraq.

The outcome of the recent Brussels’ meeting thus appears to overturn a disastrous previous decision. To underline the point it is useful to briefly describe the extent to which Sunni extremist rebels have meanwhile established control over oil extraction and production in both Syria and Iraq.“Is this one of those rare occasions where policy-makers self-critically correct a gigantic blunder? Or is it a cold turnabout guided by pure self-interest?”

The Syrian oil fields are basically concentrated in Deir-ez-Zor, a province bordering on Iraq. Whereas oil extraction in Syria has always been very limited in size if measured as a percentage of world supplies, control over the Syrian oil wells plus its refinery has become crucial for the financing of the Islamic State’s war efforts.

In neighbouring Iraq, oil reserves are not concentrated in one single geographic region as they are in Syria. The bulk of the oil wells are to be found in the country’s south, at great distance from the Islamic State’s war theatre in the north. Only one-seventh of Iraq’s oil resources are said to be located in areas controlled by the Islamic State on the one hand, and Kurdish fighters on the other. Nevertheless, recent reports indicate that the Islamic State controls at least seven major oil wells in Iraq alone.

Using expertise gathered after it established control over wells in Syria, the Sunni extremist organisation is able to draw huge profits from the smuggling and sale of oil. It is the Islamic State’s oil-backed armed strength amassed in two adjacent civil wars that has now sent shivers throughout the Western world.

If the European Union’s April 2013 decision appears to have helped trigger the Islamic State’s current success, the situation created is historically novel. To my knowledge, never before has a rebel force fighting a civil war in the global South been able to base its war aspirations on control over oil.

True, in most of the civil wars that have rocked Africa over the last thirty years, access to raw materials has been fundamental. Witness the cases of Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo (DRC) and Sudan. It is also true that oil exports have been a specific mode of war financing, for instance in Angola and the Sudan.

Yet, in those cases, the state remained in command of the oil wealth. In Angola, the right-wing rebel movement UNITA relied heavily on smuggling rough diamonds towards financing its war, while the country’s oil fields were located at great distance UNITA’s war theatre.

In Sudan, oil fields are concentrated in the country’s south, that is, close to and in the region which was disputed by the rebel movement. But the regime of Omar Al-Bashir pursued an inhuman policy of depopulation through aerial bombardments, massacring hapless villagers and forcing survivors to flee. In the self-same process the rebels were deprived of access to people and oil.

Hence, strictly speaking there is no precedent for the oil-fuelled civil wars waged by Sunni rebels in Syria and Iraq.

Now – in turning from de facto supporters to opponents of the Islamic State – Europe’s foreign ministers have followed the U.S. lead, because the United States had just started bombardments of Islamic State positions in Iraq’s north.

Though loudly defended on the grounds of the Islamic State’s relentless persecution of minorities, the renewed U.S. military intervention is not devoid of self-interest. Uppermost in the minds of Pentagon officials is the nexus between oil and arms.

Shortly after President Barack Obama announced the withdrawal of U.S. occupation forces from Iraq in October 2011, the United States clinched a huge deal for the sale of F-16 fighter planes and other armaments to Iraq’s military, valued at 12 billion dollars. At least four in five of the top U.S. military corporations are beneficiaries of Iraqi purchases.

Coincidentally, around the time when the U.S.-Iraq agreement on arms’ sales was sealed, the extraction of Iraqi crude was back to old levels, crossing the threshold of three million barrels per day in 2012. As the Iraqi government’s income from oil extraction and exports rose exponentially, U.S. and competing Russian arms’ manufacturers both lined up to bag the orders.

And there is robust confidence that the oil-and-arms nexus can be sustained – according to euphoric projections of the International Energy Agency (IAE), the body of Western oil consumer nations, Iraq holds the key to future increases in world production of crude!

Western policy-makers are feverishly espousing the cause of Muslim Shias, Christians and Yezidis, who are persecuted in areas of Iraq controlled by the Islamic State and, yes, there is no doubt that the Sunni extremist force is guided by a Salafi ideology that severely discriminates against religious minorities, whether Muslim or non-Muslim.

But at what point in the past have Western states consistently defended religious minority rights in the Middle East? The idea seems to have emerged as an afterthought of the illegal U.S. invasion of Iraq.

And are Muslim and Christian Arabs in Israel, Muslim Shias in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain – to name just some of the groups mistreated by the West’s close allies – likely to be charmed by the West’s resolve to save the Yezidis of Iraq?

In any case, it is high time that the policy reversals in Brussels be questioned.

To recap: a turnabout in relation to the twin civil wars in Syria/Iraq was staged twiceFirst, in September 2011, a general prohibition on investments in and exports of oil from Syria was imposed, affecting both Assad’s government and Syria’s opposition. Then, in 2013, the European Union shifted de facto towards a position favourable to Syria’s Sunni extremist rebels.

Although the European Union’s foreign ministers now appear to have realised their sin, the damage can no longer be repaired without a complete overhaul of E.U. policy-making towards the Middle East.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

*  Peter Custers, an academic researcher on Islam and religious tolerance with field work in South Asia, is also a theoretician on the arms’ trade and extraction of raw materials in the context of conflicts in the global South. He is the author of ‘Questioning Globalized Militarism’. 

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Will Climate Change Denialism Help the Russian Economy?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/will-climate-change-denialism-help-the-russian-economy/#comments Sat, 30 Aug 2014 17:00:49 +0000 Mikhail Matveev http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136429 July 2014 floods in Russia but authorities turning blind eye to climate change. Credit: takemake.ru

July 2014 floods in Russia but authorities turning blind eye to climate change. Credit: takemake.ru

By Mikhail Matveev
MOSCOW, Aug 30 2014 (IPS)

The recent call from Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev for “tightening belts” has convinced even optimists that something is deeply wrong with the Russian economy.

No doubt the planned tax increases (introduction of a sales tax and increases in VAT and income tax) will inflict severe damage on most businesses and their employees, if last year’s example of what happened when taxes were raised for individual entrepreneurs is anything to go by – 650,000 of them were forced to close their businesses.

Nevertheless, it looks like some lucky people are not only going to escape the “belt-tightening” but are also about to receive some dream tax vacations and the lucky few are not farmers, nor are they in technological, educational, scientific or professional fields – it is the Russian and international oil giants involved in oil and gas projects in the Arctic and in Eastern Siberia that stand to gain.

“In October [2013], Vladimir Putin signed a bill under which oil extraction at sea deposits will be exempt from severance tax. Moreover, VAT will not need to be paid for the sales, transportation and utilisation of the oil extracted from the sea shelf,” noted Russian newspaper Rossiiskie Nedra.“It looks like some lucky people are not only going to escape the ‘belt-tightening’ but are also about to receive some dream tax vacations and the lucky few are not farmers, nor are they in technological, educational, scientific or professional fields – it is the Russian and international oil giants involved in oil and gas projects in the Arctic and in Eastern Siberia that stand to gain”

Some continental oil projects were alsoblessedby the “Tsar’s generosity”: “For four Russian deposits with hard-to-recover oils [shale oil, etc.] – Bazhenovskaya [in Western Siberia] and Abalakskaya in Eastern Siberia, Khadumskaya in the Caucasus, and Domanikovaya in the Ural region – severance taxes do not need to be paid. Other deposits had their severance tax rates reduced by 20-80%.”

In fact, the line of thinking adopted by Russian officials responsible for tax policy is very simple. Faced with the predicament of an economy dependent on oil and gas (half of the state budget comes from oil and gas revenue, while two-thirds of exports come from the fossil fuel industry), they decided to act as usual – by stimulating more drilling and charging the rest of the economy with the additional tax burden.

There have been many warnings from well-known economists about the “resource curse” [the paradox that countries and regions with an abundance of natural resources tend to have less economic growth and worse development outcomes than countries with fewer natural resources] – and its potential consequences for the countries affected: from having weak industries and agriculture to being prone to dictatorships and corruption.

For a long time, however, economists have been keen on separating the economic and social impacts of fossil fuel dependency from the environmental and climate-related problems. But now, these problems are closely interconnected, and Russia might be the first to feel the strength of their combination in the near future.

Medvedev may not have read much about the “resource curse” but he should at least be familiar with the official position of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), whose Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres has said that three-quarters of known fossil fuel reserves need to stay in the ground in order to avoid the worst possible climate scenario.

One should at least expect this amount of knowledge from Russia as a member of the UN Security Council and it will be interesting to note whether the Russian delegation attending the UN Climate Summit in New York on September 23 will be ready to explain why, instead of limiting fossil fuel extraction, the whole country’s economic and tax policy is now aimed at encouraging as much drilling as possible.

However, it is not just the United Nations that has been warning against the burning of fossil fuels due to the related high climate risks. In 2005, Russia’s own meteorology service Roshydromet issued its prognosis of climate change and the consequences for Russia, stating that the rate of climate change in Russia is two times faster than the world’s average.

Roshydromet predicted a rapid increase in both the frequency and strength of extreme climate events – including floods, hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires. The number of such events has almost doubled during the last 15 years, and represent not only an economic threat but also a real threat to humans’ lives and their well-being,

Consider this summary of climate disasters in Russia during an ordinary July week (not including any of the large natural disasters such as the floods in Altai, Khabarovsk, and Krymsk, or the forest fires around Moscow in 2010):

“Following the weather incidents in the Sverdlovsk and Chelyabinsk District where snow fell last weekend, a natural anomaly occurred in Novosibirsk, resulting in human casualties … Two three-year-old twin sisters died after a tree fell on them during a strong wind storm in the town of Berdsk, Novosibirsk District.”

“The flood in Yakutia lasted a week and resulted in the submersion of Ozhulun village in Churapchinsky district last Saturday. Due to the rise of the Tatta River, 57 house went under.”

“Flooding in Tuapse [on the coast of the Black Sea] occurred on July 8, 2014 … [and] has left 236 citizens homeless.”

ar swept away in July 2014 floods in Russia. Credit: takeme.ru

Cars swept away in July 2014 floods in Russia. Credit: takeme.ru

Is it not worrisome that so many climate disasters have to occur before Russian officials start to realise that climatologists are not lying? Or perhaps they are simply not inclined to take the climatologists’ warnings seriously.

Another significant problem could arise for Russia if oil consumers start taking U.N. climate warnings seriously – and there is evidence that this is happening.

The European Union (still the main consumer of Russian oil and gas) has announced an ambitious “20/20/20 programme” – increasing shares from renewables to 20 percent, improving energy efficiency by 20 percent, and decreasing carbon emissions by 20 percent. The United States has decided to decrease carbon emissions from power plants by 30 percent. These are only first steps – but even these steps can help decrease fossil fuel consumption.

Fossil fuel use has only very slowly been increasing in the United States and decreasing in Europe in the last five years. On the other hand, demand for oil has continued to rise in China and Southeast Asia, and it is perhaps this – rather than the recent “sanctions” against Russia over Ukraine – that inspired President Vladimir Putin’s recent “turn to the East”.

But there are serious doubts that Asia’s greed for oil will continue into the future. China recently admitted that it will soon be taking measures to limit carbon emissions – for the first time in its history. China has already turned to green energy andled the rest of the worldin renewable energy investment in 2013.

Will other Asian countries follow suit? Perhaps – because they certainly have a very strong incentive. According to Erin McCarthy writing in the Wall Street Journal, South and Southeast Asia’s losses due to global warming may be huge, and its GDP may be reduced by 6 percent by 2060, despite the measures taken to curb its emissions.

What does this mean for Russia?

Well, if the oil-consuming countries meet their carbon emission targets, we can expect a 10-20 percent decrease in oil demand in the next ten years, maybe more. Any decrease in demand usually induces a decrease in price – but not always proportionally. Sometimes, especially if the market is overheated, even a small decrease in demand can trigger a drastic falls in price. Economists call such a situation a “bursting bubble”.

Today, the situation in the oil (and, in general, fossil fuel) market is often called a “carbon bubble”. Because of high oil prices, investors are motivated to make investments in oil drilling in the hopes of earning a stable and long-term income.

But once the world starts taking climate issues seriously and realises that most of the oil needs to be left in the ground, oil assets will fall in value. Investors will try to withdraw their money from the fossil fuel sector, and, facing a crisis, oil companies will be forced to decrease both production and prices.

If the “carbon bubble” bursts, Russia will be left with sustainable businesses (that are being choked by the nation’s own tax politics) and with a perfect network of shelf platforms, oil rigs, and pipelines (which will be completely unprofitable and useless). Thus, by making fossil fuels the core of its economy, Russia is taking twice the number of risks.

First, it risks ruining the climate, and second, it risks ruining its own economy. It looks like Russia will lose at any rate: if the leading energy consumers are unable to decrease their oil consumption, the climate will be ruined everywhere, including Russia. If they manage to decrease their dependence on fossil fuel, the Russian economy will be ruined.

This certainly is not looking pleasant, especially if we add in the high probability of a major disaster like the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill happening in the Arctic, as well as countless minor leaks possibly occurring along the Russian pipelines.

But maybe Russia just has no other alternative to an economy dependent on fossil fuels?

In that case, perhaps it is worth mentioning a recent article by Russian financier Andrei Movchan in the Russian Forbes magazine. Movchan convincingly shows that the Achilles’ heel of the modern Russian economy is its extremely underdeveloped small and medium-sized businesses. And it looks like the current tax plans would literally exterminate them.

If Russia were able to reverse this tax policy and make small businesses play as big of a role in the economy as they do in the United States or Europe, there could be economic growth comparable to the growth expected from oil and gas – without all the frightful side effects of an economy driven by fossil fuels.

Sounds like a dream, but the first step to making it a reality can be simple: get rid of big oil lobbying in the government and try to reform the taxation system to suit the interests of Russian citizens instead of the interests of the big oil corporations.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

* Mikhail Matveev is 350.org Communications Coordinator for Eastern Europe, Caucasus, Central Asia and Russia

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OPINION: Why Kazakhstan Dismantled its Nuclear Arsenalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/opinion-why-kazakhstan-dismantled-its-nuclear-arsenal/#comments Fri, 29 Aug 2014 11:20:39 +0000 Kairat Abdrakhmanov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136406 By Kairat Abdrakhmanov
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 29 2014 (IPS)

Today is the fifth observance of the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

One of the first decrees of President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan, upon the country gaining independence in 1991, was the historic decision to close, on Aug. 29 the same year, the Semipalatinsk Nuclear test site, the second largest in the world.

Kazakhstan also voluntarily gave up the world’s fourth largest nuclear arsenal, with more than 110 ballistic missiles and 1,200 nuclear warheads with the capacity to reach any point on this earth.

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Many believed at that time that we took this decision because we did not possess the ability or competence to support such an massive atomic arsenal. Not true. We had then, and have even today, the best experts.

For us, it was more a question of political will to withdraw from the membership of the Nuclear Club because Kazakhstan genuinely believed in the futility of nuclear tests and weapons which can inflict unimagined catastrophic consequences on human beings and the environment.

The closing of the Semipalatinsk nuclear test site was followed by other major test sites, such as in Nevada, Novaya Zemlya, Lop Nur and Moruroa.

Therefore, at the initiative of Kazakhstan, the General Assembly adopted resolution 64/35, on Dec. 2, 2009, declaring Aug. 29 as the International Day against Nuclear Tests.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon visited the Ground Zero of Semipalatinsk in April 2010 and described the action of the president as a bold and unprecedented act and urged present world leaders to follow suit.

In the words of President Nazarbayev, this historical step made by our people, 23 years ago, has great significance for civilisation, and its significance will only grow in the coming years and decades.

It is acknowledged today that the end of testing would also result in the ultimate abolition of nuclear weapons and hence the importance of the entry into force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty.

Kazakhstan was one of the first to sign the treaty, and has been a model of transforming the benefits of renouncing nuclear weapons into human development especially in the post-2015 phase with its emphasis on sustainable development.

It has been internationally recognised that nuclear-weapon-free zones on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at among the states of the region concerned enhance global and regional peace and security, strengthens the nuclear non-proliferation regime and contributes towards realizing the objectives of nuclear disarmament.

Yes, there are political upheavals, and there will be roadblocks, but we have to keep pursuing durable peace and security. For these are the founding objectives of the United Nations.

Each year in the U.N.’s First Committee and the General Assembly, a number of resolutions are adopted, supported by a vast majority of member states calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons, and accelerating the implementation of nuclear disarmament commitments.

There are resolute and continuing efforts by member states, various stakeholders and civil society who advocate for an international convention against nuclear weapons.

We also see the dynamic action taken, especially by civil society, which brings attention to the devastating humanitarian dimensions of the use of nuclear weapons.

The meeting hosted by Norway in Oslo, and earlier this year in Nayarit by Mexico, have given new impetus to this new direction of thinking. We hope to carry further this zeal at the deliberations in Vienna, scheduled later this year.

The international community will continue its efforts on all fronts and levels to achieve the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

There was also a reaffirmation by the nuclear-weapon states of their unequivocal undertaking to accomplish the total elimination of their nuclear arsenals leading to nuclear disarmament, to which all states parties are committed under article VI of the Treaty of the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.

The international community, I am sure, with the impassioned engagement of civil society will continue to redouble its efforts to reach Global Zero.

Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov is the Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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The Time for Burning Coal Has Passedhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/the-time-for-burning-coal-has-passed/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 00:38:11 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu and Silvia Giannelli http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136333 Anti-coal human chain crossing the Niesse river which separates Poland and Germany, August 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace Poland

Anti-coal human chain crossing the Niesse river which separates Poland and Germany, August 2014. Credit: Courtesy of Greenpeace Poland

By Claudia Ciobanu and Silvia Giannelli
GRABICE, Poland / PROSCHIM, Germany, Aug 26 2014 (IPS)

“People have gathered here to tell their politicians that the way in which we used energy and our environment in the 19th and 20th centuries is now over,” says Radek Gawlik, one of Poland’s most experienced environmental activists. “The time for burning coal has passed and the sooner we understand this, the better it is for us.”

Gawlik was one of over 7,500 people who joined an 8-kilometre-long human chain at the weekend linking the German village of Kerkwitz with the Polish village of Grabice to oppose plans to expand lignite mining on both sides of the German-Polish border.“It's high time to plan the coal phase-out now and show the people in the region a future beyond the inevitable end of dirty fossil fuels" – Anike Peters, Greenpeace Germany

They were inhabitants of local villages whose houses would be destroyed if the plans go ahead, activists from Poland and Germany, and even visitors from other countries who wanted to lend a hand to the anti-coal cause. The human chain – which was organised by Greenpeace and other European environmental NGOs – passed through the Niesse river which marks the border between the two countries, and included people of all ages, from young children to local elders who brought along folding chairs.

At least 6,000 people in the German part of Lusatia region and another 3,000 across the border in south-western Poland stand to be relocated if the expansion plans in the two areas go ahead.

In Germany, it is Swedish state energy giant Vattenfall that plans to expand two of its lignite mines in the German states of Brandenburg and Saxony; state authorities have already approved the company’s plans. In Poland, state energy company PGE (Polska Grupa Energetyczna) plans an open-cast lignite mine from which it would extract almost two million tonnes of coal per year (more than from the German side).

On the German side

Germany has for a long time been perceived as an example in terms of its energy policy, not in the least because of its famous Energiewende, a strategy to decarbonise Germany’s economy by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80-95 percent, reaching a 60 percent renewables share in the energy sector, and increasing energy efficiency by 50 percent, all by 2050.

Today, one-quarter of energy in Germany is produced from renewable sources, and the same for electricity, as a result of policies included in the Energiewende strategy.

Expanding coal mining as would happen in the Lusatia region contradicts Germany’s targets, argue environmentalists. “The expansion of lignite mines and the goals of the Energiewende to decarbonise Germany until 2050 do not fit together at all,” says Gregor Kessler from Greenpeace Germany.  “There have to be severe cuts in coal-burning if Germany wants to reach its own 2020 climate goal (reducing CO2 emissions by 40 percent).

“Yet the government so far is afraid of taking the logical next step and announce a coal-phase-out plan,” Kessler continues. “So far both the Christian Democrats and the Social Democrats keep repeating that coal will still be needed for years and years to provide energy security. However even today a lot of the coal-generated energy is exported abroad as more and more energy comes from renewables.”

Proschim, a town of around 360 people, is one of the villages threatened by Vattenfall’s planned expansion. Already surrounded by lignite mines, this little community has one feature that makes its possible destruction even more controversial: nowadays it produces more electricity from renewable energy than its citizens use for themselves.

Wind farm in Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Wind farm in Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

But Vattenfall’s project to extend two existing open cast mines, namely Nochten and Welzow-Süd, would destroy Proschim along with its solar and wind farm and its biogas plant.

“It is such a paradox, we have so much renewable energy from wind, solar and biogas in Proschim. And this is the town they want to bulldoze,” says former Proschim mayor Erhard Lehmann.

The village is nevertheless split on the issue, with half of its citizens welcoming Vattenfall’s expansion project, including Volker Glaubitz, the deputy mayor of Proschim, and his wife Ingrid, who came from Haidemühl, a neighbouring village that was evacuated to make room for the Welzow-Süd open-cast mine. The place is now known as the “ghost-town”, due to the abandoned buildings that Vattenfall was not allowed to tear down because of property-related controversies.

Abandoned buildings in Haidemühl, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Abandoned buildings in Haidemühl, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Lignite undoubtedly played a major role in Lusatia’s economic development, creating jobs not only in the many open-cast mines spread over the territory, but also through the satellite activities connected to coal processing. Lehmann himself was employed as a mechanic and electrician for the excavators used in the mines. Ingrid Glaubitz was a machinist at ‘Schwarze Pumpe’, one of Vattenfall’s power plants and her son also works for Vattenfall.

“There must be renewable energy in the future, but right now it is too expensive and we need lignite as a bridge technology,” Volker Glaubitz told IPS. “The mines bring many jobs to the region: without the coal, Lusatia would be dead already.”

Johannes Kapelle, a 78-year-old farmer of Sorb origin and at the forefront of the battle against Proschim’s destruction, sees coal in a completely different way: “Coal is already vanishing, it something that belongs to the past.”

His house, right in front of the Glaubitz’s, is covered in solar panels, and from his garden he proudly shows the wind park that provides Proschim with an estimated annual production of 5 GWh.

Johannes Kapelle in his courtyard, with roof covered in solar panels, Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

Johannes Kapelle in his courtyard, with roof covered in solar panels, Proschim, Lusatia, Germany. Credit: Silvia Giannelli/IPS

According to Kapelle, lignite extraction has been threatening the Sorb culture, which is spiritually connected to the land, since the beginning of industrialisation over a hundred years ago. “When a Sorb has a house without a garden, and without farmland, without forests and lakes, then he’s not a true Sorb anymore, because he has no holy land.”

On the Polish side

Poland is Europe’s black sheep when it comes to climate, with 90 percent of electricity in Poland currently produced from coal and the country’s national energy strategy envisaging a core role for coal for decades to come. The Polish government led by Prime Minister Donald Tusk has over the past years tried to block progress by the European Union in adopting more ambitious climate targets.

For Polish authorities, the over 100,000 jobs in coal mining in the country today are an argument to keep the sector going. Additionally, says the government, coal constitutes a local reserve that can ensure the country’s “energy security” (a hot topic in Europe, especially since the Ukrainian-Russian crisis).

Coal opponents, on the other hand, note that the development of renewables and energy efficiency creates jobs too (according to the United Nations, investments in improved energy efficiency in buildings alone could create up to 3.5 million jobs in the European Union and the United States). Environmentalists further argue that coal is not as cheap as its proponents claim: according to the Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies, in some years, subsidies for coal mining in Poland have reached as much as 2 percent of GDP.

“In Poland, the coal lobby is very strong,” says Gawlik. “I also have the impression that our politicians have not yet fully understood that renewables and energy efficiency have already become real alternatives and do not come with some mythically high costs.”

The future of coal in Europe

In Europe as a whole, coal has seen a minor resurgence over the past 2-3 years, despite the European Union having the stated goal to decarbonise by 2050 (out of all fossil fuels, lignite produces the most CO2 per unit of energy produced).

Access to cheap coal exports from the United States, relatively high gas prices, plus a low carbon price on the EU’s internal emissions trading market (caused in turn by a decrease in industrial output following the economic crisis) led to a temporary hike in coal usage. Yet experts are certain that coal in Europe is dying a slow death.

“In the longer term the prospects for coal-fired power generation are negative,” according to a July report by the Economist Intelligence Unit. “Air-quality regulations (in the European Union) will force plant closures, and renewable energy will continue to surge, while in general European energy demand will be weak. The recent mini-boom in coal-burning will prove an aberration.”

“Additional coal mines would not only be catastrophic for people, nature and climate – it would also be highly tragic, as beyond 2030, when existing coal mines will be exhausted, renewable energies will have made coal redundant,” says Anike Peters, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Germany.

“It’s high time to plan the coal phase-out now and show the people in the region a future beyond the inevitable end of dirty fossil fuels.”

* Anja Krieger and Elena Roda contributed to this report in Germany

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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Churches at the Frontline of Climate Actionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/08/churches-at-the-frontline-of-climate-action/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 22:29:56 +0000 Melanie Mattauch http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136245 Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

Jänschwalde open cast lignite mine, close to Atterwasch, Germany. Credit: Christian Huschga

By Melanie Mattauch
LUSATIA, Germany, Aug 20 2014 (IPS)

Johannes Kapelle has been playing the organ in the Protestant church of Proschim since he was 14. The 78-year-old is actively involved in his community, produces his own solar power and has raised three children with his wife on their farm in Proschim, a small village of 360 inhabitants in Lusatia, Germany.

Now the church, his farm, the forest he loves dearly and his entire village is threatened with demolition to leave space for expansion of Swedish energy giant Vattenfall’s lignite (also known as brown coal) operations to feed its power plants. Nearly all of the fuel carbon (99 percent) in lignite is converted to CO2 – a major greenhouse gas – during the combustion process.“What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!” – Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt

For Kapelle, this is inconceivable: “In Proschim, we’ve managed effortlessly to supply our community with clean energy by setting up a wind park and a biogas plant. Nowadays, it is just irresponsible to expand lignite mining.”

The desolate landscape the giant diggers leave behind stretches as far as the eye can see from just a few hundred metres outside Proschim.

“It’s only going to take about a quarter of a year to burn the entire coal underneath Proschim. But the land is going to be destroyed forever. You won’t even be able to enter vast areas of land anymore because it will be prone to erosion. You won’t be able to grow anything on that soil anymore either. No potatoes, no tomatoes, nothing,” says Kappelle.

Some 70 km northeast of Proschim, Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt also sees his community under threat. His church in Atterwasch has been around for 700 years and even survived the Thirty Years’ War in the 17th century. Now it is supposed to make way for Vattenfall’s Jänschwalde Nord open cast lignite mine.

The 64-year-old has been Atterwasch’s pastor since 1977 and refuses to accept that his community will be destroyed: “As Christians, we have a responsibility to cultivate and protect God’s creation. That’s what it says in the Bible. We’re pretty good at cultivating but protection is lacking. That’s why I’ve been trying to stop the destruction of nature since the days of the German Democratic Republic.”

“Vattenfall’s plans to expand its mines have given this fight a new dimension,” Berndt adds. “This is now also about preventing our forced displacement.”

Berndt is currently involved in organising a huge protest on August 23 – a human chain connecting a German and Polish village threatened by coal mining in the region. He has also been pushing his church to step up its efforts to curb climate change.

As a result, his regional synod has positioned itself against new coal mines, lignite power plants and the demolition of further villages. It is also offering churches advice on energy savings and deploying renewable energy. The parsonage in Atterwasch, for example, has been equipped with solar panels.

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Parsonage in Atterwasch with solar panels. Credit: Christian Huschga

Despite Germany’s ambitions for an energy transition, its so-called Energiewende, the country’s CO2 emissions have been rising again for the past two years, for the first time since the country’s reunification. This is primarily due to Germany’s coal-fired power plants, and brown coal power stations in particular.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently confirmed that it is still possible to limit global warming below 2° C. But there is only a limited CO2 budget left to meet this goal and avert runaway climate change.

The IPCC estimates that investments in fossil fuels would need to fall by 30 billion dollars a year, while investments in low-carbon electricity supply would have to increase by 147 billion dollars a year.

As a result, more and more faith leaders are calling for divestment from fossil fuels. One of the most powerful advocates has been Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former South African Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who recently called for an “anti-apartheid style boycott of the fossil fuel industry”.

Tutu’s call to action has been echoed by U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, who has urged religious leaders to pull their investments out of fossil fuel companies.

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Protestant pastor Mathias Berndt. Credit: Christian Huschga

Many churches have taken this step already. Last month, the World Council of Churches, a fellowship of over 300 churches representing some 590 million people in 150 countries, decided to phase out its holdings in fossil fuels and encouraged its members to do the same.

The Quakers in the United Kingdom, the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the United Church of Christ in the United States, and many more regional and local churches have also joined the divestment movement.

The Church of Sweden was among the first to rid itself of oil and coal investments. It increased investments in energy-efficient and low-carbon projects instead, which also improved its portfolio’s financial performance.

Gunnela Hahn, head of ethical investments at the Church of Sweden’s central office explains: “We realised that many of our largest holdings were within the fossil industry. That catalysed the idea of more closely aligning investments with the ambitious work going on in the rest of the church on climate change. ”

Meanwhile, from the frontline, pastor Berndt calls for putting ethics first: “What we’re seeing today is the result of putting economic thinking at the forefront. Our mantra is to just continue doing things as long as they generate profit. We need to counteract this trend with ethical thinking. We need to do what’s right!”

Melanie Mattauch is 350.org Europe Communications Coordinator

(Edited by Phil Harris)

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