Inter Press Service » Regional Categories http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:58:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Pakistan and India Unlikely to Move to All-out War: Musharrafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pakistan-and-india-unlikely-to-move-to-all-out-war-musharraf/#comments Sat, 03 Dec 2016 11:53:54 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148065 By David White
LONDON, Dec 3 2016 (IPS)

High levels of both conventional and nuclear deterrence are likely to prevent the recent surge in clashes between India and Pakistan from escalating into all-out war, according to Pakistan’s former president and army chief Pervez Musharraf.

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

In an exclusive interview with IPS in London, Musharraf predicted that low-intensity conflict would continue in disputed border areas. But he did not share the belief of many Pakistanis that hostilities could slide into full-scale war between the two nuclear-armed countries.

“Any military commander knows the force levels being maintained by either side,” he said. “I don’t think war is a possibility because the lethality and accuracy of weapons has increased so much.”

Although Pakistan has reserved the right to make a nuclear first strike, he said it had sufficient controls to ensure that its nuclear weapons, including new short-range tactical missiles, were not used accidentally or stolen by terrorist groups. “They are in good hands, in secure hands.” he said.

“Thank God, the level of conventional deterrence that we have in terms of weapons and manpower is enough to deter conventional war. So therefore I’m reasonably sure that in case of a war it is the conventional side which will be played and we will not go on to the unconventional.”

The 73-yeasr-old Musharraf made his comments during a wide-ranging discussion at his London home, in which he set out plans for a return to front-line politics in Pakistan. He said he might have reacted “more strongly” in recent clashes than the Pakistani authorities had done.Although Pakistan has reserved the right to make a nuclear first strike, he said it had sufficient controls to ensure that its nuclear weapons, including new short-range tactical missiles, were not used accidentally or stolen by terrorist groups. “They are in good hands, in secure hands.” he said.

The two countries had previously made progress on territorial disputes including in Kashmir. But India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi , who won power in 2014, was “on a collision course” with Pakistan that precluded a peaceful resolution, he said.

Musharraf also issued a strong warning about the threat to Pakistan coming from sectarian conflicts in the Middle East, saying it would be “extremely dangerous” for Pakistan to get dragged into the war in Yemen alongside its long-standing Saudi allies.

Pakistan was initially named by Saudi Arabia as part of a 34-nation coalition but held back from participating in the Saudi-led campaign supporting Yemen’s exiled government against Houthi Shia rebels.

Pakistan, with Iran as its neighbour, should not be taking sides, he warned. “We cannot do something which arouses internal conflict within Pakistan.”

The vexed question of terrorist “safe havens”, which Pakistan has been accused of providing near the border with Afghanistan, had to be addressed by both sides, Musharraf insisted. “Why is it Pakistan’s responsibility to control movement across the border?” he asked, arguing that terrorists were also being harboured in Afghanistan.

He had warm words, however, for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, describing him as “definitely a good person”. This was despite the fact that efforts to build closer ties by training Afghan cadets in Pakistan had fizzled out.

His relationship with Ghani’s predecessor Hamid Karzai was more difficult. “I just didn’t like him,” Musharraf said, “because I think he was not a straight dealer.”

This is the second of three articles based on Musharraf’s interview with IPS.

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Unleashing Africa Full Potentialhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/unleashing-africas-full-potential/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unleashing-africas-full-potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/unleashing-africas-full-potential/#comments Fri, 02 Dec 2016 15:22:37 +0000 Ambassador Amina Mohamed http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148058 Amb. Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and a Kenya’s candidate for the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission.]]>

Amb. Amina Mohamed is the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and a Kenya’s candidate for the position of Chairperson of the African Union Commission.

By Ambassador Amina Mohamed
NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec 2 2016 (IPS)

Africa, the cradle of mankind and home to the youngest population in the world, has a historic opportunity to realise its full potential, in sharing our potential prosperity, by enhancing economic growth, promoting and entrenching democratic ideals. That is why I am so passionate to be running for the coveted African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson.

Amb. Amina Mohamed

Amb. Amina Mohamed

It is time for the African Union to provide leadership. Africans of all walks of life are looking up to it. I also strongly believe our continent is at a turning point, a defining moment, when we must drive an agenda that realises a common vision of integration, cooperation, collaboration and committed leadership. It is Africa’s time; we cannot afford to miss this golden opportunity to put it at the centre stage of world politics and economics while improving the lot of our people and countries.

We already have a sound blueprint going forward as envisaged in the African Union’s Agenda 2063 – TThe Africa We Want.

This blueprint has a clear roadmap for implementation. One of the critical areas is achieving synergy of member States through collaboration among the eight regional economic groupings and AU’s strategic partners.

Africa’s markets must communicate with each other to harness trade and investment. Infrastructure deficit stands as an impediment towards this objective. We must secure seamless connectivity through people-to-people interactions, ICT and knowledge transfer throughout the Continent. Hard infrastructure development should also be reinforced by more intra-Africa rail, road, air and water linkages.

Mwalimu Julius Nyerere once said: “Together, we the people of Africa will be incomparably stronger internationally than we are now with our multiplicity of unviable states’. It is no longer tenable to keep talking of our great potential. It is time to make the African Continent; felt, heard and respected on the global scene. For this to happen, Africa must take greater responsibility of financing its development and programmes. Such has been the agreement by our Finance and Planning Ministers since March, 2015. Domestic resource mobilisation is the assured strategic complement to foreign investment and official development assistance. Focused leadership at the AUC will guarantee that this decision is fully implemented.

In order to increase the financial resources available internally, industrialisation and diversification remain pertinent. More specifically, we need to harness our blue economy and fast-track the mining industry.

Africa has to build the capacity of our youthful population. In 2015, African Youth aged 15 – 24 years accounted for 19 percent of the global youth poppulation and projected to increase by 42 percent by 2030. This is a demographic dividend to Africa’s prosperity. Women must also be fully enabled to play an inclusive role in all spheres of Africa’s development. Tapping into African talent will be the hallmark of my tenure. The collective success to Agenda 2063 lies in creating an indomitable human force to resolve Africa’s challenges.

Every African citizen deserves a life of dignity free from harm, in order to promote social justice and the realization of their potential. I am optimistic that together we can continue to create a Continent that not only embodies our pride and dignity, but also the hub for peace and stability.

Africa must also make its cultural diversity a cause for celebration. Cultural exchange across the continent through education, travel and symposia. This will renew our Pan-African ideals especially among younger Africans.

Our continent has made significant strides in expanding access to education and better health care. In order to shelter our population from extreme want, we ought to explore skills diversification and universal health coverage.

Investing in value-addition through agro-processing will increase Africa’s global market share and attain collective food security and comparative advantage.

Going forward, we must remain in partnership with the rest of the world. Global challenges such as climate change will only be resolved through cooperation. However, Africa remains most vulnerable from effects of global warming. As such, we need to; take serious mitigation and adaptation measures, utilise indigenous knowledge to generate local shared solutions and build resilient communities in addition to our continued demands for climate justice.

Thus, united by the vision of an independent Africa working for better lives of all her people, it is now time for the AUC to foster the realisation of Africa’s full potential through transformative leadership harnessed by the AUC Secretariat.

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ISDS Corporate Rule of Lawhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/isds-corporate-rule-of-law/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=isds-corporate-rule-of-law http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/isds-corporate-rule-of-law/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 16:35:06 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148035 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was United Nations Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, and received the Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought in 2007.]]> Foreign corporations have used Investor-state dispute settlement to change sovereign laws and undermine national regulations.

Foreign corporations have used Investor-state dispute settlement to change sovereign laws and undermine national regulations.

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions in ostensible free trade agreements (FTAs) and bilateral investment treaties (BITs) have effectively created a powerful, privileged system of protections for foreign investors that undermine national law and institutions. ISDS allows foreign corporations to sue governments for causing them losses due to legal or regulatory changes.

A law unto themselves
ISDS cases are decided by extrajudicial tribunals composed of three corporate lawyers. Although ISDS has existed for decades, its scope and impact has grown sharply in the last decade. As ISDS has been written into over 3,000 BITs and numerous FTAs, the opportunities for ISDS claims are huge and growing.

Originally justified as necessary to protect foreign corporate investments abroad from nationalization or expropriation by governments controlling national judiciaries, foreign corporations have used ISDS to change sovereign laws and undermine national regulations. As there is no cap on the amount of awards, claims – and awards – can be huge.

The system is secret and dominated by unaccountable corporate lawyers. As international arbitration is typically not transparent, pursuing such claims can avoid the public scrutiny associated with mounting legal challenges in courts. Lack of transparency means that lawyers acting as arbitrators or advocates in one case can be unnamed investors in other cases, as nobody would ever know.

ISDS proponents claim that the outcomes of cases are uncertain, and corporations only win about a quarter of the cases they pursue. But this does not include settlements agreed to before the conclusion of arbitration proceedings from which corporations often secure handsome benefits of some kind or other. ISDS arbitration is certainly far more attractive to foreign investors who would otherwise shy away from pursuing claims in other national courts, particularly against host governments.

Recent ISDS decisions have involved significantly greater delegation of authority to arbitrators in interpreting and applying the agreements concerned, without any meaningful review or opportunity to appeal the arbitrators’ decisions. There is no guarantee that tribunals will interpret treaty provisions in ways consistent with governments’ understandings of what treaty obligations mean.

Foreign corporations rule
ISDS also allows foreign investors to challenge the actions of officials at any level of government – local, state, and federal – as well as conduct by any branch – executive, legislative and judicial. A measure entirely consistent with domestic law is no defence against liability. ISDS thus empowers private arbitrators to decide on cases that are essentially matters of domestic constitutional and administrative law, but are presented as treaty claims.

With ISDS, foreign investors will be able to ask a panel of appointed international arbitrators to determine ‘proper’ administrative, legislative and judicial conduct while bypassing national judicial institutions. Since many legal decisions involve matters of interpretation, non-national judges deciding on ‘national’ issues will make a great deal of difference. It greatly helps foreign investors to be able to bring their claims against a government before international arbitrators, and not domestic courts.

Further, there is no provision for meaningful appeal; a tribunal’s decision will probably stand even if it gets the law or facts wrong. ISDS decision makers are not required to be independent and impartial with the high ethical standards expected of most judges. If a domestic court makes a decision inconsistent with legislative intent, the legislature can correct it by passing new legislation, but it has no power to override an ISDS decision.

Procedural rules and remedies are significantly different, depending on whether an investor claim is through ISDS or domestic courts, with significant consequences for a government’s exposure to claims and liability. Also, similar sounding legal texts may be interpreted very differently in different contexts; thus, the law is not the same in effect, even it may look similar.

The threat of supranational adjudication has many, often complex legal and policy implications. ISDS will inadvertently dilute constitutional protections, weaken the judiciary, and displace national legal systems with a system of private arbitration devoid of key checks and balances found in most national judicial systems. Investors seem to have persuaded many politicians to support their ISDS promotion efforts. In short, ISDS is an extreme, discriminatory and unnecessary form of supranational adjudication that undermines national law and institutions.

Alternatives
While public and private insurance and other forms of foreign investment protection are already available to protect legitimate investor rights and interests, it is doubtful whether ISDS is even needed for the situations it was originally designed for. Already, India, Indonesia and Ecuador have advised their treaty partners that they are considering ending their BITs because of ISDS.

To reduce abuses, investors could be required to first prove discrimination in national courts before being allowed to proceed to ISDS arbitration. Alternatively, national courts could exercise judicial review over ISDS awards. Also, arbitrators could be required to be independent of the ISDS process, with set salaries, security of tenure and no financial ties to litigants while investor status for ISDS claims could be defined more strictly.

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Fidel Castro, a Larger-than-Life Leader in Tumultuous Timeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/fidel-castro-an-extraordinary-leader-in-tumultuous-times/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fidel-castro-an-extraordinary-leader-in-tumultuous-times http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/fidel-castro-an-extraordinary-leader-in-tumultuous-times/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 15:51:59 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148033 The urn holding the ashes of Fidel Castro is seen covered by a Cuban flag on a military jeep on Nov. 30, at the start of an 800-km funeral procession that will reach a cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on Dec. 4. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The urn holding the ashes of Fidel Castro is seen covered by a Cuban flag on a military jeep on Nov. 30, at the start of an 800-km funeral procession that will reach a cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on Dec. 4. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

Among the many leaders who left their mark on history in the 20th century, Fidel Castro – who died Nov. 25 at the age of 90 – stood out for propelling Cuba into a global role that was unexpectedly prominent for a small country, in an era when arms were frequently taken up to settle national and international disputes.

The Cold War imposed certain political choices as well as the consequences in terms of hostilities. By choosing Communism as its path in 1961, two years after the triumph of the revolution, Cuba became a pawn that infiltrated the enemy chessboard, facing the risks posed by such a vulnerable and threatening position.

In Latin America, the “Western, Christian” side mainly degenerated into military dictatorships, nearly all of them anti-Communist and with direct links to the United States, with a few exceptions like the progressive government of General Juan Velasco Alvarado in Peru (1968-1975).

On the other side, guerrilla movements supported or stimulated by Cuba, like the 1966-1967 incursion led by Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia, mushroomed. The military defeat of these movements was a general, but not absolute, rule.

For example, there was the Sandinista triumph in Nicaragua in 1979, and in Colombia the half-decade conflict raged until this year, when a peace deal was finally signed by the government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels.

The armed conflicts were not limited to the countries of Latin America. The Vietnam war shook the world in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Communist victory over U.S. forces prevented another country from being split in two, like Korea or Germany.

In Africa, the decolonisation of some countries cost rivers of blood. Algeria, for example, won its independence from France in 1962 after a war that left a death toll of 1.5 million, according to the Algerians, or just over one-third of that number, according to the French.

Against this backdrop, Castro led an incredible set of accomplishments that earned Cuba a projection and influence far out of proportion to the size of a country of fewer than 10 million people up to 1980 and 11.2 million today.

He fomented and trained guerrilla movements that challenged governments and armed forces in several countries of Latin America. Many felt Cuba offered an alternative, more authentic, brand of Communism that contrasted with the Soviet Union’s, which was seen as bureaucratic, based on repression, even of other peoples, and by then bereft of revolutionary zeal.

The defence of social equality, the top priority put on children, advances in education and health, and solidarity with oppressed peoples or nations hit by tragedies around the world are attractive components of Cuba’s style of Communism, despite its dictatorial nature.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans took part in the mammoth rally held Nov. 29 to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, attended by leaders from every continent. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans took part in the mammoth rally held Nov. 29 to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, attended by leaders from every continent. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

It was not democracy – a value not highly respected decades ago, not even by the propagandists of freedom in the Western world, who also disseminated, or were linked to, dictatorships.

Cuban troops and doctors spread in large numbers throughout Africa and Latin America, in campaigns providing support and assistance, on some occasions playing a central role.

The action abroad that had the greatest impact was in Angola, where Cuba’s military aid was decisive in the country’s successful bid for independence, by cutting off the advance of South African troops that almost reached Luanda in the attempt to prevent the birth of the new nation, which occurred on Nov. 11, 1975.

For decades, Cuban troops were in Angola training the military and strengthening national defence, along with the Cuban doctors and teachers who helped care for and teach a new generation of Angolans.

The operation in Angola showed that Cuba was more than a mere pawn of the former Soviet Union. On May 27, 1977 there was an attempted coup d’etat by a faction of the governing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led by Nito Alves.

Loyal to then President Agostinho Neto, the Cubans helped block the coup. They retook the main radio station in Luanda, which had been occupied by rebels, and returned it to government control. It was a Cuban voice fheard over the radio announcing the success of the operation.

The Soviets were on the side of the coup plotters, according to Angola’s leaders of the time. Diplomats from Moscow were expelled from the country, as were members of the Communist Party of Portugal.

A worse fate was suffered by the followers of Nito Alves accused of participating in the uprising: thousands of them were shot and killed. The number of victims has never been confirmed.

More recently, tens of thousands of Cuban doctors have spread a humane image of Cuba throughout Latin America, after they did so in many African countries. Thousands of them have worked in Venezuela since late president Hugo Chavez first took power in 1999. In Brazil, more than 11,000 Cuban doctors have been providing healthcare in poor and remote areas since 2013.

The Cuban revolution and its achievements are inextricably intertwined with the figure of Fidel Castro, whose leadership was so dominating that he probably would not have needed the rules of his political regime to constantly assert his power and authority over all activities in Cuba.

“Why hold elections?” many Cubans used to argue, in response to the frequent criticism of how long the Castro administration remained in power, without submitting itself to a real vote.

The impression is that his leadership was excessive, that it went far beyond the limits of the Caribbean island nation. His capacity for action was reflected in working meetings held in the wee hours of the morning, as well as in his meetings with visiting leaders.

His hours-long speeches were also delivered abroad, when he visited countries governed by friends, such as Chile in 1971 – governed at the time by socialist President Salvador Allende (1970-1973) – and Angola in 1977, under President Agostinho Neto.

“They don’t have a Fidel,” said Cubans in Angola, to criticise and explain errors committed by the government there, lamenting the lack of such an infallible leader as theirs, in a country whose development they were trying to support.

A product and subject of an era marked by the Cold War, Castro seemed destined to cause controversy, as a historic figure praised by some and condemned as a despot by others. But his political legacy will wane if Communism does not find a way to reconcile with democracy.

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Pervez Musharraf Sets out ‘Higher’ Comeback Planshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/pervez-musharraf-sets-out-higher-comeback-plans/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 10:14:51 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148028 Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

By David White
LONDON, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf says he intends to make a second bid for a political comeback next year, aiming to return from self-imposed exile to forge a new party that would bridge ethnic and sectarian divides.

In an exclusive interview with IPS in London, Musharraf said he wanted to have “something effective on the ground” in Pakistan by June next year so that the new political entity could contest general elections scheduled for March 2018. He was prepared to go to court in Pakistan to face any charges against him as long as he was allowed to move around.

He laid out his plans in a wide-ranging interview that also dealt with responses to terrorism, the recent escalation in border hostilities between Pakistan and India, the threat from sectarian conflict in the Middle East and concerns about Donald Trump’s impending presidency in the US.

“I have to bring the people together and give them the proper leadership,” he said. Speaking in the living-room of the central London flat that became his main base after he resigned from office in 2008, he said the current leadership was incapable of meeting Pakistan’s internal and external challenges.

“At the moment politics in Pakistan is polarised and all parties are ethnically based. I think that is bad for the Federation of Pakistan,” Musharraf said.

He claimed he still had popular support, despite a disappointing reception on his previous return to Pakistan in 2013, which he blamed partly on a change of venue. Facing a treason trial and other charges that include alleged complicity in the 2007 assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, he was allowed to leave Pakistan again in March this year.

musharrafstanding_300Musharraf, who is 73, admitted that the outlook for resolving the court cases was “not all that good”, accusing Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government of conducting a vendetta against him. “The cases have to be dealt with to a certain extent so that my movement does not get restricted. Otherwise they can continue,” he said.

“I know that the military will always be in my favour to protect me,” Musharraf, a former army commander, added, although they could not dictate terms to the courts.

In May, the former president was declared an absconder by a special court hearing treason charges against him for taking emergency rule powers in 2007.

On the Benazir Bhutto assassination, Musharraf stood by the version put forward by the government at the time blaming Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who denied involvement and was later killed in a US drone attack. But the former president said he had no knowledge of any conspiracy behind the attack.

In remarks following the interview, Musharraf made clear he had no intention of seeking a seat in the national assembly, having been debarred from standing in the 2013 election. “The aim is far greater, far higher,” he said.

He said he had held discussions with other Pakistani politicians in person in Dubai and by telephone. He dismissed media reports suggesting a possible role as president of Muttahida Qaumi Movement and its splinter group the Pak Sarzameen Party, arguing that they were too narrowly based in Urdu-speaking urban areas of southeast Pakistan. However, these so-called Muhajir groups would be an important part of the new national party he was planning to form, he said

Musharraf said a harder clampdown was required on all elements of separatist and sectarian terrorism in the country. “We haven’t taken a very holistic approach towards it,” he said, saying the authorities could make more use of “second-line” auxiliary forces such as the Frontier Corps, which should be strengthened with better weaponry. “The army should be relieved of these policing jobs.”

More needed to be done to regulate madrassas and bring them into Pakistan’s mainstream education system, he said. “Most of them are not oriented towards terrorism. Some of them certainly are, and we need to close them down.”

Musharraf played down the danger of a “blowback” for Pakistan from its support for irregular militant groups in Kashmir and Afghanistan. But he accepted that “some elements” had links to terrorist attacks in Pakistan and there was a risk that some might now become proxies for ISIS.

He defended humanitarian work carried out by associates of militant Islamic group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which India has blamed for deadly attacks including those in Mumbai in 2008 and which is widely banned as a terrorist organisation. The organisation had been “much maligned”, Musharraf said. “They have taken the religious youth away from terrorism towards welfare activity,” he argued. “And if we keep pushing them to the wall these same youths are going to turn towards terrorism and the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.”

Musharraf maintained that up to his departure his government “achieved tremendously” in its aims or promoting welfare, development and security. But he admitted making errors in sidelining Pakistan’s chief justice – a move that provoked nationwide protests although Musharraf still says it was deserved – and in ordering a corruption amnesty for civil servants and politicians, “which made me unpopular.”

Further articles from this interview dealing with regional security and relations with the US and China will be published shortly.

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Subway Will Modernise – and Further Gentrify – Historic Centre of Quitohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/subway-will-modernise-and-further-gentrify-historical-centre-of-quito/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=subway-will-modernise-and-further-gentrify-historical-centre-of-quito http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/subway-will-modernise-and-further-gentrify-historical-centre-of-quito/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:44:10 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148017 In the Plaza de San Francisco, where the church and convent of the same name stand, fences have blocked off the construction site for the Quito subway for months, as work has been stalled while archaeological finds are assessed. Quito’s historic centre is the biggest in Latin America. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In the Plaza de San Francisco, where the church and convent of the same name stand, fences have blocked off the construction site for the Quito subway for months, as work has been stalled while archaeological finds are assessed. Quito’s historic centre is the biggest in Latin America. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
QUITO, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Success can kill, when it comes to cities. Spain’s Barcelona is facing problems due to the number of tourists that it attracts. And the historic centre of Ecuador’s capital city, Quito, a specially preserved architectural jewel, is losing its local residents as it gentrifies.

This paradox was pointed out by Fernando Carrión, president of the Latin American and Caribbean Organisation of Historic Centres (OLACCHI) and a professor at the Latin American Social Sciences Institute (FLACSO) in Ecuador.

“Quito’s historic centre lost 42 per cent of its population over the last 15 years, a period in which it gained better monuments and lighting, and became cleaner,” he said. According to official census figures, the population of the old city dropped from 58,300 in 1990 to 50,982 in 2001 and 40,587 in 2010.“The subway is a good solution, which will reduce the use of private buses that pollute, and will help solve congestion in a city where the traffic passes through the north-south corridor.” -- Julio Echeverría

The effort to revitalise the historic centre was based on a “monumentalist policy,” on the restoration of churches and large buildings, which led to a process of gentrification, driving up housing prices and the conversion of residential into commercial property and pushing out low-income residents, he told IPS.

“I fear that the subway will drive away more people,” exacerbating the tendency, he added.

Two stations of the first subway line in Quito started to be built in 2013 by the Spanish company Acciona. “Phase two”, the construction of a 22-kilometre tunnel and 13 other stations, got underway in January 2016 and is to be completed by July 2019.

The consortium that won the bid is made up of Acciona and Odebrecht, Brazil’s largest construction company, which has built subway lines in several Latin American countries.

Only one station, in the Plaza de San Francisco, will be located in the historic centre. “Projections estimate that 42,000 passengers per day will pass through that station,” that is to say that “with the subway the same number of people will arrive but by a different means of transport,” Mauricio Anderson, the general manager of the Quito Subway Public Metropolitan Company (EPMMQ), told IPS.

Underground transport “will reduce traffic congestion, vibrations and pollution” by replacing cars and buses, he said.

The aim of the new mass transport system is to improve the quality of life of people in Quito, by reducing travel time, generating socioeconomic inclusion of people in the lower-income outlying neighbourhoods, saving fuel, cutting the number of accidents and creating a cleaner environment, according to EPMMQ.

“Each day about 400,000 people in Quito will use this system,” said Anderson. “This will help optimise other services and increase the average travel speed in Quito, which for surface transport is now 13 kilometres per hour, and by subway will be 37 kilometres per hour.”

A dedicated lane system trolley bus and one of its stations, in Ecuador’s capital. Critics of the subway in Quito argue that it would be better for the city to extend and improve the tramways. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A dedicated lane system trolley bus and one of its stations, in Ecuador’s capital. Critics of the subway in Quito argue that it would be better for the city to extend and improve the tramways. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

As Ecuador’s capital has an elongated shape, stretching from north to south, the 22-kilometre subway line with 15 stations will enable most of the city’s residents to take the subway or catch a bus that hooks into the system within less than four blocks of their homes or workplaces, according to studies that guided the system’s design.

The subway, with trains that will hold up 1,500 passengers each, “will connect the entire integrated transport system.”

According to 2014 statistics, there were 2.8 million daily trips in the public transport system of the Metropolitan District of Quito, most of them by conventional buses and the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, which uses bus-only lanes.

Opponents of the subway argue that by optimising the BRT system, which serves the same north-south route, it could transport more passengers than the subway, with a significantly lower investment.

But “Quito’s surface is saturated, there are no real dedicated lanes and the roads are narrow,” said Anderson, stressing the greater speed and efficiency of the subway, which benefits both passengers and the environment.

Building the subway will cost just over two billion dollars, “that is 89 million dollars per kilometre, a figure that is below the region’s average,” said the manager of the Quito subway.

The project was designed by the Spanish public company Metro de Madrid. A fare of 45 cents of a dollar will cover the first line’s operational and maintenance costs, according to the company.

But Ricardo Buitrón, an activist with Acción Ecológica, said “They will cost much more than that,” noting that building a subway in Quito is complex and arguing that it cannot be cheaper than in Panama, for example, where each kilometre cost 128 million dollars to build.

The Cerro del Panecillo hill, which divides north from south of Ecuador’s capital, seen from the Museum of the City, at the heart of the historic centre. The rugged topography represents a challenge to mobility in this highlands city. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Cerro del Panecillo hill, which divides north from south of Ecuador’s capital, seen from the Museum of the City, at the heart of the historic centre. The rugged topography represents a challenge to mobility in this highlands city. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Besides, with what is being invested in the subway “260 kilometres of exclusive lanes for electric buses plus 40 kilometres of tramways could be created, like the system being built in Cuenca,” in southern Ecuador, he told IPS.

And a 45 cent fare will require subsidies, which he estimated at 100 million dollars annually. In other countries, the operational cost per passenger is over 1.5 dollars, he said.

“Subsidies are inevitable in public transport, but they should contribute to improving the system,” said Buitrón. In Quito, for example, they should bolster the use of electric buses, remedying the setback represented by the replacement of electric articulated buses with diesel-run buses that are more economical, he said.

In Ecuador, diesel fuel is poor quality and heavily polluting, as seen in the black smoke they emit, he said.

“The subway is a good solution, which will reduce the use of private buses that pollute, and will help solve congestion in a city where the traffic passes through the north-south corridor,” said Julio Echeverría, executive director of the Instituto de la Ciudad and former professor of political science in several universities in Ecuador and Italy.

But this responded to a “linear and longitudinal” moment in Quito’s urban development which is long past. Now the city has changed, it is “scattered, fragmented, it stretches toward the valleys and other agricultural areas of great biodiversity,” he said.

Quito, with an estimated total population of 2.5 million, has the largest and least altered historic centre in Latin America, having been declared in 1978 a Cultural Heritage of Humanity site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

Founded in 1534 on a long and narrow plateau on the eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains next to the Pichincha volcano, some 2,800 metres above sea level, Ecuador’s capital has a very well preserved centre with more than 50 churches, chapels and monasteries, and dozens of squares.

The negotiated relocation of some 7,000 street vendors to formal markets in 2003, and a pedestrianisation of the historic centre program carried out in the first decade of the century, bringing art to the squares and streets every Sunday, helped to attract local residents and growing numbers of tourists.

The great impact of building a subway under the old city worries many people. “The subway is not a good thing for the poor; it is faster than the trolley bus, but more expensive,” said 52-year-old Manuel Quispe, who earns a living cleaning shoes in Plaza de San Francisco.

Jorge Córdoba, another shoe shiner in the square, agreed that the subway is faster, but told IPS he believes it will be impossible to build, since “Quito was built on filled-in gullies” and it will be hard to open tunnels. He complained, like Quispe, of the many months that the works have been stalled, blocking half of the square and reducing their already meagre incomes.

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Rohingya Refugees Trapped in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/rohingya-refugees-trapped-in-limbo/#comments Wed, 30 Nov 2016 13:35:50 +0000 Mahfuzur Rahman http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148012 The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

The crisis of violence against Rohingya Muslims goes back many years. In this image, a group of refugees is turned back by Bangladesh border guards in 2012. Credit: Anurup Titu/IPS

By Mahfuzur Rahman
DHAKA, Nov 30 2016 (IPS)

Amid growing persecution by Myanmar’s military, thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims in its western state of Rakhine have fled their frontier villages and are languishing along the Myanmar-Bangladesh border for lack of shelter and emergency supplies.

In response to alleged coordinated attacks on three border posts on Oct. 9 that killed nine guards, Myanmar troops swarmed into areas along the country’s frontier with Bangladesh, forcing the Rohingyas to leave their homes."Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.” -- John McKissick of UNHCR

London-based Arakan Rohingya National Organisation (ARNO), a political group based in Rakhine state (Arakan), Myanmar, said on Nov. 28 that Myanmar security forces have killed over 500 people, raped hundreds of women, burned down over 2,500 houses, destroyed mosques and religious schools, and perpetrated other abuses in the latest round of violence.

The international community and rights groups, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have expressed grave concern over the brutalities in Myanmar. They termed the operation the most serious since hundreds were killed in communal clashes in Rakhine in 2012.

Up to 250,000 people are said to have been displaced so far and thousands more affected by the recent operation. Both Myanmar’s military and government deny the allegations by the rights groups and the displaced minority.

Amid the evolving situation, Bangladesh, a next-door neighbour of Myanmar, is unwilling to allow the entry of more Rohingyas, as it has already been hosting some 300,000 undocumented Rohingyas since 1977. The Bangladesh government says it is not its lone responsibility to give them refuge.

In an Nov. 20 interview with United News of Bangladesh (UNB), an independent news agency, director general of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) Abul Hossain said Bangladesh would not allow anybody to enter its territory illegally.

Terming the Rohingya crisis an international issue, Maj. Gen. Hossain said Bangladesh has already been hosting a large number of Rohingya refugees and managing them has become a problem. “We’re trying to manage our border efficiently so that any illegal intrusion, including the entry of militants and terrorists, is prevented.”

The Myanmar government has denied them citizenship even though they have been living there for generations, as the Buddhist majority of Rakhine state considers them illegal migrants from Bangladesh.

On Nov. 24, Amnesty International said the Rohingya refugees and asylum-seekers have been forced into hiding across the Na’f River that divides Bangladesh and Myanmar, and they are now suffering for lack of food and medical care.

Bangladesh’s Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said Rohingyas were also entering Bangladesh through remote hilly areas and it was difficult to stem the flow.

“We hope that the Myanmar government will come to a solution soon,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has appealed to the government of Bangladesh to keep its border with Myanmar open and allow safe passage to any civilians fleeing the violence.

According to the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission, some 9,000 Rohingya people have already entered Bangladesh with the help of smugglers who know how to dodge the Bangladesh border guards (BGB). Bangladesh has reinforced both its border and coast guards since the escalation of operation by the Myanmar military and sent back many people. Some 3,000 Rohingyas are also said to have fled to China.

Prothom Alo, a leading Bengali national daily, reported that some 1,100 Rohingyas entered Bangladesh on Nov. 28 alone, with Myanmar’s military burning down their houses and firing shots indiscriminately.

Amid international pressure to accept the newly displaced Rohingya people, the Foreign Ministry of Bangladesh summoned the Myanmar Ambassador in Dhaka on Nov. 23 and conveyed its deep concern at the military operation forcing Rohingya Muslims to flee their frontier homes.

Later, in a statement, Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry said it had asked Myanmar to “ensure the integrity of its border and to stop the influx of people from Rakhine state. Despite our border guards’ sincere efforts to prevent the influx, thousands of distressed Myanmar citizens, including women, children and elderly people, continue to cross the border into Bangladesh.”

Though the Bangladesh government is unwilling to accept the Rohingyas, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), one of Bangladesh’s two major parties, has been urging the government to give shelter to the displaced Rohingya people on humanitarian grounds.

In a statement, BNP chairperson Khaleda Zia, who is also a former Prime Minister, said, “Many Rohingya refugees have long been staying in our country which is densely populated and witnessing a shrinking of livable land. We’re also facing various social problems for it. Despite that, I call upon the authorities concerned to give the Rohingya refugees shelter as much as possible on humanitarian ground to save their lives.”

Meanwhile, the Amnesty International has denounced the persecution of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar and also asked Bangladesh not to push the fleeing Rohingyas back across the border.

“The Rohingyas are being squeezed by the callous actions of both the Myanmar and Bangladesh authorities. Fleeing collective punishment in Myanmar, they are being pushed back by the Bangladeshi authorities. Trapped between these cruel fates, their desperate need for food, water and medical care is not being addressed,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s South Asia director.

In Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, thousands of people took to the streets on Nov. 25 in protest against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims. The protesters also burned an effigy of Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi and a flag of Myanmar, carrying banners that read ‘Open the border to save the Rohingyas’.

A vigorous social media campaign is also underway to put pressure on Bangladesh’s authorities to allow the displaced Rohingyas to enter the country.

UNICEF has said thousands of malnourished children are suffering from lack of medical care and in danger of starving.

Amid the horrific situation, the UNHCR head in Bangladesh, John McKissick, on Nov. 24 told BBC Bangla that “Rohingya Muslims in Burma are being ethnically cleansed. Myanmar security forces have been killing men, shooting them, slaughtering children, raping women, burning and looting houses, forcing these people to cross the river into Bangladesh.”

Myanmar’s presidential spokesman Zaw Htay responded that McKissick “should maintain his professionalism and his ethics as a United Nations officer because his comments are just allegations.”

Last week, Human Rights Watch released satellite images showing that over 1,000 Rohingya homes have been destroyed in five villages of Rakhine state.

The New York-based group in a statement that satellite images taken on Nov. 10, 17 and 18 showed 820 destroyed buildings, bringing the total number it says it has documented to 1,250.

As the situation continues to deteriorate, the United States reiterated its call for a full, formal and transparent investigation into violence in Rakhine state and laid emphasis on international community’s participation for finding a solution there.

A human rights icon whose activism earned her the Nobel Peace Prize, Suu Kyi is now being criticised globally for her silence over the dire situation in her own country.

The first democratic election in 25 years was held in Myanmar in November last year, with Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) winning it with a thumping majority. Though she could not assume the presidency due to a constitutional bar, Suu Kyi is considered a de-facto leader as she serves as State Counsellor.

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Debate Roils India Over Family Planning Methodhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/debate-roils-india-over-family-planning-method/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=debate-roils-india-over-family-planning-method http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/debate-roils-india-over-family-planning-method/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 21:34:55 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148002 A family in New Delhi. Given India's high infant mortality rate, one of the highest in the world, many women are not keen on sterilisation since they feel that it shuts out their option of having children later if required. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

A family in New Delhi. Given India's high infant mortality rate, one of the highest in the world, many women are not keen on sterilisation since they feel that it shuts out their option of having children later if required. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Nov 29 2016 (IPS)

The Indian government’s decision to make injectable contraceptives available to the public for free under the national family planning programme (FPP) has stirred debate about women’s choices in the world’s largest democracy and second most populous country.

The controversial contraceptive containing the drug Depot Medroxyprogesterone Acetate (DPMA) is currently being introduced at the primary and district level. It is delivered in the form of an injection and works by thickening the mucous in a woman’s cervix which stops sperm from reaching the egg, thereby preventing pregnancy. It is also much cheaper than other forms of contraceptives available across the country.

Injectables have been part of family planning programs in many countries for the last two decades. They have also been available in the private sector in India since the early 1990s though not through government outlets. Advocates of injectable contraceptives say that their inclusion in the government’s programme will now offer women more autonomy and choice while simultaneously whittling down the country’s disquieting maternal mortality rate (MMR).

Nearly five women die every hour in India from medical complications developed during childbirth, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly 45,000 mothers die due to causes related to childbirth every year in India, which accounts for 17 percent of such deaths globally, according to the global health body. The use of injectable contraceptives is also backed by the WHO, which has considered the overall quality of the drug with evidence along with the benefits of preventing unintended pregnancy.

However, Indian civil society seems splintered on the issue. Several bodies like the Population Foundation of India and Family Planning Association of India support the government’s move. The Federation of Obstetric and Gynaecological Societies of India (FOGSI), an apex body of gynaecologists and obstetrics in the country, is also supportive of their use based on scientific evidence.

However, women right activists have opposed the initiative as a part of the national programme. They point to a report by the country’s premier pharmaceutical body — Drugs Technical Advisory Board (DTAB) — which has noted that DPMA causes bone loss. The report emphasizes that the osteoporotic effects of the injection worsen the longer the drug is administered and may remain long after the injections are stopped, and may even be irreversible. The DTAB had advised that the drug should not be included in the FPP until discussed threadbare with the country’s leading gynaecologists.

Several health groups, women’s organizations and peoples’ networks have also issued a joint statement protesting the approval of the injectable contraceptive. As far back as 1986, Indian women’s groups had approached the Supreme Court regarding serious problems with injectable contraceptives. based on a study by the country’s premier medical research organization — the Indian Council of Medical Research

Advocates of women’s health and reproductive rights add that the contraceptive is harmful to women as it leads to menstrual irregularity, amenorrhea, and demineralization of bones as a result of its long term use. Users have also reported weight gain, headaches, dizziness, abdominal bloating as well as decreased sex drive, and loss of bone density. The latest evidence from Africa now shows that the risk of acquiring HIV infection enhances because the couple is less likely to use a condom or any other form of contraception to minimise infection.

However, experts iterate that the real issue isn’t just about women’s health but about a human rights-based approach to family planning.

“Why should we control women’s access to choice? Is it not time to re-examine the issue and initiate a fresh debate?’’ asks Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India, who has opposed the introduction of DMPA.

Others say that while they are all for enlarging the basket of choices for women, and empowering them, pushing invasive hormone-based technology upon them is hardly the way to go about it. Besides, with the incidents of arthritis and Vitamin D deficiency in India already worrisome, demineralization of bones caused by DPMA will make matters a lot worse.

The total Contraceptive Prevalence Rate (CPR) in India among married women is estimated at 54.8 percent with 48.2 percent women using modern methods. This is comparatively lower than neighbouring countries like Bhutan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka whose CPR stands at 65.6 percent, 61.2 percent and 68.4 percent, respectively.

In India, the primary method of family planning is female sterilization – at 65.7 percent, which is among the highest in the world. One of the key reasons for this is the limited availability of a wide range of contraceptive methods in the public health sector in the country, say family planning experts. Some fear that the new method might also result in poor women being used as guinea pigs for public healthcare.

“Women’s reproductive health has always been contentious and has had a fraught history, plagued by issues of ethics, consent, and the entrenched vested interests of global pharma companies and developed nations,” says Mukta Prabha, a volunteer with Women Power Connect, a pan-India women’s rights organization. “So we need to tread with caution on DPMA so that women can make informed choices and their health isn’t compromised.”

Indian women suffer from a host of problems associated with unwanted pregnancies from unsafe abortions to maternal mortality and life-long morbidity. The paucity of trained medical personnel in the public health system adds to their woes.. Besides, India has always had a troubled history of sterilisation. In 2014, over a dozen women died as the result of contaminated equipment in a sterilisation camp in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh.

The resulting media uproar pressured the government to re-examine its policies and its long-held dependence on sterilisation. But in 2015-16 again there were 110 deaths due to botched sterilisation procedures. Given the high infant mortality rate, many women are wary of sterilisation. They also feel it restricts their choice of having children later if required. Despite this, over 1.4 m Indian women were sterilised in 2014 as against 5,004 men.

Worse, the controversial DPMA — which is aimed only at women — isn’t gender sensitive either. What should be pushed instead, say women activists, is male sterilisation which is a far simpler and minimally invasive procedure which also minimizes health risks for women.

As Prabha puts it, “Indian men’s participation in family planning has always been dismal even though they’re the ones who determine the number of children a women has. The current debate is a good opportunity to involve the men in the exercise and set right the gender skew.”

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“Bonn Has Become an Insider Tip on the International Stage”http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/bonn-has-become-an-insider-tip-on-the-international-stage/#comments Tue, 29 Nov 2016 07:00:04 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147958 VN Campus Bonn (© Michael Sondermann/Bundesstadt Bonn)

UN Campus Bonn (© Michael Sondermann/Bundesstadt Bonn)

By Baher Kamal
ROME/BONN, Nov 29 2016 (IPS)

With around 320,000 inhabitants on 141 square kilometres, no other relatively small city has played such a historically critical role like the City of Bonn.

Founded 2,100 years ago by the Romans, from being the birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven to being the capital of Germany for over 50 years (1949-1990; seat of the Federal Government and Parliament until 1999), Bonn is also one of the best-guarded safe-deposit boxes of European and recent world history.

IPS interviews the City of Bonn’s Mayor Ashok-Alexander Sridharan.

IPS: For over half a century Bonn was the centre for top world leaders deciding on the future of Germany and Europe. What in your opinion is the City of Bonn’s best-kept political secret from that period?

Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of the City of Bonn

Ashok Sridharan, Mayor of the City of Bonn

Sridharan: The fact that Bonn today has become an insider tip on the international stage – especially in the area of sustainability – certainly originates from those roughly five decades when Bonn acted as capital city for the most successful democracy on German ground. It was this valuable heritage that Bonn could draw back on when the decision was taken in the Federal Republic of Germany to make Bonn Germany’s United Nations City.

IPS: After New York and Geneva, Bonn has become one of the world’s biggest venues for United Nations organisations, with the presence of a total of 19 agencies. And your City is strongly involved in international development cooperation at the municipal level, on international youth projects and on the international dialogue of cultures. What are your current and future plans for the City?

Sridharan: At international level, Bonn is successfully establishing itself as Germany’s United Nations City with a strong focus on sustainability-related issues. ‘UN Bonn – Shaping a Sustainable Future’ is the joint slogan of our Bonn-based UN agencies. With the UNSSC Knowledge Centre for Sustainable Development, we have been able to welcome another important UN agency on board this year. And in December, the UN SDG Action Campaign will open its central campaign office in our city.

Bonn has increasingly developed into a sustainability hub. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) play a central role in this context.

Naturally, our city is also called upon to take up this issue in its own affairs. It is for a number of years now that we have successfully engaged in municipal development cooperation. We maintain partnerships with Bukhara (Uzbekistan), Cape Coast (Ghana), Chengdu (P.R. China), La Paz (Bolivia), Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia) and Minsk (Belarus), for instance.

Moreover, we are integrating the sustainable approach locally in our own day-to-day affairs. We promote fair trade and sustainable procurement, as well as eco-friendly mobility. Also, we are stepping up the use of renewable energies and advocate social interaction and a sense of togetherness in our local community.

IPS: The City of Bonn is also one of the largest international media hubs. Deutsche Welle, based here, organizes an annual Global Media Forum bringing over 2,000 professionals from all continents. Are there any new initiatives by your City in the field of international information and communication?

Sridharan: We use every opportunity to raise awareness for the special capabilities in our city among journalists from all over the globe coming to Bonn for whatever reason. We do so as Germany’s United Nations City with a focus on sustainability, but also as birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, as important IT centre in Germany, and much more.

Bonn is home to tens of thousands of migrants, representing nearly one third of its total population. ​​While migration and refugees have occupied the front pages of newspapers in Europe for long now, London has overwhelmingly welcomed their Mayor, Sadiq Khan, whose Pakistani father drove buses to send his children to school.

The City of Bonn has an elected Mayor in Sridharan, born of Indian and German parents. It’s a win-win for all parties no doubt and yet so little is highlighted in the North of the value migrants bring to European economies; and even less is known to the potential migrants themselves in the South what lay ahead for them in Europe, a shock that they can hardly visualise from their positions of hardship and the manipulation of human traffickers.
Our communication is internationally oriented and we release quite a lot in English, such as on our special service website www.bonn-international.org or in our Bonn International Newsletter.

IPS: How are you managing your City’s share of migrants and what measures have you initiated on integration? How many are there now waiting for formal migrant status and have the number of migrants gone up this year? Are there any climate migrants? How do you strike a balance between what is considered humane and the need to adhere to and execute policies?

Sridharan: Between September 2015 and February 2016 the number of refugees reached a peak with roughly 150 people arriving here every single week, persons who were seeking shelter in Germany.

This was a big challenge for all: for the refugees with an unclear future in their new surroundings, for our administration that was faced with the tremendous task of providing temporary accommodation for a great number of people, including very traumatized refugees.

Last, not least, for our local citizens, now encountering many different new neighbors with a foreign language and culture! These were difficult months, especially since we had to accommodate several hundred refugees in our gymnasiums. At the same time, innumerable volunteers saw to it that Bonn was able to truly welcome these refugees and to take good care of them.

It is with relief that I can say that today’s situation is a little more relaxed. At this time, we are accommodating 3,000 refugees in municipal housing, an increasing number of them with permanent resident status.

Another 3,000 people in Bonn have received residence permits after their application for asylum had been granted. The number of people applying for asylum has decreased, as no more refugees are being sent to the City of Bonn by our authorities at this time. People coming from what is considered a safe country must go back home, which they often do voluntarily.

At the same time, we have been able to improve the type of accommodation we offer. Nobody must sleep in gymnasiums without any private space. The temporary housing we are able to offer now still has provisional character, but with some private space and independence. Also, we are managing to build more reasonably priced apartments, which we were already lacking before the refugees arrived in Bonn.

The birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven

The birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven

We do our best to integrate the refugees here: They can visit language classes. International classes preparing for the German schools have been established. Our Job Center runs a special Integration Point offering services for the people seeking work in Germany and wanting to stay.

Refugees come from many countries. People from Syria make up the largest group, comprising roughly 1,100 persons at this time. Whether or not the small number of other refugees from Africa includes so-called climate migrants, we do not know.

Finally: We have many migrants in Bonn. However, refugees who need special support for their integration in our city and community only make up a small share. It helps that the structures that have been established for our growing international community in Bonn are already there – for people who come to work or to study in Bonn or even to move here with their entire family.

The thought behind Agenda 2030 ‘Leaving no one behind’ is something we are living here in Bonn – just like elsewhere in cities in Germany, Europe and all over the world.

In December, the Pope has invited to a European meeting of mayors at the Vatican for an exchange of experience among city representatives on the ways refugees are being welcomed here. I will be delighted to share our experiences on that occasion.

IPS: The City of Bonn has always worked on sustainable project partnerships and contributed to international cooperation. What are your new initiatives on international cooperation?

Sridharan: In a globalized world with tight networks and strong dependencies cities must cooperate at international level. This holds true especially for cities like Bonn – a city that has always maintained close contacts around the globe, as United Nations City, business location and science hub.

We have joined a number of different international city networks. In October, I was elected Vice President of ICLEI. ICLEI is a city network for sustainability with over 1,500 members worldwide.

Every year, several hundred city representatives meet here in Bonn to discuss topical issues on climate adaptation and urban resilience during our annual ICLEI Resilient Cities Conference. We will seek to intensify this type of cooperation in the future.

Cooperating with our partner cities from Africa, South America and Central Asia plays an important part in this context as well. In recent years we have run a project with our partner city of Cape Coast in Ghana for the restoration of a fresh-water lagoon. With La Paz we have just initiated a joint project tackling waste separation and disposal. I am convinced that municipal cooperation will become ever more important still.

By 2050, four out of five people worldwide will live in cities. The heads of state and government will have to learn that the global development goals may not be reached without including the cities. This implies that cities will receive the necessary funds to fulfill their important tasks.
Functioning cities and municipalities are of utmost importance when it comes to keeping up state order and structures. This holds true especially if we take a look at the crisis regions in North Africa, the Middle East and South-Western Asia.

I have every confidence that municipalities can render highly important contribution, even when it is small,  towards consolidating administrative structures in these countries.

IPS:  Your City hosts key conferences; the City is pro-active on climate change. Although Mayors deal on a daily basis with the most pressing development issues, very little global development funding, reported to be 1%, is channelled through local governments. Are you working with other Mayors globally to correct or revise the allocation of resources?

Sridharan: Municipal development cooperation, the cooperation of cities and municipalities worldwide, is an area of politics which is increasingly gaining importance. The Federal Government has recognized this and has considerably stepped up funding for municipal cooperation with emerging and developing countries. It is a matter of fact that cities and municipalities can only render their small proportion towards global cooperation.

However, practical experience, face-to-face contact with local citizens and an exchange at eye level make municipal cooperation an indispensable element of international development cooperation.

Laying down a separate goal for cities under Agenda 2030 and adopting a New Urban Agenda during the Habitat III conference in Quito at the beginning of October are encouraging signals.

By 2050, four out of five people worldwide will live in cities. The heads of state and government will have to learn that the global development goals may not be reached without including the cities. This implies that cities will receive the necessary funds to fulfill their important tasks.

Together with my fellow mayors from other cities, I will continue to advocate for more support of the local level.

IPS: Where do you want to see your City? What is your dream, vision for the City of Bonn? How do you want to see Bonn further evolving?

Sridharan: I think Bonn is on a good way: as second political center in the Federal Republic and Germany’s United Nations City, we fulfill a number of national tasks for our country. We have gained a sound reputation as IT center and rank fourth Germany-wide as far as the number of employees in this field is concerned.

We are home to some global players like Deutsche Post DHL Group and Telekom and to some extraordinary scientific institutions doing top-flight research. Being birthplace of Ludwig van Beethoven, we are looking forward to celebrating the 250th birthday of our most famous son in 2020.

I am aware that this is a lot that needs to be maintained and consolidated. We will continue to develop Bonn into a location for dialogue and exchange on global issues concerning the future of mankind.

This is my declared goal. But most importantly and our biggest asset: that is Bonn’s citizens – well educated, willing to excel, open-minded and with a Rhenish cheerful nature.

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Journalism in Honduras Trapped in Violencehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/journalism-in-honduras-trapped-in-violence/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 20:38:47 +0000 Thelma Mejia http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147989 Reporters in Tegucigalpa staged a demonstration in April this year with coffins outside the office of the public prosecutor, to protest the murders of media workers in Honduras in the last decade. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

Reporters in Tegucigalpa staged a demonstration in April this year with coffins outside the office of the public prosecutor, to protest the murders of media workers in Honduras in the last decade. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

By Thelma Mejía
TEGUCIGALPA, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

It was in the wee hours of the morning on October 19 when journalist Ricardo Matute, from Corporación Televicentro’s morning newscast, was out on the beat in San Pedro Sula, one of the most violent cities in Honduras.

He heard about a vehicle that had rolled and was the first on the scene of the accident. When he saw four men in the car, he called the emergency number, for help. Little did he know that they were members of a powerful “mara” or gang.

Furious that he was making the phone call, they shot and wounded him, and forced him to get back into the TV station’s van, along with the cameraman and driver, and drove off with them.

But other journalists who also patrol the city streets each night saw the kidnapping and chased the van until the gang members crashed it and fled. If they hadn’t been “rescued” this way, the three men would very likely have been killed, because the criminals had already identified Matute and they generally do not leave loose ends, the journalists involved in the incident told IPS.“Now it turns out that reporters not only have to avoid commenting or giving news that affect the country’s groups of power, but also common criminals, and meanwhile the authorities don’t give us any real assurance of protection” -- Juan Carlos Sierra

Matute, who is part of TV5´s so-called Night Patrol, was wounded in the neck with an Ak-47. The reporters lamented that in spite of the fact that the accident occurred near military installations and that they asked for help, the military failed to respond.

“The state does not protect us, but rather attacks us,” one journalist told IPS on condition of anonymity.

Now Matute, a young reporter who was working for Televicentro, the biggest broadcasting corporation in Honduras, is safeguarded by a government protection programme, under a new law for the protection of human rights activists, journalists, social communicators and justice system employees.

Some 10 journalists, according to official figures, have benefited from the so-called Protection Law, in force for less than a year.

Matute sought protection under the programme after the authorities released, a day after the accident, a video showing the gang members who attacked him, captured by a local security camera. They were members of Mara 18 and carried AK-47 and AR-15 rifles.

Mara 18 and MS-13 are the largest gangs in Honduras. Mara 18 is the most violent of the two. Through turf wars they have basically divvied up large towns and cities for their contract killing operations, drug dealing, kidnappings, money laundering and extortions, among other criminal activity.

The authorities recommended that Matute take refuge under the protection programme and leave his job, since after the video was broadcast, the gang members felt exposed and could act against him in retaliation.

The young reporter Mai Ling Coto, who patrolled with Matute in search of night-time news scoops, told IPS that reporting in Honduras is no longer a “normal” job but is now a dangerous occupation.

This is especially true in a belt that includes at least eight of the country’s 18 departments or provinces, according to the Violence Observatory of the Public National Autonomous University of Honduras.

“Now the only thing that is left is to entrust ourselves to God. We used to report normally without a problem, but now things have changed, especially for those of us who work at night. We have to learn new codes to move around danger zones in the city and the outskirts,” she said.

“If we go to gang territory, we have to roll down our windows and flash our headlights; we move around in groups so they see that we are not alone,“ said Coto from San Pedro Sula, describing some of the security protocols they follow.

Reporters protested in seven cities in Honduras in May 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter with Emisoras Unidas, the country’s main radio station. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

Reporters protested in seven cities in Honduras in May 2014 for the kidnapping and murder of Alfredo Villatoro, a reporter with Emisoras Unidas, the country’s main radio station. Credit: Courtesy of Proceso Digital for IPS

San Pedro Sula, 250 kilometres from the capital, is the city with the most developed economy in Honduras. It has a population of 742,000, and in 2015 had a homicide rate of 110 per 100,000 people.

This Central American nation of 8.8 million people is considered one of the most violent countries in the world.

The Commission for Free Expression (C-Libre), a coalition of journalists and humanitarian organisations, reported that between 2001 and 2015 63 journalists, rural communicators and social communicators were murdered.

In 2015 alone, C-libre identified 11 murders of people working in the media: the owner of a media outlet, a director of a news programme, four camerapersons, a control operator, three entertainment broadcasters, and one announcer of a religious programme. Most of them occurred outside of Tegucigalpa.

Ana Ortega, director of C-Libre, believes that journalism is not only a victim of violence, but also of laws and impunity.

She stated this in the group’s annual report on freedom of expression, observing that a secrecy law obstructs the right of information, while new reforms to the criminal code are planned with references to the press.

“Now it turns out that reporters not only have to avoid commenting or giving news that affects the country’s power groups, but also common criminals, and meanwhile the authorities don’t give us any real assurance of protection,” Juan Carlos Sierra, director of the news broadcast where Matute worked, told IPS in Tegucigalpa.

Another journalist from San Pedro Sula who asked to remain anonymous added: “We are helpless because we cannot trust the authorities, the police or the public prosecutors, since when they see us, they attack us and sometimes send us as cannon fodder to certain scenes, and they arrive afterwards.”

“We feel like neither the state nor the authorities respect us,” he said.

The state, Sierra added, “has not had any interest, now or before, in resolving murders of journalists, let alone violations of freedom of expression.”

For human rights defender and former judge Nery Velázquez, the vulnerability faced by reporters, “far from dissipating, is growing, and we have come to accept tacitly that the impunity surrounding these murders becomes the norm, while freedom of the press is restricted.”

Of the 63 documented murders, legal proceedings began in just four cases, and of these, only two made it to the last stage – an oral public trial – and ended with the conviction of the direct perpetrators, but not of the masterminds who ordered the murders.

“Investigation in Honduras is a failure, everything is left in prima facie evidence, and not only the press is trapped here by violence, but also human rights activists and lawyers,” Velázquez told IPS.

According to reports by human rights groups, corruption and organised crime are the main threats to freedom of speech in Honduras, where being a journalist has become a high-risk occupation over the last decade.

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Selling Their Bodies for Fish and a Handful of Shillingshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/selling-their-bodies-for-fish-and-a-handful-of-shillings/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=selling-their-bodies-for-fish-and-a-handful-of-shillings http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/selling-their-bodies-for-fish-and-a-handful-of-shillings/#comments Mon, 28 Nov 2016 19:44:53 +0000 Diana Wanyonyi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147985 People at Gasi Beach in Kwale County, on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast, wait for fishermen to buy the daily catch. Credit: Diana Wanyonyi/IPS

People at Gasi Beach in Kwale County, on Kenya's Indian Ocean coast, wait for fishermen to buy the daily catch. Credit: Diana Wanyonyi/IPS

By Diana Wanyonyi
KWALE, Kenya, Nov 28 2016 (IPS)

It’s Saturday morning and Hafsa Juma* is seated on a traditional mat known locally as a mkeka under the scorching sun outside her homestead, located near Gasi Beach on the Kenyan coast.

Clad in a traditional Swahili dress known as a dera, complemented by a mtandio wrapped around her head, Hafsa, 15, says she has been suffering from flu and headaches for more than a week. She hoped the hot sun might ease her chills and shivering, since her parents are unemployed and too poor to pay for a doctor visit."As much as I don’t like what I do, I'm forced to do it because we need to survive.” -- Asumpta, age 14

Hafsa is one of many girls who barter their bodies for fish and a little money at Gasi Beach on the Indian Ocean, in Kwale County. The oldest of three siblings, she is the breadwinner for her family.

Living near the beach, she is easy prey for male fishermen. She said started sex work two years ago.

“I completed standard eight [the final year of primary school] in 2014,” she said. “My parents are not well and that is why there is no food to eat at home. I’m forced to go and look for something small to bring home. I leave at around 8 p.m. and I come back to the house at around 12 a.m. Every night, I have one client. After he agrees to my demands, he gives me 200 shillings (about two dollars) and half a kilogramme of fish,” she said, avoiding eye contact.

Hafsa described being forced by her parents, especially her mother, to provide food for her family by offering sexual favours to male fishermen.

“I usually go to Gasi beach every day,” the teenager said. “In a month, if I work well, I get 5,000 Kenyan shillings (equivalent to 50 dollars) and I don’t have a problem with that.”

Walking with Hafsa along the shore of the Indian Ocean, our conversation is interrupted by a green wooden fishing boat with fishermen from the deep sea approaching the shore, where women, men and children with baskets eagerly wait to buy fresh fish from the fishermen coming in from the night catch.

Most of Hafsa’s clients are fishermen from the neighbouring country of Tanzania, who travel to Gasi once a year during the northeast monsoon winds and stay there for three months, from December to March, to fish and sell their catch.

After the monsoon season is over, and the foreign fishermen go back home, her clients are mostly motorcyclists who carry passengers, locally known as bodaboda.

“When I want to go to any given place away from home, I just board a motorcycle. When I’m almost at my destination, the bodaboda rider agrees to have sex for money. He gives me 100 shillings, and I also do the same with different bodaboda men to return home.”

Iddi Abdulrahman Juma is vice chairman of the Gasi Beach Management Unit, and a beneficiary of training from a non-governmental organisation known as Strengthening Community Partnership and Empowerment (SCOPE) that works to end commercial sexual exploitation of children in Kwale County. Juma blamed parents and guardians for making children vulnerable by sending them to buy fish at the beach.

“We’ve been seeing like 10 children coming here to the beach to buy fish, which is also dangerous. Some of them are already pregnant and others infected with deadly diseases. The age group of children who indulge in commercial sexual exploitation is between 12 and 17 years old,” he said.

Twenty kilometers from Gasi, in the Karanja area of Kwale County, 14-year-old Asumpta Pendo* sweeps out a thatched mud shanty. She says it is a mangwe — a place where palm wine known as mnazi (a traditional liquor) is sold.

Just like Hafsa, Asumpta also indulges in sex for money with clients, often drunk, just to put food on her family’s table. She is also forced by her mother to sell mnazi.

“I dropped out in class seven because my mother was unable to educate me and we live in poverty. Life is hard,” she said. “Most of my clients are palm wine drinkers. In a day, I usually get one or two clients. Some of them prefer to use condoms, while others refuse. They usually give me money — between a dollar and 12 dollars a night.

“If I refuse to sell palm wine to male customers here at home, my mother beats me and goes to the extent of denying me food. As much as I don’t like what I do, I’m forced to do it because we need to survive,” Assumpta said.

A 2009 baseline survey conducted by the End Child Prostitution in Kenya network, an umbrella of various civil society organisations, found 10,000 to 15,000 girls living in the coastal areas to be involved in child sex tourism.

To address this problem, SCOPE has partnered with the organization Terre des Hommes (TDH) from the Netherlands to implement a programme aimed at ending the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in Kwale County and three sub-counties, Matunga, Msambweni and Lunga Lunga.

The strategy includes creating awareness among the general community and calling on local citizen constituencies to raise their voices against these abuses.

The coordinator of SCOPE’s End Commercial Sex programme, Emanuel Kahaso, said that the problem is serious in Kwale County, popular with tourists for its clean, sandy beaches.

“In 2006, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) reported that there were more than 50,000 children in Kenya who have engaged in sexual exploitation and 30,000 who are selling their bodies along the beaches in coastal Kenya,” he said.

“As an organisation, we also found out that more than 15,000 children here in the Kenyan south coast are used for commercial sex work in tourism,” he said. “Because of traditions and taboos, parents do not talk openly with their children about reproductive health and some of the perpetrators who are found guilty of the vice are not arrested because of these taboos.”

Emerging hotspots such as drug dens, nightclubs and discotheques, as well as an increase in bodaboda transport, have lured many children into commercial sex. According to local sources, in many instances, early marriage and commercial sex work have been initiated by parents, as well as child sex tourism and prostitution along the beach areas.

The problem is further exacerbated by the cultures and traditions of the local tribes, which are gender-biased and support various forms of sexual exploitation of children. Illiteracy is high, the economy is poor and laws to protect children are rarely enforced.

At Msambweni Referral County Hospital, Saumu Ramwendo, a community health worker for SCOPE, empowers and counsels young girls on health matters and fighting commercial sexual exploitation. The group has so far been able to reach 360 children who are the victims of sexual exploitation and 500 others considered at risk.

*Names have been changed to protect their identities.

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The Cuban Revolution Has Lost Its Founder and Leaderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader/#comments Sat, 26 Nov 2016 18:39:14 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147968 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader/feed/ 0 Let’s Unite to End Violence Against Women in Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/lets-unite-to-end-violence-against-women-in-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=lets-unite-to-end-violence-against-women-in-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/lets-unite-to-end-violence-against-women-in-kenya/#comments Fri, 25 Nov 2016 01:48:16 +0000 Sicily Kariuki2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147952 Mrs Sicily Kariuki, is the Cabinet Secretary for Gender, Youth and Public Service in the Government of Kenya, Siddharth Chatterjee is the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Kenya and Stefano A. Dejak is the European Union Ambassador to Kenya.]]> Rally against violence to women in 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya

Rally against violence to women in 2014 in Nairobi, Kenya

By Sicily Kariuki, Siddharth Chatterjee and Stefano A. Dejak
NAIROBI, Kenya, Nov 25 2016 (IPS)

Consider this. According to the 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey of Kenya, 4 out of every 10 Kenyan women undergo some form of violence, whether physical or sexual. This figure is staggering and should compel us to pause and reflect.

Today, on the International day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, let us join together to say: enough is enough!

Gender Based Violence, including domestic and sexual violence, human trafficking and harmful practices, such as forced child marriage and Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is still endemic in Kenya, despite the existence of legislation, administrative directives, judicial sanctions, and awareness-raising efforts by a variety of agencies and the government.

It is time for every man to start doing something to end the scourge of violence against women and girls in their homes and communities. A call to action was made by the President of Kenya, HE Mr Uhuru Kenyatta when he urged every citizen to join the government’s efforts to end violence against women and girls during the #HeForShe (a solidarity movement for gender equality) launch in November 2014.

The #HeForShe campaign aims to bring home the message that although laws exist to deal with gender violence and guarantee gender equality, every man must take personal responsibility to root out the vice of gender discrimination in his home. Only then can a society begin to take a stand together to bring to an end injustice committed against women and girls, denying them basic human rights such as a life in dignity, choice and freedom.

Did you know that gender inequality is costing sub-Saharan Africa on average US$ 95 billion a year, peaking at US$105 billion in 2014– or six percent of the region’s GDP – jeopardising the continent’s efforts for inclusive human development and economic growth, according to UNDP’s Africa Human Development Report 2016.

Violence and discriminative structures contribute to keeping women out of the workforce, thus dragging down women, their families, and entire communities for generations, in Kenya and elsewhere. For Kenya to reach the goals enshrined in Vision 2030 the potential of all Kenyans, women and men, have to be realized.

Kenya is at a demographic transformation. Fertility levels are declining gradually and Kenyans are living longer. There is reason for optimism that Kenya can benefit from a demographic dividend within 15 to 20 years. It is estimated that Kenya’s working age population will grow to 73 percent by year 2050, bolstering the country’s GDP per capita 12 times higher than the present, with nearly 90 percent of the working age in employment. (NCPD Policy Brief: Demographic dividend opportunities for Kenya, July 2014.)

For this to happen women have to join the work force. So improvements in health and nutrition status, especially of girls, women and children, is critical. Appropriate education and skills will enable them to participate in the economy and provide needed labor for its growth. In addition, studies have shown that girls’ education particularly secondary level, and empowerment will delay early marriage and slow adolescent fertility.

Cultural, social and economic barriers that hinder empowerment of girls and women must be addressed and we have to raise our voices to end the scourge of violence against women and girls.

Women are half of Kenya’s demographic dividend; if they are given the right tools and community support, they can not only become financially independent, but be the engines that fuel Kenya’s future growth.

So we need to continue to raise awareness – in Kenya, in the EU, and around the world – to provide information and raise awareness about violence against women, targeting the general public as well as professionals who can help change this situation: police officers, teachers, doctors, judges amongst others. And beyond raising awareness, Kenya has for the first time formulated a comprehensive framework encompassing practical interventions that we hope will drastically reduce cases of Gender-Based Violence.

We must, once and for all, say no to this clear violation of our fundamental rights. All women and girls should be able to lead a life free from fear and violence: in Kenya, in the European Union, and everywhere in the world.

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Ensuring Shared Progress for Sustainable Development and Peacehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/ensuring-shared-progress-for-sustainable-development-and-peace/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ensuring-shared-progress-for-sustainable-development-and-peace http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/ensuring-shared-progress-for-sustainable-development-and-peace/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 23:15:50 +0000 Jomo Kwame Sundaram http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147948 Jomo Kwame Sundaram was the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic and Social Development in the United Nations system during 2005-2015, and received the 2007 Wassily Leontief Prize for Advancing the Frontiers of Economic Thought. ]]> Concern about equality has grown as every major economic, social and political crisis has been preceded by rising inequality. Credit: IPS

Concern about equality has grown as every major economic, social and political crisis has been preceded by rising inequality. Credit: IPS

By Jomo Kwame Sundaram
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

International inequality has grown over recent centuries, especially the last two. Before the Industrial Revolution, between-country inequalities were small, while within-country inequalities accounted for most of overall global income inequality. Now, inter-country income inequalities account for about two-thirds of world inequality with intra-country inequality accounting for a third.

Concern about inequality has grown as every major economic, social and political crisis has been preceded by rising inequality. World War II was no exception. Thus, on 10th May 1944, the International Labour Congress adopted the historic Philadelphia Declaration which asserted that “lasting peace can be established only if it is based on social justice”.

Similar concerns were on the agenda of the Bretton Woods Conference two months later. The conference sought to create conditions for enduring peace by ensuring post-war reconstruction and post-colonial development through sustained growth, full employment and declining inequality. Bretton Woods created the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) with this mandate foremost.

The IMF would support countries, not only in overcoming balance of payments difficulties, but also “to direct economic and financial policies toward the objective of fostering orderly economic growth with reasonable price stability, with due regard to its circumstances”. The IBRD, later better known as the World Bank, was set up to support long-term investment and development.

The world then saw almost three decades of shared prosperity as labour’s share of output increased. This Golden Age also saw greater investment in health, education and public services, including social welfare. This post-war consensus endured for over a quarter century before breaking down in the 1970s, only to be replaced in the 1980s by its anti-thesis, the Washington Consensus.

Counter-Revolution
Unfortunately, each era, no matter how successful, sows the seeds of its own demise. Three major new economic ideas helped undermine the post-war consensus underlying the Golden Age:
• the higher propensity to save (and invest) of profit makers, compared to wage earners, became the pretext for the tolerance, if not promotion of inequality in favour of profits, ostensibly to accelerate investment and growth;
• progressive redistribution was deemed bad for growth, as it not only lowers savings and investment rates, but also requires significant fiscal resources, raising tax rates and diverting fiscal resources from investments desired by investors;
• the Kuznets’ hypothesis suggested the inevitability of inequality rising with growth (before eventually declining).

From the early 1980s, the “Washington Consensus” – the policy consensus on economic development shared by the American establishment and the Bretton Woods institutions located in the US capital city – emerged as the banner for the counter-revolutions against development economics, Keynesian economics and progressively redistributive state interventions.

A relentless push for deregulation, privatization and economic globalization followed. Such measures were supposed to boost growth, which would eventually trickle down, thus reducing poverty. Hence, there was no need to worry about inequality.

Macroeconomic policies became narrowly focused on balancing the annual budget and attaining low single digit inflation – instead of the previous emphasis on sustained growth and full employment with reasonable price stability.

But these ‘neo-liberal’ measures largely failed to deliver sustained growth. Instead, financial and banking crises have become more frequent, with more devastating consequences, exacerbated by greater tolerance for inequality and destitution.

The new global priorities at the end of the Second World War remain relevant today. Research has disproved the previously widespread presumption that progressive redistribution retards growth. Even recent IMF and World Bank research acknowledges that inequality and social exclusion are detrimental to growth. After more than three decades of regression, we have to recommit ourselves to the more egalitarian ethos of the Philadelphia Declaration and the Bretton Woods conference.

Marshall Plan
At the beginning of the Cold War against the Soviet bloc, US Secretary of State General George Marshall announced a reconstruction plan for war-torn Europe. Known as the Marshall Plan, the generous infusion of US aid and acceptance of national reconstruction and development policies ensured the rebirth of modern Western Europe. For many Europeans, this is still seen as America’s finest hour.

In the decade that followed, the Marshall Plan became what is probably the most successful economic development assistance project in history. Similarly appropriate economic development policies were introduced in Japan, Taiwan and South Korea following the Korean War and establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Thus, the Marshall Plan created a cordon sanitaire to contain the spread of communism as the Cold War began.

The Marshall Plan experience offers valuable lessons for today. Europe was rebuilt with policies that included economic interventions such as high duties, quotas and other non-tariff barriers. Free trade was delayed until after international competitiveness had been achieved.

Marshall’s lecture offers other relevant lessons. Unlike today’s conventional wisdom, he argued that viable institutions would only emerge from economic progress, not the other way around. Marshall also emphasized that aid should be truly developmental, not piecemeal or palliative. The productive capacities and capabilities of developing nations have to be nurtured. Marshall knew that inclusive and shared economic progress is the only way to create lasting peace.

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Violence Against Black Women in Brazil on the Rise, Despite Better Lawshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/violence-against-black-women-in-brazil-on-the-rise-despite-better-laws/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=violence-against-black-women-in-brazil-on-the-rise-despite-better-laws http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/violence-against-black-women-in-brazil-on-the-rise-despite-better-laws/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 21:38:58 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147943 A group of black women take part in Black Awareness Day celebrated on Nov. 20 in the city of São Paulo. Gender-related violence has increased, in particular among women of African descent in Brazil, despite the passage of better laws. Credit: Rovena Rosa/ Agência Brasil

A group of black women take part in Black Awareness Day celebrated on Nov. 20 in the city of São Paulo. Gender-related violence has increased, in particular among women of African descent in Brazil, despite the passage of better laws. Credit: Rovena Rosa/ Agência Brasil

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

Four months in hospital and a number of operations saved the life of Maria da Penha Fernandes of Brazil, but the rifle shot left her paraplegic at the age of 37. When she returned home, her husband tried to electrocute her in the bathroom.

It eventually became clear that the author of the first attack, the shot in the back while she was sleeping one night in May 1983, had also been her husband, who claimed four thieves had broken in, tied him up, and shot her.

She left the family home protected by a court order that gave her custody over the couple’s three daughters, and launched, from her wheelchair, a 19-year battle in court to bring him to justice for the two murder attempts.“The Maria da Penha Law stipulates that first you have to file a complaint with the police, in order for it to reach the judicial authorities, and we know that the police don’t protect black women. The obstacle is racism, and if this is not recognised public policies will not be adjusted to meet the needs of black women. We have to face racism, train civil servants, police as well as administrators, to treat us as human beings.” -- Jurema Werneck

After his lawyers managed to overturn two convictions in Brazilian courts, she turned in the 1990s to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which in 2001 held the government of Brazil accountable for judicial tolerance of domestic violence in the case and recommended that it adopt more effective measures to combat violence against women.

Finally in 2002, the attempted murderer was sentenced to 10 years in prison. But he managed to walk free after just two years.

The main accomplishment of Da Penha, a bio-pharmacist in Fortaleza, capital of the northeast Brazilian state of Ceará, was to inspire a law that was named after her, adopted by the national Congress in 2006, against domestic violence.

However, gender-related murders continued to increase in Brazil, though at a slower rate.

From 1980 to 2006 the number of murdered women grew 7.6 per cent annually, while from 2006 to 2013 the rate dropped to 2.6 per cent, according to the Violence Map, produced by Julio Jacobo Waiselfisz, Latin American Social Sciences Institute (Flacso) coordinator of studies on violence in Brazil.

The Maria da Penha law, special police units for women and other instruments “are effective against violence, but the resources are insufficient,” Clair Castilhos Coelho, executive secretary of the National Feminist Network of Health, Sexual and Reproductive Rights, told IPS.

But there is an important reality in this Latin American country of 205 million people: results differ depending on skin colour.

“For black women the situation has worsened,” Dr. Jurema Werneck, one of the coordinators of Criola, an NGO that promotes the rights of black women, told IPS.

In 10 years gender-based murders of black women increased 54.2 per cent, reaching 2,875 in 2013, while murders of white women dropped 9.8 per cent, from 1,747 in 2003 to 1,576 in 2013, according to the Violence Map.

“Racism lies beneath this contrast. Mechanisms to combat violence do not protect the life of everyone in the same way,” said Werneck.

“The Maria da Penha Law stipulates that first you have to file a complaint with the police, in order for it to reach the judicial authorities, and we know that the police don’t protect black women,” she added.

“The obstacle is racism, and if this is not recognised public policies will not be adjusted to meet the needs of black women. We have to face racism, train civil servants, police as well as administrators, to treat us as human beings,” she said.

Demonstrators call for full enforcement of the Maria da Penha Law against domestic violence in Brazil, 10 years after it was passed. One of the signs reads: ”When you remain silent, violence speaks louder.” Credit: Tony Winston/ Agência Brasília

Demonstrators call for full enforcement of the Maria da Penha Law against domestic violence in Brazil, 10 years after it was passed. One of the signs reads: ”When you remain silent, violence speaks louder.” Credit: Tony Winston/ Agência Brasília

A more effective application of the Maria da Penha Law would be to take the complaints directly to the offices of the public prosecutor and the ombudsperson, which would require a larger number of public prosecutors and public defenders rather than more police officers, said Werneck, who pointed out that this is already being done in some neighborhoods in the southern city of São Paulo.

It is also necessary to combat “institutionalised racism”, which permeates many law enforcement bodies, for example, and “to work together with society to value black women,” who have historically been marginalised in Brazil, she said.

Another accomplishment by women was the adoption in March 2015 of a law that establishes stricter sentences for femicide, defined as the murder of a woman due to gender-related motives.

Brazil thus became the 16th country in Latin America to adopt a law against femicide. According to the Violence Map, Brazil ranks 7th in the world with respect to the number of femicides: official figures indicated in 2015 that 15 women a day were the victims of gender-related killings.

However, violence against women includes other forms of aggression that affect the female population in their daily lives.

Nov. 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, kicks off 16 days of activism.

In Brazil, murders of men and boys represent 92 per cent of a total that is reaching 60,000 murders a year, a figure that only compares to the numbers seen in war-stricken areas.

But with regard to specific kinds of violence, such as physical, psychological and economic abuse, rape and abandonment, women tend to represent a majority of victims.

In 2014, a total of 147,691 women who had suffered some kind of violence were treated in Brazil’s Unified Health System, two times the number of men. That meant 405 women a day needed medical care because they were victims of violence.

The last National Health Survey, which is carried out by the Ministry of Health and the Brazilian Geography and Statistics Institute every five years, found that 2.4 million women were victims of physical aggression at the hands of someone that they knew, against 1.3 million men.

With regard to rape, the Brazilian Public Security Forum’s Annual Report registered 47,646 cases in Brazil, 6.7 per cent fewer than in the previous year. But the drop, which is based on documented cases, does not reflect a trend because experts believe that at least two-thirds, or up to 90 per cent of cases, go unreported.

”Violence against women may be increasing due to the new stronger role of women, who in the past were submissive in their homes and were used to suffering in silence. But with the old patterns broken, with women achieving rights, working, voting and reporting abuse, the oppressors respond with more violence,” said Castilhos.

There is also an increase in complaints as a result of gains achieved, such as the Maria da Penha and femicide laws and regulations that make reporting cases of abuse obligatory in the public health system, she said.

In her opinion, ”the greatest violence against a woman in the last few years in Brazil was the removal of former president Dilma Rousseff (Jan. 1, 2011 – Aug. 31, 2016), who had committed no proven crime to justify it, by a parliament where the majority of its members are accused of electoral crimes and corruption.”

The political environment generated by the new government headed by Michel Temer, Rousseff’s former vice president, ”paves the way for more violence against women, due to its misogynistic nature,” she said, pointing out that no ministry is headed by a woman and complaining about proposals to reverse previous progress made in empowering women.

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For Women and Girls Who Flee Conflict: Protection & Opportunityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/for-women-and-girls-who-flee-conflict-protection-opportunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=for-women-and-girls-who-flee-conflict-protection-opportunity http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/for-women-and-girls-who-flee-conflict-protection-opportunity/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 14:34:11 +0000 Regional Directors http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147939 A displaced woman waiting in a transit camp in Gevgelja, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Photo: Dejan Dokuzovski/UNDP

A displaced woman waiting in a transit camp in Gevgelja, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. Photo: Dejan Dokuzovski/UNDP

By the Regional Directors of the United Nations for Europe and Central Asia: Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir (UN Women), Cihan Sultanoğlu (UNDP), Alanna Armitage (UNFPA), and Marie-Pierre Poirier (UNICEF)
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

Over the past 18 months, 1.3 million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe. For women and girls particularly, that journey is one of violence and trauma.

Worldwide, one in five women displaced by humanitarian crises have experienced sexual violence. But their voices remain largely unheard.

When women and girls flee their homes in search of safety and opportunity, they often find they are merely trading one nightmare for another. Large numbers of them tell disturbing, and often recurring, accounts of robbery, and physical, sexual and psychological abuse at the hand of criminal gangs, smugglers, traffickers, border guards, police and fellow refugees.

Moreover, many girls end up forced into early marriages as their parents desperately seek to protect them, instead exposing them to another form of violence.

Along the route from the Western Balkans to northern Europe, few safe, secure, and clean spaces exist for women to find protection against violence and regain a sense of safety. While national authorities and civil society, often with UN support, extend legal, health and psychosocial services to them, these efforts need to be scaled up.

With the closure of borders in 2016, many women and their children are now stranded in overcrowded reception or transit centers, lacking privacy and often even access to basic services. Many were separated from their partners and children in the process. This puts them into vulnerable positions and exposes them to abuse and exploitation.

In the course of their journeys, women are dependent on legal systems, police forces, languages and cultural norms they are not familiar with.

But they also often believe that reporting incidents of violence will trigger reprisals or even damage their prospects of obtaining asylum in the EU. For these reasons, it is highly unlikely they will report these crimes.

Governments need to guarantee the safety and rights of women and girls fleeing wars, all along their journeys and in destination countries.

First, there should be measures to prevent sexual and gender-based violence along the route. Police, border guards and other service providers must be trained to detect cases of violence and assist victims so they can get the help they need.

Psychosocial and legal support, trauma counseling, provision of basic hygiene and reproductive health products and women-safe spaces are essential parts of the package. For unaccompanied and separated girls, the immediate appointment of a guardian is a must.

Second, we call for women who experienced gender-based violence to be granted international protection as per international law. Women fleeing sexual violence, early or forced marriage, and so-called ‘honour’ killings must go to great lengths to demonstrate that these types of attacks are reasons for obtaining asylum.

Third, with no end in sight for humanitarian crises, it is critical to adequately finance programmes that uphold international humanitarian norms and standards support refugees and migrants and contribute to their social inclusion.

At a historic meeting on large movements of refugees and migrants held at the United Nations in September, governments endorsed a landmark global agenda to boost support for refugee and migrant women and girls.

On this International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, let us remember that women and girls have the right to live a life of dignity, free of violence whether at home or at work, at school or in public spaces, in times of peace or war, and as equal citizens.

Let’s work together to make sure women and girls don’t leave their homes only to face more tragedy as they are trying to get to safety.

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Australian Activists, Dissenters and Whistleblowers Feeling the Heathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/australian-activists-dissenters-and-whistleblowers-feeling-the-heat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=australian-activists-dissenters-and-whistleblowers-feeling-the-heat http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/australian-activists-dissenters-and-whistleblowers-feeling-the-heat/#comments Thu, 24 Nov 2016 11:44:38 +0000 Stephen de Tarczynski http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147934 Under national security laws, Australians' telecommunications metadata must be retained by service providers for two years. Credit: Stephen de Tarczynski/IPS

Under national security laws, Australians' telecommunications metadata must be retained by service providers for two years. Credit: Stephen de Tarczynski/IPS

By Stephen de Tarczynski
MELBOURNE, Nov 24 2016 (IPS)

For Australian activist Samantha Castro, it was her association with the non-profit publishing organisation Wikileaks that brought her to the attention of the Australian Federal Police (AFP).

She says she’s been followed, her car has been searched, and that the AFP has filmed and photographed her, along with her children, at protests. She believes that authorities have hacked her email account and computer and are responsible for wiping contacts from her phone.Without public scrutiny, without our eyes, as citizens, on what’s being done in our names, then that’s what authoritarianism looks like." -- Associate Professor Sarah Maddison

“They are putting all this time and effort into psychologically disrupting me in the hope that I will stop doing what I’m doing,” says Castro, an operations coordinator at Friends of the Earth who co-founded the Wikileaks Australian Citizens Alliance in 2010 to support the work of Wikileaks.

Wikileaks works to disseminate official and censored documents and files related to war, spying and corruption. While it has won a range of media freedom awards, its release of sensitive material has raised the ire of governments around the world, including Australia’s.

Castro explains that working with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange – an Australian who remains holed-up in Ecuador’s London embassy, fearing extradition to the United States – resulted in significant attention from authorities.

It was these links with Assange’s organisation which, she believes, led to her house being broken into in 2014. She is adamant that the AFP was behind the break-in.

“The reason for that was information and knowledge from when I was with Wikileaks,” Castro, who did not report the matter to police, told IPS.

She says that although nothing was taken from the house, her keys were lined up on the kitchen table alongside a phone that had been opened up. She took the carefully displayed items to mean that she was being monitored.

“I knew straight away. It was a very clear symbol that they wanted me to know that they knew,” says Castro, adding that she spent “a lot of time” searching her house for bugs.

While the AFP does not comment on ongoing operations, a warrant is required to place a person under surveillance. IPS understands that further court approval is needed to enter a premises to covertly plant a listening device.

“I have felt the wrath of the surveillance state since we founded WACA,” says Castro, whose group changed its name in 2014 to Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance in recognition of a broadening movement.

It is not only activists from non-governmental organisations like WACA who are feeling under pressure. There is a growing sense here that space for the broader civil society to express dissent or call out abuse is being squeezed. Those who speak out risk public vilification, financial loss and jail time.

On his visit to Australia in October, the United Nations special rapporteur, Michel Forst, expressed surprise at the situation. “I was astonished to observe mounting evidence of a range of cumulative measures that have concurrently levied enormous pressure on Australian civil society,” he said.

Among the issues Forst pointed to were the defunding of environmental and indigenous bodies in response to litigation or advocacy work, anti-protest legislation and intensified secrecy laws, “particularly in the areas of immigration and national security.”

Attorney-General George Brandis last year took aim at environmentalists using legal action to further their cause, labelling them “radical green activists” who “engage in vigilante litigation to stop important economic projects.”

The island state of Tasmania has, according to Forst, “prioritized business and government resource interests over the democratic rights of individuals to peacefully protest”. Similarly, legislation passed in March in New South Wales state means that protestors face up to seven years in jail for interfering with mining operations.

Mandatory data retention laws were introduced just over a year ago, purportedly for national security reasons, under which service providers must retain the metadata of Australians’ telecommunications activities for two years.

Twenty-one government agencies can access the data and all can apply for a Journalist Information Warrant in order to identify a reporter’s confidential source.

Paul Murphy, CEO of the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance, a journalists’ union, says the profession’s ethics require journalists to protect the identity of their sources.

“Journalists must work smarter to ensure that brave people can tell their stories in confidence and public interest journalism can continue to play its vital role in a healthy, functioning democracy,” he argues.

Those in the higher levels of statutory bodies have not been spared.

Professor Gillian Triggs, President of Australia’s independent Human Rights Commission, has faced ongoing criticism from government ministers since the release in 2015 of her report into the mental and physical health of children in immigration detention.

Then-prime minister Tony Abbott called the report politically motivated and said the commission “should be ashamed of itself”, while Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that much of the content was “either dated or questionable”.

In October, another cabinet minister urged Triggs “to stay out of politics and stick with human rights”, while Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull confirmed on Nov.16 that Triggs’ contract will not be renewed when it expires in mid-2017.

Despite the vitriol, Triggs has continued to fight back, a fact that Professor Brian Martin, a long-time whistleblowing activist, says may well inspire others “who might want to resist.”

But there’s a flipside: “You could say that overt attacks, like on Gillian Triggs, provide a warning to others that they better be careful,” says Martin.

Last year also saw the implementation of the controversial Border Force Act, legislation that Forst describes as “stifling”.

In June, a psychologist with extensive experience in the offshore processing centres on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island and Nauru had his contract immediately cancelled after speaking out on the atrocious conditions in the camps.

Although no charges in relation to the Act have been laid, the secrecy provisions of the law allow for a two-year prison term for any immigration and border protection worker who discloses “protected information”, covering all information a worker obtains in the course of their employment.

Some exceptions apply, such in cases of child or sexual abuse, although whistleblowers are responsible for ensuring that any abuse is serious enough to warrant disclosure.

And in what is being seen here as a significant step for transparency into the plight of asylum seekers held indefinitely in the offshore centres, an amendment to the legislation was quietly posted on the website of Australia’s immigration department in mid-October.

The amendment frees doctors and other health professionals, including nurses, psychologists and psychiatrists, from the law’s secrecy provisions.

The government’s concession “is an enormous democratic win,” says Associate Professor Sarah Maddison, co-editor of the 2007 book ‘Silencing Dissent’.

“Without public scrutiny, without our eyes, as citizens, on what’s being done in our names, then that’s what authoritarianism looks like,” she adds.

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Battle of the Desert (and III): UNCCD ‘s Louise Baker on The Silk Roadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/battle-of-the-desert-and-iii-unccd-s-louise-baker-on-the-silk-road/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=battle-of-the-desert-and-iii-unccd-s-louise-baker-on-the-silk-road http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/battle-of-the-desert-and-iii-unccd-s-louise-baker-on-the-silk-road/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 17:58:12 +0000 Baher Kamal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147895 Louise Baker

Louise Baker

By Baher Kamal
BONN / ROME, Nov 23 2016 (IPS)

Marking this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification last June, the United Nations announced the launch of a China-United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) Belt and Road Joint Action initiative to curb Desertification along the Silk Road.

UNCCD is the key United Nations legal framework to combat desertification. IPS interviews Louise Baker, Coordinator External Relations, Policy and Advocacy Unit, UNCCD about the current effects of drought in the countries, which are expected to benefit from this initiative?

Drought is a complex natural hazard that causes more deaths and displaces more people than any other natural disaster. Its socio-economic and environmental impacts are severe and far-reaching, Baker states.

“Desertification and land degradation cause poverty and hunger. In turn, these can lead to massive environmental damage and natural resource scarcity that sometimes ends with conflict. It certainly hinders sustainable development.”

She then explains that there are 24 types of ecosystem services in the world. 15 are in decline. Desertification and land degradation are major stress factors. Many countries along the Belt and Road are highly vulnerable to both drought and desertification, and are facing social, economic and political stresses.

Asked for specific examples, Baker cites the case of Uzbekistan: 73.6 per cent of the population live in areas affected by drought.

Droughts have reduced the country’s water flow by 35-40 per cent below the average…crop yield losses range from 42 to 75 per cent… wetland ecosystems are degraded and up to 80 per cent of the lakes are drying out.

The risk of ground water salinization is growing, says Baker, and adds: Iran often suffers from severe drought and has problems with sand and dust storms. A 1991 drought cost Iran 1.25 billion dollars, and a 2001 drought cost 7.5 billion dollars.

Climate Change

“Droughts will become more frequent, severe and widespread as a result of climate change, “ she explains. The Belt and Road Joint Action Initiative is a way of managing the land better, mitigating the effects of drought and promoting green economic growth. “That should lead to more equitable economic and social development.”

Credit: 2013 UNCCD Photo contest Xiaoyun Zheng

Credit: 2013 UNCCD Photo contest Xiaoyun Zheng

Asked what is the new joint initiative all about? How long will it be? How many years it will take to be completed? And how much will it cost and who will fund it? Louise Baker responds: “The joint action initiative involves the 23 countries located along the Silk Road. The long term vision is to protect and use natural resources rationally and to promote the development of a green economy in areas affected by land degradation and desertification.”

The countries, she explains, will work together to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 15 on land, in particular SDG target 15.3. That is about achieving land degradation neutrality by 2030.

“Land degradation neutrality is about maintaining a balance in the amount of healthy and productive land that every country has available by sustainably managing every hectare of productive land and by rehabilitating an equal amount of already degraded land.”

The partners have laid out a framework for actions in five areas.

First, managing the entire ecosystem so that the plants and animals are not negatively affected by land degradation and they are able to adapt to climate change.

Second, developing a sustainable green economy based on local resources, for instance, using traditional agricultural practices and promoting solar and wind energy.

Third, protecting important natural and man-made infrastructure by using sustainable land and water management for river and lake basins.

Fourth, acting on drought through early warning, preparedness, mitigation and enhancing the capacities for emergency response, controlling dust and sand storms at their areas of origin and controlling shifting sand dunes.

Lastly, all world heritage sites located along the Belt and Road will benefit through measures to strengthen the conservation, protection or restoration of the ecosystems around them.

The Initiative emphasizes joint contributions and shared benefits. “Each country will develop its own activities, estimate the costs of developing social and green industries in the Belt and contribute to the initiative based on their own capacity. China’s State Administrative of Forest will coordinate and collect the data and activities under the initiative.”

IPS then asks Baker why is it called “The Silk Road Economic Belt”? which starts from China and runs to the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean via Central and West Asia, geographically linking the continents of Africa, Asia and Europe?

The Silk Roads

The Silk Roads were important routes for trade and cultural exchanges in human history. For millennia the roads linked the four ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and India with those of Greece and Rome. The Silk Road strengthened open trade and development, exchanged of knowledge and culture. The concept is built on all these ideas, Louis Baker responds.

Credit: 2009 UNCCD Photo contest Jason Lee

Credit: 2009 UNCCD Photo contest Jason Lee

But the fertile lands along the Silk Roads has become degraded as a result of conflict, over exploitation and unsustainable human activity leading to serious and wide spread desertification, she adds.

“To complement the vision of “Jointly Building Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road”, which was launched in 2013 by the Chinese Government, the joint action initiative focuses on the “ecological civilization” of the route.”

Land Locked, Vulnerable to Drought and Desertification

Despite a rich history, many countries along the Belt and Road, such as those in central Asia and the Middle East, are land locked and vulnerable to drought, desertification and other challenges. This Joint Initiative can help unlock some of the potential that is often hindered by location and environmental degradation.

Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary, said through solidarity and engagement, China “has brought millions of people out of poverty through massive scale land restoration efforts.” Baker explains how.

“The restoration of the Loess plateau and the massive tree planting initiative in the Three North Regions Shelterbelts Development Project are two well-known large-scale landscape restoration initiatives focused on degraded ecosystems,” Baer answers.

The national plan to Combat Desertification and Land Degradation, Dust and Sand Storm Prevention Project in Northern China, is another initiative that not only benefits the people of China, but countries such as South Korea and the United States that are in the path of these dust storms. “These and other initiatives have also benefited land users directly.”

Baker further explains that in the arid and semi-arid regions, China is taking measures to change to better irrigation and land use patterns and is introducing more drought tolerant plant varieties. Rural villagers and farmers get zero-interest loans to adopt these new methods.

They are also compensated for limiting their herd sizes in order to avoid overgrazing. Providing steady incomes, as an incentive to conserve the environment, can go a long way to help poor households.

“For the future, China is also developing new technologies to support land users to reduce water consumption and use waste water. It has set up the Green Silk Road Fund to encourage the restoration, rehabilitation of degraded land along the Silk Road.”

Rural people will benefit from these changes, including through the jobs created by private sector companies that invest along the Silk Road in response to the Initiative, she adds.

To IPS question: What is the share of the region involved in this Initiative, in the fact that, globally, more than 2 billion hectares of the terrestrial ecosystems are degraded, with nearly 170 countries affected by land degradation and drought?, Baker says:

“In 2012, it was estimated that 2 billion hectares of land was degraded globally,” adding that there are about 500 million hectares of that is former – now abandoned agricultural land – that could be restored quickly and cost-effectively.This is far better than degrading 4-6 million hectares of new land each year to meet the growing global demand for food up to 2050.”

Nearly One Fifth of China, Affected By Drought and Desertification

Nearly 20 per cent of China is affected by drought and desertification, Baker explains. “On average, China has recovered 2,424 km2 (240,000 ha) of desertified and degraded land every year for the last consecutive 10 years. That is about 2.5 million hectares. At least, 10 million hectares more could be restored in China. This would be a significant contribution to global efforts.”

Through knowledge sharing under the Road and Belt Joint Action Initiative, China is helping countries that are affected by drought to be more prepared.

“I believe the success of this initiative will motivate more countries to rehabilitate and restore their land. It will certainly increase the resilience of local people, the UNCCD senior official concludes.

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Speaking Out on Sexism and Violence Through Hip-Hophttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/speaking-out-on-sexism-and-violence-through-hip-hop/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=speaking-out-on-sexism-and-violence-through-hip-hop http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/speaking-out-on-sexism-and-violence-through-hip-hop/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 15:46:51 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147909 Johnna Artis, 20, first apprentice and Maria Fraguas Jover, 24, rehearsal director at the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory pictured at the United Nations. Credit: IPS UN Bureau / IPS.

Johnna Artis, 20, first apprentice and Maria Fraguas Jover, 24, rehearsal director at the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory pictured at the United Nations. Credit: IPS UN Bureau / IPS.

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 23 2016 (IPS)

Young women are beginning to find their voices around issues such as sexism and violence, including through hip-hop, an art-form which has a long tradition of fighting oppression.

Johnna Artis, 20, a first apprentice of H+ the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory told IPS about how she has learnt to express herself and gained confidence through dance:

“Hip-hop has allowed me to realise that I can speak, and that my voice can be heard, and if my voice can’t be heard, my movements can be heard, so I have multiple ways to talk to people,” said Artis.

Growing up Artis says she felt that she often silenced her own voice, but she has become more confident to speak out, particularly she says, since she has learned that sharing her own experiences can help others.

“I’m talking more and I’m interacting more, so it’s a process, but I’m getting out of the silence,” she said.

Artis, originally from Brooklyn, New York, is one of 25 hip-hop dancers at the conservatory, who rehearse for four to six hours, six days a week.

“(Hip-hop) has been a voice for the oppressed always,” -- Maria Fraguas Jover

Artis’ teacher Maria Fraguas Jover, 24, Rehearsal Director at the Hip-Hop Dance Conservatory told IPS that while female dancers like Artis are learning to express themselves through hip-hop this is not how it has always been.

“Hip-hop was created by men, dominated by men, just the way the world has been. It’s a patriarchal society, so really hip-hop is just a microcosm of that.”

“So for (Johnna) to have that voice and use that voice both verbally and physically also opens up for other women to have that voice too and to continue to evolve hip-hop culture,” said Jover.

Hip-hop has a long tradition of addressing oppression, although it has traditionally also been a largely male art-form.

“(Hip-hop) has been a voice for the oppressed always,” said Jover, including Caribbean immigrants in the U.S. and other Black Americans, only historically these have mostly been male voices.

By involving more women, the conservatory has been able to add sexism to the issues they address, added Jover.

“When you come to our performances that’s pretty much all we’re talking about: racism, sexism, misogyny, and we do it in entertaining ways too, to open up the conversation.”

“(Women) having a voice in hip-hop means that we can speak to men in hip-hop and tell them that we don’t feel safe, and you’re not a terrible person but this is what you need to do and it is in your power to change this.”

But she noted that it is not only up to women to address gender-based violence.

“Us having a voice does something, but the people who really do have the power to change their own oppressive powers and mentalities are men, so then that goes to men speaking to other men (too).”

Members of the conservatory attended a special event at UN headquarters ahead of the International Day for Eliminating Violence Against Women which is celebrated on 25 November each year.

The event, organised by UN Women, focused on young people, who due to their age and often less independent economic status, are particularly vulnerable to gender-based violence. This is in part because at this stage in their lives they are yet to learn to express themselves or to know what a healthy relationship should look like.

Safi Thomas, Artistic Director and founder of the Conservatory told IPS that adults often discourage young people from having a voice.

“We often silence them, through authority bias, through diminishing their words, by not listening to them, by not giving credence to their words,” he said.

This means he says, that young people can find it difficult to feel safe to speak out when they are experiencing violence “be it bullying, be it abuse, be it sexual assault, be it rape.”

As Artis describes, speaking out could mean simply being able to discuss different ideas about what a healthy relationship should look like.

“Having people talk about different relationships and how we can interact with people is very important because if we only know one thing we don’t know that there is something else possible,” explained Artis.

Finding a voice is particularly important for young women many of whom fear speaking out because society continues to blame victims rather than the perpetrators of sexual violence.

Although young women are increasingly speaking out against gender-based violence, progress is slow and in some cases, countries are still moving backwards.

This past week legislators in Turkey were considering a bill, which could see girls who are victims of rape forced to marry their rapists. The bill was knocked back following protests.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. men, and particularly young white men, are being radicalised in online discussion groups to hold both sexist and racist views, as observed by writer Siyanda Mohutsiwa on Twitter following the election of Donald Trump as U.S. President.

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Students Under Siege as Schools Burn in India’s Troubled Kashmirhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/students-under-siege-as-schools-burn-in-indias-troubled-kashmir/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2016 14:15:55 +0000 Stella Paul http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147897 Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher, and her brother Rasikh Barkat, a former student, stand the charred remains of the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam – one of the many schools in India’s Kashmir that have been recently burnt down. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher, and her brother Rasikh Barkat, a former student, stand in the charred remains of the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam – one of the many schools in India’s Kashmir that have been recently burnt down. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
KULGAM, Kashmir, India, Nov 23 2016 (IPS)

In the fading light of a November afternoon, 12-year-old Mariya Sareer bends over a textbook, trying to read as much as she can before it gets dark. It’s been nearly five months since the seventh grader from Shurat, a village 70 kms south of Srinagar city, last went to school, thanks to a raging political conflict.

“Studying like this is hard. I don’t know where to focus. My scores won’t be as good as before,” says the young student, who has always been top of her class. Her siblings Arjumand, 9, and Fazl, 6, both students at the same school, nod in agreement.Unlike other terror attacks, the arsons have remained a mystery, with no one claiming responsibility.

Mariya is still luckier than many of her friends. Although her school – the Taleem-Ul-Islam Ahmadiyya Institute – has been closed for the past four and half months, the building is still standing. But for thousands of others, there will be no classrooms to return to when the shutdown ends because their schools have been destroyed in fires.

Burning down a generation’s future

Schools across Kashmir were closed for Eid ul Fitr, which was celebrated on July 6. They were expected to reopen soon after the festival. But violence erupted across the valley after Burhan Wani, a young militant, was gunned down by security forces on July 8. Amidst mass rallies, stone-throwing and renewed demands for “freedom” from India, the pro-separatist parties called for a total shutdown of the valley.

The shutdown effectively kept the valley’s 1.4 million students from returning to their classrooms.

A few weeks later, on Sep. 6, the first news of a school fire was reported in Mirhama village of Kulgam district. Soon, similar reports began to pour in from all over the valley. So far, nearly three dozen schools – both government-run and privately-owned – have been burnt down. A majority of these schools are in South Kashmir where Burhan Wani was killed.

One of them is the Nasirabad Government High School in Kulgam. The building was set on fire on the evening of Oct. 16 and although locals and police tried to douse the flames, the library, gymnasium, computers, laboratory and desks were destroyed. Locals allege that the arsonists wanted to prevent the school from reopening – a reason why they burnt the upper floor, instead of the ground floors that had little equipment.

Shugufta Barkat, a former teacher at the school, says it was among the best in the district. “They are burning down the children’s future,” a visibly shaken Barkat told IPS.

Mariya, Arjumand and Fazl Sareer, students from the village of Shurat in India’s Kashmir valley, study at their home. Educational institutions have been closed for four and half months due to political unrest in the state. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Mariya, Arjumand and Fazl Sareer, students from the village of Shurat in India’s Kashmir valley, study at their home. Educational institutions have been closed for four and half months due to political unrest in the state. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Surprisingly, unlike other terror attacks, the arsons have remained a mystery, with no one claiming responsibility. Separatists and the government have both blamed each other, while some locals say they are the work of “fringe elements” in society who just want to cause disruptions. The police have made some arrests, but in each case, the accused has been identified as a “pro-separatist” without any clear link with any terror group.

With the increased cases of arson, the government has asked teachers to protect their schools during the nighttime hours. Accordingly, schools have created charts of teachers on “night duty”. Female teachers have been asked to send a male relative to patrol on their behalf.

Unease in a minority community

Basharat Ahmed Dar is the head of Asnoor, a village of the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Kulgam. In a state of long political turmoil, violence, murders and torture, this is a community campaigning for love, peace and harmony. Their unique principles have earned them global respect, as well as scorn from many, especially the radicals.

The community strongly advocates for education as a healthy path to progress and also runs five schools in South Kashmir. The schools – which admit both Ahmadiyya and non-Ahmadiyya students – are known for a high standard of education and superior infrastructure.

Since the shutdown began, the Ahmadiyya youths, including some of the teachers, have been guarding their schools to repel possible attacks and arson. The patrolling will continue until the snow begins to fall, says Dar.

“It has not rained here for several months, so everything is very dry and prone to catching fire. But once snowfall begins, setting fire will not be as easy,” he explained.

Mass promotions and continued uncertainty

In Kashmir, a study year begins in April and ends in November- just before the three-month long winter vacation begins. The annual examinations are held in late October. However, this year, none of the schools could conduct the final examinations. With no signs of an end to the shutdown, government this week declared a mass promotion for students from first to ninth grade across the valley.

Private schools have decided to conduct examinations, even though they had completed only about 40 percent of the syllabus.

Farooq Ahmed Nengroo, a private school teacher, calls the mass promotions a “dangerous mistake.”

“In 2014 also, after a flood hit the valley, the students had a mass promotion although only two to three percent of all schools were affected. In future, we will definitely see a vacuum of knowledge and skills in the state’s labour force,” he warned.

High school students are also not pleased with the government decision. Ishfaq Ahmed, an eleventh grade student in Kulgam, says, “I had joined a coaching institute to prepare for the engineering college entrance test next year. But because of the shutdown, all the coaching institutes are closed. Unless those are allowed to function, nothing else is going to help.”

Meanwhile, Mariya Sareer is praying for an end to the shutdown and the burning of schools so she can get her life back. “I just want to return to school, study and play cricket,” she says.

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