Inter Press Service » Regional Categories http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 05 May 2015 08:21:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.4 Opinion: Healthy Diets for Healthy Liveshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-healthy-diets-for-healthy-lives/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-healthy-diets-for-healthy-lives http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-healthy-diets-for-healthy-lives/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 08:21:49 +0000 Jose Graziano da Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140410

In this column, José Graziano da Silva, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), writes that in the last 50 years life expectancy has increased almost everywhere but has been accompanied by a rise in so-called non-communicable diseases which are increasingly causing deaths worldwide. The author says that much of the increase can be attributed to unhealthy diets, and takes the diets of Japan and the Mediterranean area as examples to follow for achieving higher life expectancy.

By José Graziano da Silva
ROME, May 5 2015 (IPS)

In the last half-century, people’s lifestyles have changed dramatically. Life expectancy has risen almost everywhere, but this has been accompanied by an increase of so-called non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, respiratory diseases, and diabetes – causing more and more deaths in all corners of the world.

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

My distinguished colleague Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), has called the worldwide rise of NCDs a “slow-motion catastrophe”. If NCDs were once considered the scourge of the developed world, this is no longer true; they now disproportionally affect low- and middle-income countries where nearly three-quarters of NCD deaths – 28 million per year – occur.

Much of the rise of NCDs can be attributed to unhealthy diets. WHO estimates that 2.7 million deaths every year are attributable to diets low in fruits and vegetables. Globally unhealthy diets are estimated to cause about 19 percent of gastrointestinal cancer, 31 percent of ischaemic heart disease, and 11 percent of strokes, thus making diet-related NCDs one of the leading preventable causes of death worldwide.

In other words, diet determines health – just as bad diets can lead to disease, healthy diets can contribute to good health.

But what exactly is a healthy diet? This is a difficult question. Generally, a healthy diet must provide the right nutrients in the right balance and with sufficient diversity, limiting the intake of free sugars to less than 10 percent of total energy requirements, and keeping salt intake to less than 5 grams per day.“There is no one-size-fits-all healthy diet. A healthy diet must be affordable, based on locally available foodstuffs, and meet cultural preferences”

However, there is no one-size-fits-all healthy diet. A healthy diet must be affordable, based on locally available foodstuffs, and meet cultural preferences. For over 20 years, FAO, together with WHO, has worked with governments on national Food-Based Dietary Guidelines: short, science-based, tips on healthy eating, in accordance with local values, customs and tradition.

Healthy meals do not always taste or look the same. Take, for example, the Mediterranean and Japanese diets: very healthy and completely different.

The Mediterranean diet revolves around the consumption of legumes, cereals, fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish, and moderate consumption of dairy products (mostly cheese and yogurt). It emphasises unprocessed, plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables, in addition to the consumption of beans, nuts, cereals and other seeds; olive oil is the main source of (unsaturated) fat.

Japanese cuisine, on the other hand, is often associated with sushi (raw fish with rice), and sashimi (fresh raw seafood). The Japanese diet emphasises at least seven ingredients: fish as a major source of protein; vegetables including daikon radish and sea vegetables; rice; soya (tofu, miso, soya sauce); noodles; fruit; and tea (preferably green).

The Japanese and Mediterranean diets are examples of healthy diets. They use a great variety of ingredients; they are rich in plant foods including vegetables and fruit, legumes and fibres; they are modest in red meat; and they utilise many natural herbs and spices instead of salt to flavour food.

Both diets are linked to peoples and cultures as much as to their natural environment: it therefore comes as no surprise that both the Mediterranean diet and the Japanese diet have made it onto UNESCO’s World’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.

The health benefits of the Japanese and Mediterranean diets are promising. Japanese enjoy one of the longest average life spans in the world – 87 years for women and 80 for men. In Mediterranean countries such as Italy and Spain, women have a life expectancy of 85 years. The figure for Italian men is 80 years, the same as their Japanese counterparts. All of them are above the average of high-income countries: 82 years for women and 76 years for men.

Medical research also indicate that that the Japanese diet leads to the lowest prevalence in the world of obesity – only 2.9% for Japanese women – and other chronic diseases like osteoporosis, heart ailments and some cancers. On the other hand, the Mediterranean diet, if followed for a number of years, is known to reduce the risk of developing heart disease, cancer, hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

In sum, adhering to a healthy diet helps you to not only to live longer, but also to have a better quality of life. Conversely, a bad diet causes malnutrition and can expose you to a range of NCDs.

A modern paradox is that many countries – including developing countries – suffer from undernourishment on the one hand, and obesity and diet-related diseases on the other. And while FAO’s chief concern is to eradicate hunger in this world, we cannot separate food security from nutrition. FAO – together with our U.N. agencies – considers food and nutrition security a basic human right.

In all cases, the cost of malnutrition goes beyond the health of the individual: it affects society as a whole in terms of public health costs and loss of productivity, and, therefore, is an issue that must be addressed through public and coordinated action.

Last year’s Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), organised jointly by FAO and WHO, sent a clear message in that direction. The two outcome documents of ICN2, the Rome Declaration on Nutrition and the Framework for Action that commit world leaders to establishing national policies aimed at eradicating malnutrition and making nutritious diets available to all.

A key message from ICN2 is: governments have a central role to play in creating a healthy food environment to enable people to adopt healthy dietary practices. Yes, it is consumers who choose what to eat, but it is the government’s role to provide the enabling environment that encourages and makes healthy choices possible. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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Israel Slammed Over Treatment of Palestinian Children in Detentionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/israel-slammed-over-treatment-of-palestinian-children-in-detention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-slammed-over-treatment-of-palestinian-children-in-detention http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/israel-slammed-over-treatment-of-palestinian-children-in-detention/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 08:15:29 +0000 Mel Frykberg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140450 Palestinian children, no matter how young, are often victims of mistreatment in Israeli police and military detention facilities. Photo credit: UNICEF/El Baba

Palestinian children, no matter how young, are often victims of mistreatment in Israeli police and military detention facilities. Photo credit: UNICEF/El Baba

By Mel Frykberg
RAMALLAH, West Bank, May 5 2015 (IPS)

Palestine’s ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, has sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council demanding that action be taken against Israel over the abuse of Palestinian children after they have been arrested by Israeli security forces.

“Every single day and in countless ways, Palestinian children are victims of Israeli human rights violations, with no child considered too young to be spared the oppression being meted out by the Israeli occupying forces and extremist settlers,”  wrote Mansour. “These crimes committed against our children are intolerable and unacceptable.”

"Every single day and in countless ways, Palestinian children are victims of Israeli human rights violations, with no child considered too young to be spared the oppression being meted out by the Israeli occupying forces and extremist settlers” – Riyad Mansour, Palestine’s ambassador to the United Nations
The letter, sent on May 1, followed the detention of a nine-year-old boy, Ahmad Zaatari from Wadi Joz in East Jerusalem, who had been detained on the night of Apr. 28 for approximately eight hours by Israel police after they alleged that he and his brother, 12-year-old Muhammad Zaatari, had thrown stones at an Israeli bus.

Allegations of the mistreatment of Palestinian children while in Israeli police and military detention facilities in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank are not new.

“The ill-treatment of children who come in contact with the military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised throughout the process,” said the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in a 2013 report titled Children in Israeli Military Detention, which recommended that 38 changes be made after consulting with Israeli authorities.

However, in February 2015, UNICEF released an update reviewing progress made in implementing the report’s 38 recommendations during the intervening period, which found that “reports of alleged ill-treatment of children during arrest, transfer, interrogation and detention have not significantly decreased in 2013 and 2014.”

In an April 2015 report on ‘Children in Israeli Military Detention’, rights group Military Court Watch (MCW), which monitors the treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention, said that “at least 87 percent of UNICEF’s recommendations lack effective implementation and the ill treatment of children who come in contact with this system still remains ‘widespread, systematic and institutionalised’.”

Defence for Children International Palestine (DCIP), a Palestinian human rights organisation specifically focused on child rights has been reported as saying that “Palestinian children are treated as mercilessly as adults. Most troubling are brutal beatings, other forms of torture and prolonged isolation in solitary confinement.”

According to DCIP, unlike Jews, Palestinian parents cannot accompany their children when interrogated, and there are cases of children even younger than 12 arriving at interrogation centres shackled, blindfolded and sleep-deprived.

Most experience physical abuse amounting to torture before, during and after interrogation, and “almost all children confess regardless of guilt to stop further abuse,” said DCIP, adding that the children are often forced to sign confessions in Hebrew which they cannot read or understand.

“Similarities in the situation in East Jerusalem and the West Bank exist because of the inevitable tensions that arise due to the prolonged military occupation,” Gerard Horton from MCW told IPS.

“You can tinker with the system as much as you like but unless the underlying causes are addressed the situation will remain the same.

“Most Palestinian children are arrested near Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. If you insert 500,000 settlers into occupied territory and the security forces’ job is to protect them, this inevitably results in the local population being terrorised,” added Horton.

Meanwhile, Israel was harshly criticised in a report of the board of inquiry regarding incidents during last year’s Gaza war released by U.N. Secretary General Bank Ki-moon on Apr. 27.

The board of inquiry concluded that Israel was responsible for the death of 44 Palestinians, and the injuring of 227 others, when they carried out seven attacks on six U.N. sites in Gaza where Palestinian civilians were sheltering.

Ban condemned the shelling attacks with “the utmost gravity” and said that “those who looked to them [U.N. shelters] for protection and who sought and were granted shelter there had their hopes and trust denied.”

According to Chris Gunness, spokesman for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the United Nations provided the Israelis with the exact locations of the U.N. facilities where the civilians were sheltering.

“The U.N. inquiry found that despite numerous notifications to the Israeli army of the precise GPS coordinates of the schools and numerous notifications about the presence of displaced people, in all seven cases investigated by the Board of Inquiry when our schools were hit directly or in the immediate vicinity, the hit was attributable to the IDF [Israel Defence Forces],” said Gunness.

However, the U.N. Secretary General also criticised Palestinian groups for putting some of the U.N. schools at risk by hiding weapons in some of them.

“I am dismayed that Palestinian militant groups would put United Nations schools at risk by using them to hide their arms. However, the three schools at which weaponry was found were empty at the time and were not being used as shelters,” said Ban.

Israeli diplomats put pressure on the United Nations not to release its findings into the war until the Israeli authorities had conducted their own investigation into alleged human rights violations. In September last year, Israel opened investigations into five criminal cases, including looting.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed during the Gaza conflict. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed by rockets and attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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Close to a Thousand Nigerian Girls Freed, Many Malnourished or Pregnanthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/close-to-a-thousand-nigerian-girls-freed-many-malnourished-or-pregnant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=close-to-a-thousand-nigerian-girls-freed-many-malnourished-or-pregnant http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/close-to-a-thousand-nigerian-girls-freed-many-malnourished-or-pregnant/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 23:50:33 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140449 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 4 2015 (IPS)

Boko Haram, fleeing to a new hideout, has abandoned hundreds of women and girls in the Sambisa forest where the high school girls from Chibok were initially taken over one year ago. It is not certain, however, that the freed girls and women were part of the 200 plus kidnapped victims of Boko Haram, officials say.

Over the past few weeks, Nigerian troops claim to have rescued about 1,000 women and girls. “Many of them told us that they have been hungry for days,” said Sani Datti, spokesman for Nigeria’s National Emergency Management Agency.

However, kidnapping is still advancing and at least 2,000 new women and girls have been taken by the militants, according to Amnesty International.

Less mentioned are the boys seized and forced to become child soldiers. As many boys have been kidnapped as girls but the military hasn’t reported freeing boys in any significant number.

Boko Haram may have abandoned the girls but continues to occupy territory beyond Nigeria. A video released last month announced a new name (Iswap) for Islamic State’s West Africa Province and a pledge of allegiance to the Islamic State (IS).

“It would be naive on the part of Nigeria’s authorities to think it is on the brink of victory,” wrote Tomi Oladipo for BBC Lagos. Sambisa forest is mine-infested and it is likely the Iswap fighters know this terrain better than the military does, he wrote. “The Nigerian military is likely to face its toughest battle yet,” he affirmed.

The head of the United Nations Population Fund, Babatunde Osotimehin, discussed the rehabilitation of the rescued women and children. He said his organisation had put in place a formidable team to restore the dignity of the girls, who were facing severe psychosocial trauma.

Interviews with some of the rescued girls appeared on the BBC website. According to the former hostages, Boko Haram fighters began pelting the women with stones when they refused to flee with their captors. Some were killed in that incident, the women said. Others were killed inadvertently by the military during the rescue operation.

“Soldiers did not realize that we were not the enemies,” and some women were run over by their trucks,” survivor Asama Umoru told the news station.

“Every day, we witnessed the death of one of us and waited for our turn,” said Asabe Umaru, a 24-year-old mother of two.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Video of Police Beating Black Soldier Sparks Protests by Israel’s Ethiopian Jewshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/video-of-police-beating-black-soldier-sparks-protests-by-israels-ethiopian-jews/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=video-of-police-beating-black-soldier-sparks-protests-by-israels-ethiopian-jews http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/video-of-police-beating-black-soldier-sparks-protests-by-israels-ethiopian-jews/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 23:46:14 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140447 Hundreds protest police brutality in Jerusalem, April 30, 2015 Credit: Screen capture/Facebook

Hundreds protest police brutality in Jerusalem, April 30, 2015 Credit: Screen capture/Facebook

By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, May 4 2015 (IPS)

A video that caught an Israeli police officer and a volunteer shoving and punching a black soldier in uniform outraged members of the Ethiopian Jewish community and set off a clash Sunday between Ethiopian Jews and police in central Tel Aviv.

Thousands took part in the Sunday protest over the incident, including many non-Ethiopian Israelis. Police met the crowd, which froze traffic along a major highway, with water cannons and tear gas.

Some 13 people were injured and two policemen were reportedly suspended on suspicion of using excessive force.

From the video, caught by a security camera, the soldier, Damas Pakada, a member of the Israeli Defense Force, appears to be pushing a bicycle. Two officers approach him and after a brief interaction, attack him, push him to the ground, punch him, and appear to put him in a headlock. The officers look to weigh about twice Pakada’s slim size.

Pakada was initially accused of attacking the officer and arrested, only to be released once the surveillance video of the attack was uploaded to social media.

Fentahun Assefa- Dawit, executive director of Tebeka – Advocacy for Equality and Justice for Ethiopian Israelis, says that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but not an isolated incident.

The only thing unique about this incident, he said, is that it was caught on film. Young Ethiopian Israelis being attacked by police and then falsely accused of crimes is an all-too common scenario, he said.

“You can imagine, if there were no footage, what would have happened to this soldier?” asks Assefa-Dawit rhetorically. Pakada would have been put in jail with a record for assaulting a police officer following him around for the rest of his life.

The clashes reflected widespread frustration in the Ethiopian community which, three decades after it first arrived in Israel, has become an underclass plagued by poverty, crime and unemployment.

“Anyone who attended the protest yesterday experienced at one point in their life humiliation based on nothing but skin color,” said Mehereta Baruch-Ron, a Tel Aviv deputy mayor of Ethiopian descent. ‘We have had enough. It is time to do something.’

Shlomo Molla, a former lawmaker of Ethiopian origin, said his generation failed to make a change and that hope lies with the younger generation who were born in Israel and are less intimidated by the establishment.

“We should stop enlisting in the army, not join the police, and stop paying taxes, because if the state doesn’t take its citizens into account, the citizens are also permitted not to take the state into account.’

Children of the older generation of Ethiopian Jews speak fluent Hebrew, study in universities and serve in the army alongside native Israelis. But despite such gains, the younger generation is still struggling compared to other Israelis.

As the video of the beating went viral, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set up a meeting with the young soldier. “I was shocked by the pictures,” he told Pakada.” We cannot accept it, we will change things.”

“Maybe good things will come out of this difficult situation.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: The West and Its Self-Assumed Right to Intervenehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-west-and-its-self-assumed-right-to-intervene/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-west-and-its-self-assumed-right-to-intervene http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-the-west-and-its-self-assumed-right-to-intervene/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 16:31:34 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140445

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, argues that the West, led by the United States, has taken on itself the right to intervene in the affairs of others and, in the case of the Arab world, has created situations that justify subsequent military interventions which have had a high cost in both human and financial terms.

By Roberto Savio
ROME, May 4 2015 (IPS)

The ‘West’ is a concept that flourished during the Cold War. Then it was West against East in the form of the Soviet empire. The East was evil against which all democratic countries – read West – were called on to fight.

I recall meeting Elliot Abrams, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State during the Ronald Reagan administration, in 1982. He told me that at the point in history, the real West was the United States, with Europe a wavering ally, not really ready to go up to the point of entering into war with the  Soviet Union.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

When I tried to explain to him that the East-West denomination dated back to Roman times, long before the United States even existed, he brushed this aside, saying that the contemporary concept was that of those standing against the Soviet Empire, and the United States was the only power willing to do so.

The Reagan presidency changed the course of history, because he was against multilateralism, the United Nations and anything that could oblige the United States to accept what was not primarily in the interests of Washington. The fact that United States had a manifest destiny and was therefore a spokesperson for humankind and the idea that God was American were the bases of his rhetoric.

In one famous declaration, he went so far as asserting that United States was the only democratic country in the world.

After the end of the Cold War, President George W. Bush took up the Reagan rhetoric again. He declared that he was president because of God, which justified his intervention in Iraq, albeit based on false data about weapons of mass destruction (Abrams was also by his side). Now it turns out that he has an indirect responsibility for the creation of the Islamic State (IS).“The [Ronald] Reagan presidency changed the course of history, because he was against multilateralism, the United Nations and anything that could oblige the United States to accept what was not primarily in the interests of Washington”

All this starts in Iraq.  The first governor at the end of the U.S. invasion was retired U.S. Army Lieutenant General Jay Garner who did not last very long because his ideas about how to reconstruct Iraq were considered too lenient. He was replaced by U.S. diplomat Paul Bremer.

Bremer took two fateful decisions: to eliminate the Iraqi army, and to purge all those who were members of the Baath party from the administration, because they were connected to Saddam Hussein. This left thousands of disgruntled officers and a very inefficient administration.

Now we have learned that the mind behind the creation of IS was a former Iraqi colonel from the secret services of the Iraqi Air Force, Samir Abed Al-Kliifawi. The details of how he planned the takeover over of a part of Iraq (and Syria), have been published by Der Spiegel, which came to have access to documents found after his death. They reveal an organisation which is externally fanatic but internally cold and calculating.

After the invasion of Iraq, he was imprisoned by the Americans, and there he connected with several other imprisoned Iraq officers, all of them Sunnis, and started planning the creation of the Islamic State, which now has a number of former Iraqi army officers in its ranks. Without Bremer’s fateful decision, Al-Kliifawi would probably have continued in the Iraqi army.

What we also have to remember here is that the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was rendered useless by the Cold War, and many saw its demise. However, it was given the war against Serbia as a new reason for existence, and the concept of the West, embodied in a military alliance, was kept alive.

According to a report by scholars with the ‘Costs of War’ project at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies, the terrible cost of the Iraqi invasion had been 2.2 trillion dollars by 2013, not to speak of 190,000 deaths. If we add Afghanistan, we reach the staggering amount of 4 trillion dollars – compared with the annual 6.4 trillion dollar total budget of all 28 members of the European Union – for “resolution” of the conflict.

One would have thought that after that experience, Europe would have desisted from invading Arab countries and aggravating its difficult internal financial balance sheet. Yet, Europe engaged in the destabilisation of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, leading to the explosion of Jihadists from there, 220,000 deaths and five million refugees.

In the case of Libya, under the prodding of France’s Francois Hollande and the United Kingdom’s David Cameron, both for electoral reasons, Europe entered with the aim of eliminating Mu’ammar Gheddafi, then leaving  the country to its destiny. Now thousands of migrants are using Libya in the attempt to reach the shores of Europe and Cameron has decided to ignore any joint European action.

For some reason, Europe always follows United States, without further thinking. The case of Ukraine is the last of those bouts of somnambulism. It has invited Ukraine to join the European Union and NATO, prodding a paranoiac Putin (with the nearly unanimous support of his people), to act to finally stop the ongoing encirclement of the former Soviet republic.

The problem is that Europeans are largely ignorant of the Arab world. A few days ago, Italian police dismantled a Jihadist ring in Bergamo, a town in northern Italy, arresting among others an imam, or preacher, No Italian media took the pain to ascertain which version of Islam he was preaching. All spoke of an Islamic threat, with attacks being planned on the Vatican.

If they had looked with more care, they would have found out that he preached the Wahhabi version of Islam, which is the official version of Islam in Saudi Arabia, and which consider all other Muslims as apostates and infidels. This is very similar to IS, which has adopted its Wahhabi version of Islam, but is a far cry from equating Wahhabism with terrorism – all terrorists may be Wahhabis but not all Wahhabis are terrorists.

Saudi Arabia has already spent 87 billion dollars in promoting Wahhabism, has paid for the creation of 1,500 mosques, all staffed with Wahhabi imams, and continues to spend around three billion dollars a year to finance Jihadist groups in Syria, along with the other Gulf countries. This has made Assad an obliged target for the West, and he has succeeded in his claim: better me than chaos, a chaos that he has been also fomenting.

Now the debate is what to do in Libya and NATO is considering several military options. The stroke of luck this time is that U.S. President Barack Obama does not want to intervene. However, with the 28 countries of the European Union increasingly reclaiming their national sovereignty
and seldom agreeing on anything, a military intervention is still in the air.

Meanwhile, thousands of refugees try crossing the Mediterranean every day (with the known number of deaths standing at over 20,000 people) to reach Europe, thus strengthening support for Europe’s xenophobic parties which are exploiting popular fear and rejection.

It is a pity that, according to United Nations projections, Europe needs at least an additional 20 million people to continue to be competitive … but this is politically impossible. (END/COLUMNIST SERVICE)

Edited by Phil Harris   

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

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In India, a Broken System Leaves a ‘Broken’ People Powerlesshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/in-india-a-broken-system-leaves-a-broken-people-powerless/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 13:02:18 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140438 In India, close to a million Dalit women work as manual scavengers: labourers who are forced to empty out dry latrines with their bare hands. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In India, close to a million Dalit women work as manual scavengers: labourers who are forced to empty out dry latrines with their bare hands. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, May 4 2015 (IPS)

As India paid glowing tributes to Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, the architect of its constitution and a champion of the downtrodden, on his 122nd birth anniversary last month, public attention also swivelled to the glaring social and economic discrimination that plagues the lives of lower-caste or ‘casteless’ communities – who comprise over 16 percent of the country’s 1.2 billion people.

The Right to Equality – enshrined in the Indian Constitution in 1950 – guarantees that no citizen be discriminated on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act of 1989 further lays down a penalty of imprisonment from six months to a year for violators.

"Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely." -- A 27-year-old Dalit woman, forced to serve as a 'temple slave' in South India
Yet, despite constitutional provision and formal protection by law, the world’s largest democracy is still in the grip of what erstwhile Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described as “caste apartheid”: a complex system of social stratification that is deeply entrenched in Indian culture.

For millions of Dalits, or ‘untouchables’, existing at the bottom of India’s caste pyramid, discriminatory treatment remains endemic and continues to be reinforced by the state and private entities.

A 2014 survey by the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) revealed that one in four Indians across all religious groups admitted to practising untouchability.

This heinous practice manifests itself in multiple ways: in some villages, students belonging to higher castes refuse to eat food cooked by those who fall under the Dalit umbrella, which encompasses a host of marginalised groups.

In parts of the central state of Madhya Pradesh – which researchers say is one of the worst geographic offenders when it comes to untouchability – Dalit children are ostracised, or made to sit separately in school and served food from a distance.

A detailed study of the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, a government-sponsored programme aimed at achieving universal primary education, found three kinds of exclusion faced by students protected under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) Act — by teachers, by peer groups and by the entire academic system.

This includes “segregated seating arrangements, undue harshness in reprimanding SC children, excluding SC children from public functions in the school and making derogatory remarks about their academic abilities”, among others.

Legal protections, but no implementation

India’s infamous caste system, considered a dominant feature of the Hindu religion and widely perceived as a divinely-sanctioned division of labour, ascribes to Dalits the lowliest forms of menial labour including garbage collection, removal of human waste, sweeping, cobbling and the disposal of animal and human bodies.

Data from the 2011 census reveals that some 800,000 Dalits are engaged in ‘manual scavenging’ – though some estimates put the number at closer to 1.3 million.

Despite enactment of The Employment of Manual Scavengers and Construction of Dry Latrines (Prohibition) Act of 1993, which provides for punishment, including fines, for those employing scavengers, hundreds of thousands of Dalits continue to clear human waste from dry latrines, clean sewers and scour septic tanks and open drains with their bare hands.

Dalits have historically been condemned to perform the lowliest forms of manual labour, from cobbling to garbage collection. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

Dalits have historically been condemned to perform the lowliest forms of manual labour, from cobbling to garbage collection. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

In a blatant violation of this law, several Government of India offices continue to have such labourers on their payrolls. The majority of manual scavengers are women, who are forced to carry the waste on their heads for disposal in dumps, generally situated on the outskirts of towns or cities.

Over the years, scholars, researchers and academics have echoed what the members of the Dalit community already know to be true: that caste in India largely determines the limits of a person’s economic, social or political life.

Denied access to land, education and formal job markets, Dalit peoples face an additional hurdle: routine sexual, physical and verbal abuse by higher-caste communities and even law enforcement personnel, making it nearly impossible to seek justice or even basic recourse against discrimination.

Beena J Pallical, a member of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, an umbrella group comprising various Dalit organisations, told IPS that even in the 21st century Dalits still remain the most vulnerable, marginalised and brutalised community in India.

“There is systemic and systematic exclusion of this class mainly because the political will to empower them is missing despite a raft of policy guidelines,” she said.

From as far back as India’s fifth Five-Year Plan (1974-75), provision has been made for channelling government funds into services and benefits for scheduled castes.

Schemes like the Tribal Sub-Plan (TSP) for Scheduled Tribes and the Scheduled Caste Sub Plan were introduced to allocate portions of the government’s yearly budget proportionate to the size of each demographic in need of state funds. Currently, scheduled castes comprise 16.2 percent of the population, while scheduled tribes now account for 8.2 percent of the population.

However, despite these policy guidelines, successive Indian governments have consistently ignored laws on allocation and lagged behind on implementation. According to Dalit activist Paul Divakar, analyses of federal and state budgets reveal that denial, non-utilisation and diversion of funds meant for the upliftment of scheduled tribes and castes are fairly routine practises.

“This clearly demonstrates that economic development of this [demographic] is not the government’s priority,” Divakar told IPS. “The Dalits continue to lag behind because of non-implementation of policies and lack of targeted development, which should be made punishable under Section 4 of The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.

“A majority of these people continue to languish in extreme poverty and unemployment because of their social identity and lack of resources. A holistic state intervention is vital for their all-round development,” he added.

Extreme violence

According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), a crime is committed against a Dalit by a non-Dalit every 16 minutes; every day, more than four untouchable women are raped, while every week 13 Dalits are murdered and six kidnapped.

In 2012, 1,574 Dalit women were raped and 651 Dalits were murdered.

Dalit women and girls, far removed from legal protections, also continue to be exploited as ‘temple slaves’ – referred to locally as ‘joginis’ or ‘devadasis’. In a practice that dates back centuries in India, Dalit girls – some as young as five years old – believed to be born as ‘servants of god’, are dedicated in an elaborate ritual to serve a specific deity.

Bound to the temple, they are forced to spend their childhood as labourers and their adult life as prostitutes, although the custom was outlawed in 1989.

Twenty-seven-year-old Annamma* a jogini at a temple in Tamil Nadu, recalls how men (including priests) raped her for five years before she managed to escaped to a women’s home in New Delhi last month.

“It was as if I wasn’t even a human being,” she told IPS. “Men would shuffle in and out of my room at night as if I had no right over my body, only they did. It broke me down completely.”

In Sanskrit, the word Dalit means suppressed, smashed, or broken to pieces. Sixty-seven years after India’s independence, millions of people are still being broken, physically, emotionally and economically, by a system and a society that refuses to treat them as equals.

*Name changed upon request

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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As Ebola Approaches Zero, Immunisation Gets a Boost in West Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/as-ebola-approaches-zero-immunisation-gets-a-boost-in-west-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=as-ebola-approaches-zero-immunisation-gets-a-boost-in-west-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/as-ebola-approaches-zero-immunisation-gets-a-boost-in-west-africa/#comments Mon, 04 May 2015 12:42:05 +0000 Roger Hamilton-Martin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140437 A baby cries in his mother’s lap while being inoculated against measles by Vaccinator Joseph Kamara, at Tagweh Town Community Clinic in Bomi County, Liberia. Credit: UNICEF

A baby cries in his mother’s lap while being inoculated against measles by Vaccinator Joseph Kamara, at Tagweh Town Community Clinic in Bomi County, Liberia. Credit: UNICEF

By Roger Hamilton-Martin
DAKAR, May 4 2015 (IPS)

As Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia work to end Ebola, critical healthcare services damaged by the epidemic are beginning to be revitalised.

Supported by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the three countries worst-hit by the disease have begun a campaign to immunise three million children against preventable illnesses like measles and polio.“UNICEF trained a former Ebola sensitisation team to go door-to-door explaining to parents that the vaccinations for measles were safe, essential, and not related to Ebola in any way." -- Tim Irwin

The launch of the campaign coincided with World Immunization Week, which ran Apr. 24 to 30. In Guinea, the World Bank has provided funding, whilst in Sierra Leone, funding has come from the Canadian International Development Agency, the European Union and the United States Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance.

Speaking to IPS about the relevance of the campaign, UNICEF West Africa spokesperson Tim Irwin said, “The focus is still very much on getting to zero cases of Ebola, but the reduction in the number of cases has allowed for the resumption of some interventions.

“Immunisations have restarted and UNICEF and partners have supported the governments in the reopening of schools.”

At the end of March, the World Health Organisation said “in light of the decline in Ebola cases, it is urgent to focus efforts on restarting and intensifying immunization activities.”

Currently, the risk of vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks outweighs the risk of increased Ebola virus transmission.

In Liberia, a campaign to provide measles and polio vaccinations to over 700,000 children under five years old is planned for May 8-14. There, measles vaccination rates were adversely affected due to the impact of Ebola on the country’s healthcare infrastructure.

Little more than half of children aged under one year received measles vaccines in 2014. Before the epidemic in 2013, measles coverage was 89 percent, while in 2014 it fell to 58 percent.

Meanwhile, Ebola had a significant impact on Sierra Leone’s vaccination regime, with routine vaccinations decreasing by 17 percent during the epidemic. Since the start of 2015, 21 laboratory confirmed cases of measles have been reported. In May, an immunisation drive for 1.5 million children under five will cover measles and polio.

In Guinea, where a measles outbreak was declared in early 2014 – prior to Ebola – the number of confirmed measles cases increased almost fourfold, from 59 between January and December 2013 to 215 for the same period in 2014, according to WHO. There are currently some 1265 suspected cases of measles in Guinea.

Irwin told IPS that in Guinea, one significant challenge is communicating the safety and importance of vaccines to sections of the population which remain sceptical, and in some cases concerned that vaccinations could be connected with Ebola.

“The second phase of measles vaccination campaign was launched in Forest Region which is still recovering from the psychological trauma of the Ebola outbreak,” Irwin said.

“While there hasn’t been a case that region for months, the UNICEF team and partners took the initiative to conduct a social mobilisation campaign ahead of the vaccinations to ensure that the turnout would be as high as possible.”

Health professionals remain vigilant for cases of Ebola, and are required to wear gloves when vaccinating – a practice not routinely required for administering injectable vaccinations in normal conditions.

As part of the community-sensitisation campaign in Guinea, UNICEF has been conducting door-to-door visits to discuss vaccinations with parents.

“UNICEF trained a former Ebola sensitisation team to go door-to-door explaining to parents that the vaccinations for measles were safe, essential, and not related to Ebola in any way,” said Irwin.

UNICEF health specialist Dr. Rene Ehounou Ekpini told IPS that Ebola had highlighted serious problems in Guinea’s health system. “Firstly, it’s a problem of poor distribution, with most health workers in the capital. At the second level, it’s an infrastructure issue.

“It’s important to restore confidence in the health system,” he said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Q&A: “People Need to Be at the Centre of Development”http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/qa-people-need-to-be-at-the-centre-of-development/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 20:58:17 +0000 Sandra Siagian http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140421 Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin discussed how Indonesia could harness its demographic dividend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on Apr. 20. Credit: Courtesy of UNFPA Indonesia.

Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla and UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin discussed how Indonesia could harness its demographic dividend on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum on East Asia in Jakarta on Apr. 20. Credit: Courtesy of UNFPA Indonesia.

By Sandra Siagian
JAKARATA, May 2 2015 (IPS)

In a populous archipelago nation like Indonesia, where 250 million live spread across some 17,500 islands, speaking over 300 languages, the question of development is a tricky one.

A lower-middle-income country with a poverty rate of 11.4 percent – with a further 65 million people living just below the poverty line – the government is forced to make tough choices between where to invest limited funds: education or health, job creation or infrastructure development?

A demographic dividend arises when a high ratio of working people relative to population size frees up resources for private and public investment in human and physical capital.
These issues are further complicated by the fact that over 62 percent of the population – about 153 million people – lives in rural areas, largely cut off from easy access to hospitals, schools and job markets outside of the agricultural sector. About 27 percent of this population, roughly 66.1 million people, are women of reproductive age.

In addition, Indonesia currently has the highest rate of working-age people that it has ever had, both in absolute numbers – with 157 million potential workers – and as a proportion of the total population – accounting for 66 percent of all Indonesians.

While this puts a huge strain on the government to provide jobs, it also offers the country a chance to reap the benefits of its demographic dividend, defined by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) as a period in which the rising number of working people relative to population size frees up resources for private and public investment in human and physical capital.

This, in turn, allows the country to achieve far higher rates of income per capita, thus boosting the national economy.

At the recently concluded World Economic Forum on East Asia, which ran from Apr. 19-21 in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, experts from around the world urged the country to capitalise on its demographic dividend by investing heavily in its own people.

Among the nearly 700 participants in the conference was the executive director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), former Nigerian Health Minister Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, who stressed throughout his three-day visit that “people need to be at the centre of development.”

While this may seem a simple recipe, it bears repeating in Indonesia, where half of the population falls into the ‘youth’ category (15-24 years), a demographic that also has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

With Indonesia’s population set to increase by 19 percent, to about 293 million people by 2030, according to the UNFPA, the country would be well advised to heed the words of population experts.

In the midst of his whirlwind visit to Jakarta, Osotimehin sat down with IPS to discuss how Indonesia can harness the potential of its people, and to share some strategies on how the young democracy can optimise on changing population dynamics.

Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Where is Indonesia in terms of its demographic dividend?

A: Indonesia needs to take advantage of its demographic window of opportunity, which is expected to peak between 2020 and 2030. I think that there is the consciousness in Indonesia that this [demographic dividend] is an important national planning process, which they must invest in.

I believe that Indonesia has both the analytics and the political commitment, but I believe that going forward, we will have to encourage Indonesia to investment [strategically] for the demographic dividend to succeed.

Q: What kinds of investments need to be made?

A: Investments in health, youth education and employment need to be scaled up considerably. I think that social systems need strengthening – we need to address the issue of early marriage and make sure that girls are allowed to go to school, stay in school and reach maturity. We want to make sure that girls and women can make choices for themselves going forward, that is a key point.

Every young person must be taught about themselves and their bodies, and every woman needs to have access to voluntary family planning and sexual reproductive health services so that they are empowered to make choices. Having comprehensive sexuality education would ensure that we could reduce things like HIV infections, sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancies.

I think that within the educational framework we also want a situation where the curriculum is diversified so that we can encourage vocational training and entrepreneurship training. We need to be able to inspire small and medium-sized enterprises, which usually form the basis of a thriving economy.

Q: Why is it particularly important for Indonesia to focus on young people?

A: It’s important for Indonesia to invest in young people for many reasons. It gives a sense of belonging [for] a young person and it ensures that they can participate in national development. Young people will be part of the demographic transition and fertility reduction needs to include them. So really, they have to be part of the process.

Once you realise the potential of young people and they enter employment they are then able to save and earn, which in turn will help the economy grow.

Q: Is Indonesia moving in the right direction?

I think Indonesia has always had some of the necessary policies in place; they just need to be revitalised. New investments and political leadership have to come into it.

In the past, Indonesia was the leader in family planning after they implemented a national family planning programme in the 1970s. But it fell off the radar after Indonesia’s democratic transition in the 2000s, when family planning services were decentralised.

I think this new government is committed to bringing it back and I hear from discussions with various government leaders that this is something that they are paying close attention to.

Indonesia should also consider working with the private sector to help create decent jobs. Making sure that everybody, from the youth to the elderly, has social protection that provides basic [services] will be most important.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Jazz as a Force for Peace and Freedomhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/jazz-as-a-force-for-peace-and-freedom/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=jazz-as-a-force-for-peace-and-freedom http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/jazz-as-a-force-for-peace-and-freedom/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 13:16:57 +0000 A. D. McKenzie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140429 Jazz legend Herbie Hancock, the brains behind International Jazz Day, an event that aims to encourage and highlight the “power of jazz as a force for freedom and creativity”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

Jazz legend Herbie Hancock, the brains behind International Jazz Day, an event that aims to encourage and highlight the “power of jazz as a force for freedom and creativity”. Credit: A.D. McKenzie

By A. D. McKenzie
PARIS, May 2 2015 (IPS)

Against the backdrop of civil unrest in Baltimore, Maryland, the fourth annual International Jazz Day was celebrated with events around the world and appeals for peace, unity and dialogue.

“Each of us is equal. All of us inhabit this place we call home,” said American jazz legend Herbie Hancock. “We must move mountains to find solutions to our incredible challenges.”“Each of us is equal. All of us inhabit this place we call home. We must move mountains to find solutions to our incredible challenges" – American jazz legend Herbie Hancock

Although the organisers of the event held on Apr. 30 did not refer directly to the protests that have followed the funeral of Baltimore resident Freddie Gray, an African-American who died in police custody, Hancock told IPS in an exclusive interview that musicians were conscious of this and other cases.

“Every time those kinds of things happen, not just with African-Americans or people of African heritage – but with different groups, whether it’s women being slaughtered, children being abused, ethnic groups being oppressed – we have to work to change things. This gives the music value and meaning,” he said.

Cover of the programme for International Jazz day 2015. Credit: A.D.McKenzie

Cover of the programme for International Jazz day 2015. Credit: A.D.McKenzie

International Jazz Day is Hancock’s brainchild, and it is presented each year by the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO in partnership with the U.S.-based Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. The organisers say the day is aimed at encouraging and highlighting the “power of jazz as a force for freedom and creativity”.

It is also meant to promote “intercultural dialogue through respect and understanding, uniting people from all corners of the globe,” says UNESCO.

In a sign of how significant the event has become since its launch in 2012, U.S. President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle will host the 2016 International Jazz Day and its signature event, the ‘All-Star Global Concert’, at the White House in Washington, D.C., Hancock announced.

“I spoke to Obama almost a year ago, at an event, and he said ‘let’s make it happen’. That wasn’t a promise because it was just in the moment, but he did make it happen, and the concert will be at the White House next year,” he told IPS.

After its beginnings in Paris three years ago, other cities which have played host to the global concert include Istanbul, Turkey, in 2013 and Osaka, Japan, last year.

The 2015 Global Host City was Paris once more, and jazz lovers were able to enjoy a day-long series of performances and educational programmes in different districts of the French capital. The presentations included workshops, master classes, discussions and jam sessions, in venues ranging from community centres to soup kitchens.

Coinciding with UNESCO’s on-going 70th anniversary celebration, the ‘All-Star Global Concert’ took place in a packed auditorium at the agency’s headquarters, with top United Nations and French officials among the audience, including U.N. Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon and France’s Justice Minister Christiane Taubira who has long fought discrimination.

“Jazz has taught me much,” said Ban. “When things become difficult, I’ve learned that you just have to improvise.”

He and the multi-cultural audience then settled back to enjoy the show, with its line-up of 30 renowned artists. The concert kicked off with vocalist Al Jarreau warming up the crowd and moved to a stirring tribute by South African musician Hugh Masekela to his country’s late icon Nelson Mandela.

As Ban had remarked, the concert was like a “mini-UN”, as American pianists such as Hancock and John Beasley (the show’s musical director) joined with Brazilian vocalist Eliane Elias,

Scottish-born Annie Lennox, more known for her rock singing, was one of the star performers at International Jazz Day 2015. Credit: A.D.McKenzie

Scottish-born Annie Lennox, more known for her rock singing, was one of the star performers at International Jazz Day’s ‘All-Star Global Concert’ 2015. Credit: A.D.McKenzie

Scottish singer Annie Lennox, Tunisian oud virtuoso Dhafer Youssef, French percussionist Mino Cinélu, Chinese teenage pianist A Bu, and a host of others to celebrate jazz and its influence.

Hancock said musicians and others were working for tolerance, mutual respect and global peace. “I’ve seen musicians from opposing sides unite to play the most beautiful music and tell the sweetest stories,” he said in his speech to the audience.

The ‘Who’s Who’ of jazz also included singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, who thanked France for opening doors and welcoming jazz musicians; saxophonist Wayne Shorter, who played alongside the young Washington, D.C.-born bassist Ben Williams and oud player Youssef for a world-premiere piece; and vocalists Dianne Reeves and Lennox (more known for rock), who drew cheers for their powerful renditions.

At the launch, UNESCO’s Director-General Irena Bokova said: “Jazz means dialogue, reaching out to others, bringing everyone on board. It means respecting the human rights and dignity of every woman and man, no matter their background. It means understanding others, letting them speak, listening in the spirit of respect.

“All this is why we join together to celebrate jazz; this music of freedom is a force for peace, and its messages have never been more vital than they are today, in times of turbulence,” she added.

Other countries that staged events to celebrate the day included South Africa, where organisers presented a series of workshops, seminars and performances with the theme of achieving change, and the United States, where award-winning artists gave concerts in New Orleans and other cities.

Edited by Phil Harris    

*   This article is published in association with Southern World Arts News (SWAN).

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Unsafe Abortions Continue to Plague Kenyahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/unsafe-abortions-continue-to-plague-kenya/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=unsafe-abortions-continue-to-plague-kenya http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/unsafe-abortions-continue-to-plague-kenya/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 11:43:33 +0000 Robert Kibet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140427 By Robert Kibet
NAIROBI, May 2 2015 (IPS)

She is just 14, but Janida avoids eye contact with others, preferring to look down at the ground and nodding her head if someone tries to engage her in conversation.

Janida (not her real name) was once a sociable and playful child, but that was before she was sexually abused by her stepfather and giving birth to a baby who is now four months old.

Her days marked by trauma and depression, Janida is just one of many girl children in Kenya who have been abused and robbed of their childhood, leaving them emotionally scarred.

“The little girl [Janida] underwent both physical and mental torture,” Teresa Omondi, Deputy Executive Director and Head of Programmes at the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya, told IPS. ”Her best option was to terminate the pregnancy rather than suffer the mental and physical torture, but she could not afford the cost of a safe abortion.”Many of the induced abortions taking place continue to be unsafe and complications are common” – Teresa Omondi, Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA) Kenya

Under Article 26 (4) of the Kenyan constitution, “abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.”

In September 2010, Kenya’s Ministry of Health released national guidelines on the medical management of rape or sexual violence – guidelines that allow for termination of pregnancy as an option in the case of conception, but require psychiatric evaluation and recommendation.

Then, in September 2012, the health ministry released standards and guidelines on the prevention and management of unsafe abortions to the extent allowed by Kenyan law, only to withdraw them three months later under unclear circumstances.

According to Omondi, “the law has not yet been fully put into operation and many providers have not been trained to provide safe abortion, meaning many of the induced abortions taking place continue to be unsafe and complications are common.”

The health ministry is responsible for doctors and nurses not being permitted to be trained on providing safe abortion, said Omondi, so “it is ridiculous that while Kenya’s Ministry of Health accepts that post-abortion care is a public health issue regarding numbers, practitioners have their hands tied.”

The issue of unsafe abortions in Kenya hit the headlines in September last year, when Jackson Namunya Tali, a 41-year-old nurse, was sentenced to death by the high court in Nairobi for murder, after the death of both Christine Atieno and her unborn baby in a botched illegal abortion.

Various inter-African meetings attended by Kenya have been held on reducing maternal mortality rates by providing safe abortions, with health ministers agreeing that statistics show that countries that do provide safe abortions have reduced their maternal mortality rates.

In a recent analysis, Saoyo Tabitha Griffith, Reproductive Health Rights Officer at FIDA and an advocate at the High Court of Kenya, said that despite Kenya having adopted a Constitution that affirms among others, women’s rights to reproductive health and access to safe abortion, Kenyan women continue to die from unsafe abortion – a preventable cause of maternal mortality.

For Dr Ong’ech John, a health specialist in Nairobi, perforated uteruses and intestines, heart and kidney failures, anaemia requiring blood transfusion as well as renal problems are just a few of the health complications arising from an abortion that goes wrong.

“Unsafe abortion complications are not just about removal of the products of conception that were not completely removed. One can evacuate but the perforated uterus has to be repaired, or you remove the uterus and it is rotten,” Dr Ong’ech told IPS.

“When the health ministry issued a directive in February this year instructing all health workers, whether from public, private or faith-based organisations, not to participate in any training on safe abortion practices and the use of the medication abortion, many questions were left unanswered,” said Omondi.

A highly respected Kenyan doctor, Dr John Nyamu, spent one year in prison in 2004 after his clinic was raided following the discovery of 15 foetuses on major roads together with planted documents from a hospital he had worked for but had since closed.

Speaking of his ordeal with Mary Fjerstand, a senior clinical advisor at Ipas, a global non-governmental organisation dedicated to ending preventable deaths and disabilities from unsafe abortion, Nyamu said that the publicity surrounding his imprisonment helped people to “realise the magnitude and consequences of unsafe abortion in Kenya; women were dying in great numbers. Before that, abortion was never spoken of in public.”

He went on to say that Kenya wants to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of a 75 percent reduction in maternal mortality, but that “it can’t be achieved if safe abortion is not available.”

A May 2014 World Health Organisation (WHO) updated fact sheet indicates that every day, approximately 800 women die worldwide from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, with 99 percent of all maternal deaths occurring in developing countries.

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Opinion: Lack of Trade Finance a Barrier for Developing Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-lack-of-trade-finance-a-barrier-for-developing-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-lack-of-trade-finance-a-barrier-for-developing-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/opinion-lack-of-trade-finance-a-barrier-for-developing-countries/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 08:31:29 +0000 Roberto Azevedo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140122

In this column, Roberto Azevêdo, sixth Director-General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), argues that lack of capacity in the financial sector has a very significant impact on the trading potential of poor countries and calls for giving prominence to trade finance in the development debate at a time when the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are being finalised.

By Roberto Azevêdo
GENEVA, May 2 2015 (IPS)

Up to 80 percent of global trade is supported by some form of financing or credit insurance. Yet in many countries there is a lack of capacity in the financial sector to support trade, and also a lack of access to the international financial system. Therefore the ability of these countries to use simple instruments such as letters of credit is limited.

The impact of these limitations on a country’s trading potential can be very, very significant.

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo. Credit: WTO/CC BY SA-2.0

WTO Director-General Roberto Azevêdo. Credit: WTO/CC BY SA-2.0

After the financial crisis, the supply of trade finance has largely returned to normal levels in the major markets, but not everywhere and not for everyone.

The structural difficulties of poor countries in accessing trade finance have not disappeared – indeed the situation may well have declined due to the effects of the crisis.

There are indications that markets are even more selective now. Under increased regulatory scrutiny, many institutions have lowered their risk-appetites and are focusing more on their established customers. Some are deliberately decreasing their number of clients in a so-called “flight to quality”.

In this environment, the lower end of the market has been struggling to obtain affordable finance, with the smaller companies in the smaller, less-developed countries affected the most.

I was particularly struck by the fact that the financing gaps are the highest in the poorest countries, notably in Africa and Asia. And I was struck by the size of those gaps.

A survey by the African Development Bank of 300 banks operating in 45 African countries found that the market for trade finance was somewhere between 330 and 350 billion dollars.

It also found that this could be markedly higher if a significant share of the financing requested by traders had not been rejected.“The lower end of the market has been struggling to obtain affordable finance, with the smaller companies in the smaller, less-developed countries affected the most”

Based on such rejections, the estimate for the value of unmet demand for trade finance in Africa is between 110 and 120 billion dollars.

This gap represents one-third of the existing market.

The main reasons for the rejection of requests for financing were:

  • the lack of creditworthiness or poor credit history
  • the insufficient limits granted by endorsing banks to local African issuing banks
  • the small size of the balance sheets of African banks, and
  • insufficient U.S. dollar liquidity

Some of these constraints are structural, and can only be addressed in the medium to long term. The retreat of global banks from Africa, and from other poor countries, is one such issue.

The Asian Development Bank conducted a similar survey in Asia, looking at countries like Viet Nam, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Pakistan and India.

According to preliminary estimates, the unmet demand there is around 800 billion dollars.

Small and medium-sized enterprises are the most credit-constrained as 50 percent of their requests for trade finance are estimated to be rejected. This is compared with just seven percent for multinational corporations.

Moreover, two-thirds of the companies surveyed reported that they did not seek alternatives for rejected transactions.

Therefore, these gaps may be exacerbated by a lack of awareness and familiarity among companies – particularly smaller ones – about the many options which exist.

A large majority of firms stated that they would benefit from greater financial education.

These findings are particularly striking as Africa and developing Asia are two areas of the world in which trade has grown fastest in the past decade.

But the potential evolution of new production networks is faster than the ability of the local financial sectors to support them.

In this way the lack of development of the financial sector can be a significant barrier to trade.

It can prevent developing countries from integrating into the trading system and accessing further trade opportunities.

And it can therefore prevent them from leveraging trade as a powerful source of development.

So we need to respond to this problem.

The exchanges that we have here can form part of this response. We need to join together in order to advocate action in this area and to devise practical solutions.

Of course, there is no magic bullet. This is a complex issue. However, that should not discourage our efforts.

The trade finance facilitation programmes that I outlined earlier are one example of practical action that we can take.

Of course this only fills part of the gap, so our response needs to be more fundamental.

In July this year, the United Nations’ major ‘Financing for Development’ conference will take place in Addis Ababa. And I think it is essential that we put trade finance on the agenda there.

In this way we can ensure that this issue is given its proper prominence in the development debate, especially at a time when the all-important U.N. Sustainable Development Goals are being finalised.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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The Blue Amazon, Brazil’s New Natural Resources Frontierhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-blue-amazon-brazils-new-natural-resources-frontier/#comments Sat, 02 May 2015 06:49:52 +0000 Fabiola Ortiz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140417 An oil tanker in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. Just 250 km from the coast lie the country’s presalt oil reserves, the wealth of the so-called Blue Amazon. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

An oil tanker in Rio de Janeiro’s Guanabara Bay. Just 250 km from the coast lie the country’s presalt oil reserves, the wealth of the so-called Blue Amazon. Credit: Fabíola Ortiz/IPS

By Fabiola Ortiz
RIO DE JANEIRO, May 2 2015 (IPS)

The Atlantic ocean is Brazil’s last frontier to the east. But the full extent of its biodiversity is still unknown, and scientific research and conservation measures are lagging compared to the pace of exploitation of resources such as oil.

The Blue Amazon, as Brazil’s authorities have begun to call this marine area rich in both biodiversity and energy resources, is similar in extension to the country’s rainforest – nearly half the size of the national territory.

And 95 percent of the exports of Latin America’s giant leave from that coast, according to official figures.

Brazil’s continental shelf holds 90 and 77 percent of the country’s proven oil and gas reserves, respectively. But the big challenge is to protect the wealth of the Blue Amazon along 8,500 km of shoreline.

“We haven’t fully grasped just how immense that territory is,” Eurico de Lima Figueiredo, the director of the Strategic Studies Institute at the Fluminense Federal University, told Tierramérica. “To give you an idea, the Blue Amazon is comparable in size to India.”

“But we aren’t prepared to take care of it; it isn’t yet considered a political and economic priority for the country,” the political scientist said.

Figueiredo, who presided over the Brazilian Association of Defence Studies (ABED) from 2008 to 2010, said the Blue Amazon is a term referring to the territories covered by new treaties on international maritime law.

Brazil is one of the 10 countries in the world with the largest continental shelves, in an ocean like the Atlantic which conceals untold natural wealth that offers enormous economic, scientific and technological potential.

According to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, a country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) comprises an area which extends to 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) off the coast.

Official map of part of the Blue Amazon, off the east coast of Brazil, where conservation and research are lagging behind economic development, mainly by the oil industry. Credit: Government of Brazil

Official map of part of the Blue Amazon, off the east coast of Brazil, where conservation and research are lagging behind economic development, mainly by the oil industry. Credit: Government of Brazil

Brazil’s EEZ was originally 3.5 million sq km. But it later claimed another 963,000 sq km, which according to different national institutions – including scientific bodies – represents the natural extension of the continental shelf.

The U.N. Convention’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS), made up of 148 countries, has so far sided with Brazil, adding 771,000 sq km to its EEZ. The decision on the rest is still pending.

Brazil’s demand, at least with respect to the expansion of the continental shelf granted so far, meets the requisites of the U.N. Convention and grants the country the power to exploit the resources in the expanded area and gives it the responsibility of managing it.

The recognition of Brazil’s claim, although only partial, has annoyed some neighbour countries, because of the huge economic benefits offered by the additional continental shelf it was granted.

Figueiredo said the challenge now is to monitor and protect the continental shelf. “We don’t have full sovereignty with regard to the maritime territory. Brazilian society is unaware of the important need to protect the Blue Amazon. There are enormous shortcomings, with respect to our needs.”

In 2005 a plan was approved to upgrade the navy with an estimated investment of 30 billion dollars until 2025. Defending a country is a complex task, said Figueiredo, because it involves a number of dimensions: military, economic, technical and scientific.

But scientific research in Brazil’s marine territory is currently far outpaced, he said, by the exploitation of resources such as the oil located 250 km off the coast and 7,000 metres below the ocean surface, beneath a thick layer of salt, sand and rocks.

Development of the so-called presalt reserves, discovered a decade ago, would make Brazil one of the 10 countries with the largest oil reserves in the world. And they already provide 27 percent of the more than three million barrels a day of oil and gas equivalent produced by this country.

“That region belongs to Brazil, the country has assumed commitments with the U.N. to monitor and study the living and non-living resources like oil, gas and minerals. If we don’t preserve it, we’ll lose this great treasure,” oceanographer David Zee, at the Rio de Janeiro State University, told Tierramérica.

In his opinion, Brazil is far from living up to the commitments assumed with the international community. “We have duties – we have to meet the U.N.’s scientific research requirements. We have to take greater care of our marine resources,” he said.

Apart from the oil and gas wealth, a large part of the EEZ borders the Mata Atlántica ecosystem, which extends along 17 of Brazil’s 26 states, 14 of which are along the coast.

The environmental organisation SOS Mata Atlántica explains that coastal and marine areas represent the ecological transition between land and marine ecosystems like mangroves, dunes, cliffs, bays, estuaries, coral reefs and beaches. The biological wealth of these ecosystems turns marine areas into enormous natural nurseries.

And the convergence of cold water from the South with warm water from the Northeast contributes to biological diversity and provides shelter for numerous species of flora and fauna.

But only 1.5 percent of Brazil’s maritime territory is under any form of legal protection, Mata Atlantica reports.

Thus, ensuring national sovereignty over jurisdictional waters is still an enormous political and military challenge. In March, some 15,000 naval troops and 250 Navy boats and aircraft took part in Operation Blue Amazon, the biggest of its kind carried out so far in Brazilian waters.

“This was an opportunity to train and guarantee the security of navigation, crack down on drug trafficking, and patrol the sea. The mission involved the entire territorial extension of Brazil,” Lieutenant Commander Thales da Silva Barroso Alves, commander of one of the three offshore patrol vessels that Brazil has to monitor the Blue Amazon, told IPS.

These vessels control the extensive coast in “areas of great economic interest, exploitation and accidents. Illegal fishing is also a recurrent issue,” he said.

The officer argued that the extraction of marine resources should be carried out in a “conscious, sustainable fashion,” with the aim of preserving biodiversity.

Figueiredo, the political scientist, concurs. “Our ability to defend the Blue Amazon depends on our capacity to develop technical-scientific means of protecting biodiversity in such an extensive area,” he said.

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

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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The U.N. at 70: Impressive Successes and Monumental Failureshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-impressive-successes-and-monumental-failures/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-u-n-at-70-impressive-successes-and-monumental-failures http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/05/the-u-n-at-70-impressive-successes-and-monumental-failures/#comments Fri, 01 May 2015 13:38:19 +0000 Somar Wijayadasa http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140414 The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2219 (2015), extending the arms embargo on Côte d’Ivoire by a year, until April 30, 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Security Council unanimously adopts resolution 2219 (2015), extending the arms embargo on Côte d’Ivoire by a year, until April 30, 2016. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Somar Wijayadasa
NEW YORK, May 1 2015 (IPS)

The United Nations was created to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, protect human rights, maintain international peace and security, and uphold international law. Its 70-year history is marked with many successes, but also disappointments. We need to look at both sides so that we can make the U.N. more effective in the future.

The U.N. has an impressive record of resolving many international conflicts. U.N. peacekeepers have, since 1945, undertaken over 60 field missions and negotiated 172 peaceful settlements that ended regional conflicts. Right now, peacekeepers are in 20 hot spots around the world trying to save lives and avert wars.The Security Council must be reformed and strengthened to enable the U.N. as a whole to confront and resolve complex challenges of our world.

The U.N. also fought for the liberation of countries that have been under colonial rule for over 450 years. Eighty nations and more than 750 million people have since been freed from colonialism.

The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights empowered the U.N. to act as custodian for the protection of human rights, discrimination against women, children’s rights, torture, missing persons and arbitrary detention that was occurring in many countries.

Moreover, the U.N. and its specialised agencies are engaged in enhancing all aspects of human life, including education, health, poverty reduction, the rights of women and children, and climate change.

As a result, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 12 times to the U.N., its specialised agencies, programmes and staff. This included an award in 1988 to the U.N. Peacekeeping Forces, and in 2001 to the U.N. and its secretary-general, Kofi Annan.

The U.N. defined, codified and expanded the realm of international law, governing the legal responsibilities of States in their conduct with each other, and their treatment of individuals within State boundaries. More than 560 multilateral treaties on human rights, refugees, disarmament, trade, oceans, outer space, etc. encompassing all aspects of international affairs were negotiated by the U.N.

The U.N. has made progress with its eight Millennium Development Goals, which will be followed by 17 Sustainable Development Goals to enhance social, environmental and economic progress by 2030. But it could not stop the United States from abandoning the Kyoto Protocol, ignoring the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, repudiating the Biological Weapons Convention, and repealing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The U.N. is not without shortcomings. In 1970, when the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) was signed by 190 nations, all five superpowers owned nuclear weapons. Later, despite the NPT and Partial Test Ban Treaty, several countries – North Korea, Israel, Pakistan, and India – developed nuclear weapons. This revealed the U.N.’s inability to enforce regulations on offending nations.

Along similar lines, the U.N.’s International Court of Justice has resolved major international disputes, but the U.N.’s veto powers have limited its effectiveness at critical times.

The International Criminal Court, established in 2002, has prosecuted several war criminals – but it has been criticised for prosecuting only African leaders while Western powers too have committed war crimes.

Dag Hammarskjold, secretary-general  from 1953-1961, said that the “U.N. was not created to take mankind to heaven, but to save humanity from hell.” The U.N. has solved many violent conflicts, prevented wars, and saved millions of lives but it also faced disappointments.

In Cambodia, a peacekeeping mission (1991–95) ended violence and established a democratic government, but well after Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge (1975-79) had executed over 2.5 million people.

In Rwanda, over 800,000 were massacred in 100 days. In 1995, Bosnian Serb forces overran the “safe zone” of Srebrenica and massacred 8,000 Muslim men and boys. In Darfur, an estimated 300,000 Sudanese civilians were killed. In Nigeria, Boko Haram has killed over 13,000 people.

A recent report by “Body Count” revealed that “in addition to one million deaths in Iraq, an estimated 220,000 people have been killed in Afghanistan and 80,000 in Pakistan as a result of US foreign policy”.

Last year, Israel attacked homes, schools, hospitals, and U.N. shelters in Gaza killing 2,200 Palestinians. Condemning that action, Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that “Israel was deliberately defying international law in its military offensive in Gaza and that world powers should hold it accountable for possible war crimes.” The U.N. Security Council (SC) has failed as the United States vetoes any action against Israel.

The Arab Spring in the Middle East caused thousands of deaths and regime changes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. Libya is devastated with over 40,000 deaths, and the civil war in Syria has killed over 220,000 people. These wars have displaced over 50 million people. Now, ISIS has infiltrated these countries causing gruesome killings, human rights abuses, and war crimes, at an unprecedented rate.

These catastrophic events might have been prevented if the Member States of the U.N. had the ability to resolutely act in a timely manner. But the U.N. is not a world government, and it does not have a standing army of peace-keepers ready for deployment. And, it is the Member States that make decisions at the U.N.

These setbacks clearly reflect the shortcomings of the U.N. Security Council, and its veto powers that allow some members’ own interests to be placed ahead of the need to end a raging conflict.

Navi Pillay, addressing the Security Council, said that “short-term geopolitical considerations and national interest, narrowly defined, have repeatedly taken precedence over intolerable human suffering and grave breaches of – and long-term threats to – international peace and security.”

During the last 70 years, geopolitics have changed drastically that call for reform of the U.N. – to meet global needs and challenges of the 21st century.

Member States accuse the Security Council of being arrogant, secretive and undemocratic but the veto powers resist change. Meanwhile, violations of the U.N. Charter by powerful countries continue to erode the effectiveness of the United Nations.

However, as mandated by its Charter, the U.N. has prevented another World War. The U.N. has made impressive and unprecedented progress in all aspects of human development, bringing great benefits to millions of people around the world.

Our convoluted world needs the U.N. The Security Council must be reformed and strengthened to enable the U.N. as a whole to confront and resolve complex challenges of our world.

As President Obama has said, the U.N. is imperfect, but it is also indispensable.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Draconian Ban on Abortion in El Salvador Targeted by Global Campaignhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/draconian-ban-on-abortion-in-el-salvador-targeted-by-global-campaign/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 20:53:51 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140406 One of her defence lawyers hugs Carmelina Pérez when an appeals court in eastern El Salvador declares her innocent of homicide, on Apr. 23. She had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in June 2014 after suffering a miscarriage. In El Salvador women, especially the poor, suffer from the penalisation of abortion under any circumstances. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

One of her defence lawyers hugs Carmelina Pérez when an appeals court in eastern El Salvador declares her innocent of homicide, on Apr. 23. She had been sentenced to 30 years in prison in June 2014 after suffering a miscarriage. In El Salvador women, especially the poor, suffer from the penalisation of abortion under any circumstances. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Apr 30 2015 (IPS)

International and local human rights groups are carrying out an intense global campaign to get El Salvador to modify its draconian law that criminalises abortion and provides for prison terms for women.

Doctors, fearing prosecution, often report poor women who end up in the public hospitals with complications from miscarriages, some of whom are sent to jail for supposedly undergoing illegal abortions.

There are currently 15 women in prison who were sentenced for alleged abortions after reported miscarriages. At least 129 women were prosecuted for abortions between 2000 and 2011, according to local organisations.

The campaign by Amnesty International and local human rights groups collected 300,000 signatures on a petition demanding a modification of El Salvador’s total ban on abortion.

This Central American country of 6.3 million people is one of the few nations in the world to ban abortion under any circumstances and penalise it with heavy jail terms.

The campaign was launched when a woman was freed by an appeals court. She had been found guilty of homicide and spent 15 months in prison.

Carmelina Pérez wept tears of joy when a judge declared her innocent on Apr. 23, after a hearing in a court in the eastern city of La Unión, the capital of the department of the same name.

“I’m happy, because I will be back with my son and with my family, free,” a still-handcuffed Pérez told IPS. She has a three-year-old son in her native Honduras.

Pérez, 21, was working as a domestic employee in the town of Concepción de Oriente, in La Unión, when she suffered a miscarriage. She ended up sentenced in June 2014 to 30 years in prison for homicide – a sentence that was overturned on appeal.

Of the 17 women imprisoned in similar cases since 1998, 15 are still in prison.

That was the year the legislature modified the penal code to make abortion illegal under all circumstances, even when the mother’s life is at risk, the fetus is deformed or unviable, or the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape.

Article 1 of the Salvadoran constitution was amended in January 1999 to protect the right to life from the moment of conception, making it even more difficult to reform the ban on abortion.

Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez, 25, was another one of the 17 women imprisoned, who are referred to by rights groups as “Las 17”. She had been sentenced to 25 years after being raped and suffering a miscarriage. She spent seven years in prison but was pardoned by the legislature in January 2015, after the Supreme Court recognised prosecutorial errors in her trial.

And in November 2014, 47-year-old Mirna Ramírez was released after serving out her 12-year sentence.

At least five other women have been accused and are in prison awaiting final sentencing.

Most of these women sought medical care in public hospitals after suffering miscarriages or stillbirths, but were reported by hospital staff fearful of being accused of practicing abortions. Many were handcuffed to the hospital bed and sent to prison directly, under police custody.

“The total ban on abortion is a violation of the human rights of girls and women in El Salvador, such as the rights to health, life and justice,” Amnesty International Americas director Erika Guevara said at an Apr. 22 forum in San Salvador.

Guevara added that El Salvador’s law on abortion “criminalises the country’s poorest women.”

Although there are no recent figures, a 2013 study carried out by the Agrupación Ciudadana por la Despenalización del Aborto (Citizens’ Coalition for the Decriminalisation of Abortion) found that 129 women were accused of abortion between 2000 and 2011.

Of this total, 49 were convicted – 23 for abortion and 26 for homicide in different degrees. In these cases, the prosecutor’s office argued that the fetuses were born alive and the mother was responsible for their death.

Of the 129 women accused, seven percent were illiterate, 40 percent had only a primary school education, 11.6 percent had a high school education and just 4.6 had made it to the university. And 51.1 percent of the accused had no income while 31.7 had small incomes.

In El Salvador, it is no secret that middle- and upper-class women have access to safe abortions in private clinics, and are neither reported by the doctors nor arrested and charged.

In its petition to modify the ban, Amnesty International demanded that El Salvador ensure access to safe and legal abortion in cases of rape or incest, where the woman’s health or life is at risk, and where the fetus is malformed or unlikely to survive.

Only the Vatican, Haiti, Nicaragua, Honduras, Surinam and Chile have total bans on abortion, although in Chile the legislature is studying a bill that would legalise therapeutic abortion (under the previously listed circumstances).

Delegates from Amnesty International, the Agrupación Ciudadana, and the Center for Reproductive Rights met on Apr. 22 with representatives of President Salvador Sánchez Cerén of the left-wing Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, to demand a reform of the law and deliver the 300,000 signatures.

They also met with the presidents of the legislature and judiciary.

“There is at least a willingness to talk, we see a certain openness,” activist Paula Ávila with the Center for Reproductive Rights, an international organisation based in the United States, told IPS.

Ávila added that as women who have suffered these cases increasingly speak out and tell their stories, the state will have to accept the need to sit down and talk.

The Center, along with the Agrupación Ciudadana and the Feminist Collective for Local Development, demanded a response from the Salvadoran state to a communication sent on Apr. 20 by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IACHR) urging the state to recognise its responsibility in the death of “Manuela”.

Manuela – who never allowed her real name to be revealed – had a stillbirth, was erroneously accused of having an abortion, and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

It was later discovered that she had lymphatic cancer, a disease that can cause miscarriages. She died in prison in 2010 without being treated for her cancer.

The IACHR has accepted the case and has given the Salvadoran state three months to respond with regard to its responsibility for her death.

The debate on the flexibilisation of the total ban on abortion is marked by the “machismo” of Salvadoran society and moralistic and religious overtones, with heavy pressure from Catholic Church leaders and evangelical churches that stands in the way of political changes.

But the release of Carmelina Pérez in La Unión has given rise to hope in similar cases.

For the first time, an appeals court judge dismissed the statement of the gynecologist who testified against the defendant. That decision was key in overturning her conviction.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Watch What Happens When Tribal Women Manage India’s Forestshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/watch-what-happens-when-tribal-women-manage-indias-forests/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 18:46:51 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140401 Women from the Gunduribadi tribal village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha patrol their forests with sticks to prevent illegal logging. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women from the Gunduribadi tribal village in the eastern Indian state of Odisha patrol their forests with sticks to prevent illegal logging. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

By Manipadma Jena
NAYAGARH, India, Apr 30 2015 (IPS)

Kama Pradhan, a 35-year-old tribal woman, her eyes intent on the glowing screen of a hand-held GPS device, moves quickly between the trees. Ahead of her, a group of men hastens to clear away the brambles from stone pillars that stand at scattered intervals throughout this dense forest in the Nayagarh district of India’s eastern Odisha state.

The heavy stone markers, laid down by the British 150 years ago, demarcate the outer perimeter of an area claimed by the Raj as a state-owned forest reserve, ignoring at the time the presence of millions of forest dwellers, who had lived off this land for centuries.

“No one can cheat us of even one metre of our mother, the forest. She has given us life and we have given our lives for her." -- Kama Pradhan, a tribal woman from the Gunduribadi village
Pradhan is a member of the 27-household Gunduribadi tribal village, working with her fellow residents to map the boundaries of this 200-hectare forest that the community claims as their customary land.

It will take days of scrambling through hilly terrain with government-issued maps and rudimentary GPS systems to find all the markers and determine the exact extent of the woodland area, but Pradhan is determined.

“No one can cheat us of even one metre of our mother, the forest. She has given us life and we have given our lives for her,” the indigenous woman tells IPS, her voice shaking with emotion.

Unfolding out of sight and out of mind of India’s policy-making nucleus in the capital, New Delhi, this quiet drama – involving the 275 million people who reside in or on the fringes of the country’s bountiful forests – could be the defining struggle of the century.

At the forefront of the movement are tribal communities in states like Odisha who are determined to make full use of a 2012 amendment to India’s Forest Rights Act (FRA) to claim titles to their land, on which they can carve out a simple life, and a sustainable future for their children.

One of the most empowering provisions of the amended FRA gave forest dwellers and tribal communities the right to own, manage and sell non-timber forest products (NTFP), which some 100 million landless people in India depend on for income, medicine and housing.

Women have emerged as the natural leaders of efforts to implement these legal amendments, as they have traditionally managed forestlands, sustainably sourcing food, fuel and fodder for the landless poor, as well as gathering farm-fencing materials, medicinal plants and wood to build their thatched-roof homes.

Under the leadership of women like Pradhan, 850 villages in the Nayagarh district of Odisha state are collectively managing 100,000 hectares of forest land, with the result that 53 percent of the district’s land mass now has forest cover.

This is more than double India’s national average of 21 percent forest cover.

Overall, 15,000 villages in India, primarily in the eastern states, protect around two million hectares of forests.

When life depends on land

According to the latest Forest Survey of India, the country’s forest cover increased by 5,871 square km between 2010 and 2012, bringing total forest cover to 697,898 sq km (about 69 million hectares).

Still, research indicates than every single day, an average of 135 hectares of forestland are handed over to development projects like mining and power generation.

Tribal communities in Odisha are no strangers to large-scale development projects that guzzle land.

Forty years of illegal logging across the state’s heartland forest belt, coupled with a major commercial timber trade in teak, sal and bamboo, left the hilltops bald and barren.

Streams that had once irrigated small plots of farmland began to run dry, while groundwater sources gradually disappeared. Over a 40-year period, between 1965 and 2004, Odisha experienced recurring and chronic droughts, including three consecutive dry spells from 1965-1967.

As a result of the heavy felling of trees for the timber trade, Nayargh suffered six droughts in a 10-year span, which shattered a network of farm- and forest-based livelihoods.

Villages emptied out as nearly 50 percent of the population fled in search of alternatives.

“We who stayed back had to sell our family’s brass utensils to get cash to buy rice, and so acute was the scarcity of wood that sometimes the dead were kept waiting while we went from house to house begging for logs for the funeral pyre,” recalls 70-year-old Arjun Pradhan, head of the Gunduribadi village.

As the crisis escalated, Kesarpur, a village council in Nayagarh, devised a campaign that now serves as the template for community forestry in Odisha.

The council allocated need-based rights to families wishing to gather wood fuel, fodder or edible produce. Anyone wishing to fell a tree for a funeral pyre or house repairs had to seek special permission. Carrying axes into the forest was prohibited.

Women vigilantes apprehend a timber thief. Village councils strictly monitor the felling of trees in Odisha’s forests, and permission to remove timber is only granted to families with urgent needs for housing material or funeral pyres. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Women vigilantes apprehend a timber thief. Village councils strictly monitor the felling of trees in Odisha’s forests, and permission to remove timber is only granted to families with urgent needs for housing material or funeral pyres. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

Villagers took it in turns to patrol the forest using the ‘thengapali’ system, literally translated as ‘stick rotation’: each night, representatives from four families would carry stout, carved sticks into the forest. At the end of their shift, the scouts placed the sticks on their neighbours’ verandahs, indicating a change of guard.

The council imposed strict yet logical penalties on those who failed to comply: anyone caught stealing had to pay a cash fine corresponding to the theft; skipping a turn at patrol duty resulted in an extra night of standing guard.

As the forests slowly regenerated, the villagers made additional sacrifices. Goats, considered quick-cash assets in hard times, were sold off and banned for 10 years to protect the fresh green shoots on the forest floor. Instead of cooking twice a day, families prepared both meals on a single fire to save wood.

From deforestation to ‘reforestation’

Some 20 years after this ‘pilot’ project was implemented, in early April of 2015, a hill stream gurgles past on the outskirts of Gunduribadi, irrigating small farms of ready-to-harvest lentils and vegetables.

Under a shady tree, clean water simmers four feet below the ground in a newly dug well; later in the evening, elderly women will haul bucketfuls out with ease.

Manas Pradhan, who heads the local forest protection committee (FPC), explains that rains bring rich forest humus into the 28 hectares of farmland managed by 27 families. This has resulted in soil so rich a single hectare produces 6,500 kg of rice without chemical boosters – three times the yield from farms around unprotected forests.

“When potato was scarce and selling at an unaffordable 40 rupees (65 cents) per kg, we substituted it with pichuli, a sweet tuber available plentifully in the forests,” Janha Pradhan, a landless tribal woman, tells IPS, pointing out a small heap she harvested during her patrol the night before.

With an eighth-grade education, Nibasini Pradhan is the most literate person in Gunduribadi village, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. She operates a government-supplied GPS device to help the community define the boundaries of their customary land. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

With an eighth-grade education, Nibasini Pradhan is the most literate person in Gunduribadi village, in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. She operates a government-supplied GPS device to help the community define the boundaries of their customary land. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

“We made good money selling some in the town when potato prices skyrocketed a few months back,” she adds. In a state where the average earnings are 40 dollars per month, and hunger and malnutrition affects 32 percent of the population – with one in two children underweight – this community represents an oasis of health and sustenance in a desert of poverty.

At least four wild varieties of edible leafy greens, vine-growing vegetables like spine gourd and bamboo shoots, and mushrooms of all sizes are gathered seasonally. Leaves that stem bleeding, and roots that control diarrhoea, are also sustainably harvested from the forest.

Reaping the harvest of community management

But the tranquility that surrounds the forest-edge community belies a conflicted past.

Eighty-year-old Dami Nayak, ex-president of the forest protection committee for Kodallapalli village, tells IPS her ancestors used to grow rain-fed millet and vegetables for generations in and around these forests until the Odisha State Cashew Development Corporation set its sights on these lands over 20 years ago.

Although not a traditional crop in Odisha, the state corporation set up cashew orchards on tribal communities’ hill-sloping farming land in 22 of the state’s 30 districts.

When commercial operations began, landless farmers were promised an equal stake in the trade.

“But when the fruits came, they not only auctioned the plantations to outsiders, but officials also told us we were stealing the cashews – not even our goats could enter the orchards to graze,” Nayak recounts.

“Overnight we became illegal intruders in the forestland that we had lived in, depended on and protected for decades,” she laments.

With over 4,000 trees – each generating between eight and 10 kg of raw cashew, which sells for roughly 0.85 dollars per kilo – the government was making roughly 34,000 dollars a year from the 20-hectare plantation; but none of these profits trickled back down to the community.

Furthermore, the state corporation began leasing whole cashew plantations out to private bidders, who also kept the profits for themselves.

Following the amendment to the Forest Rights Act in 2012, women in the community decided to mobilise.

“When the babus [officials] who had secured the auction bid arrived we did not let them enter. They called the police. Our men hid in the jungles because they would be beaten and jailed but all they could do was threaten us women,” Nayak tells IPS.

“Later we nailed a board to a tree at the village entrance road warning anyone trespassing on our community forest that they would face dire legal consequences,” she adds. Once, the women even faced off against the police, refusing to back down.

In the three years following this incident, not a single bidder has approached the community. Instead, the women pluck and sell the cashews to traders who come directly to their doorsteps.

Although they earn only 1,660 dollars a year for 25,000 kg – about 0.60 dollars per kilo, far below the market value – they divide the proceeds among themselves and even manage to put some away into a community bank for times of illness or scarcity.

“Corporations’ officials now come to negotiate. From requesting 50 percent of the profit from the cashew harvest if we allow them to auction, they have come down to requesting 10 percent of the income. We told them they would not even get one rupee – the land is for community use,” recounts 40-year-old Pramila Majhi who heads one of the women’s protection groups that guards the cashew orchards.

It was a hard-won victory, but it has given hope to scores of other villages battling unsustainable development models.

Between 2000 and 2014, more than 25,000 hectares of forests in Odisha have been diverted for ‘non-forest use’, primarily for mining or other industrial activity.

In a state where 75 percent of the tribal population lives below the poverty line, the loss of forests is a matter of life and death.

According to the ministry of tribal affairs, the average earnings of a rural or landless family sometimes amount to nothing more than 13 dollars a month. With 41 percent of Odisha’s women suffering from low body mass and a further 62 percent suffering from anaemia, the forests provide much-needed nutrition to people living in abject poverty.

Rather than ride a wave of destructive development, tribal women are charting the way to a sustainable future, along a path that begins and ends amongst the tress in the quiet of Odisha’s forests.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

This reporting series was conceived in collaboration with Ecosocialist Horizons
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Opinion: Don’t Sell Sweden’s Vattenfall, Keep Coal in the Groundhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-dont-sell-swedens-vattenfall-keep-coal-in-the-ground/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-dont-sell-swedens-vattenfall-keep-coal-in-the-ground http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/opinion-dont-sell-swedens-vattenfall-keep-coal-in-the-ground/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 07:37:00 +0000 Hanna Leghammar http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140397 Vattenfall’s lignite-fired power plant in Jaenschwalde, Germany, is Europe’s fourth biggest CO2 emitter. Credit: ©Paul Langrock/Zenit/Greenpeace

Vattenfall’s lignite-fired power plant in Jaenschwalde, Germany, is Europe’s fourth biggest CO2 emitter. Credit: ©Paul Langrock/Zenit/Greenpeace

By Hanna Leghammar
STOCKHOLM, Apr 30 2015 (IPS)

The Swedish government is in the process of pondering an important decision — whether to sell the vast lignite reserves of the state-owned Vattenfall energy giant or ensure that they stay in the ground. The decision will define Sweden’s commitment to tackling climate change.

Just a few days ago, on Apr. 27, Vattenfall stockholders gathered for their Annual General Meeting where the issue of selling the company was high on the agenda, according to Swedish radio station Ekot.“States have a responsibility to start leaving their fossil fuel reserves in the ground. What people all over Sweden and Europe are demanding is not only an end to expansion, but also the action of leaving them untouched” – Annika Jacobson, Greenpeace Sweden

“We are in the middle of a process to sell,” Vattenfall’s executive director Magnus Hall, who hopes to reach a deal already this year, was reported as saying. According to Hall, the Swedish government has given a clear mandate and support to Vattenfall in its plan to sell its ‘dirty’ operations.

‘Vattenfall’ translates into ‘waterfall’ and the company’s logo is an image of a sun and beautiful waves. While it plays on this imagery to build its brand, Vattenfall is emitting huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere every day.

The company’s lignite mines and power plants in Germany – including the Jänschwalde coal power plant which is Europe’s fourth biggest CO2 emitter – are responsible for twice the amount of Sweden’s total annual carbon emissions.

The Swedish government is committed to keeping the rise in global temperature below 2℃ which, at global level, requires leaving 82 percent of fossil fuel reserves in the ground. Through Vattenfall, the Swedish state is the owner of more than one billion tonnes of carbon.

Now is the time for Sweden to assume responsibility and ensure that emissions from these unburnable reserves are never released.

Over recent years, Sweden’s actions have shown that it has the potential to play a leading role in transforming our economies to power the renewable future we need. But Vattenfall’s conduct – clinging on to an outdated business model – taints this picture.

Aerial view of Vattenfall’s brown coal (lignite) open pit mine in Jaenschwalde, Germany. Credit: ©Greenpeace/J Henry Fair

Aerial view of Vattenfall’s brown coal (lignite) open pit mine in Jaenschwalde, Germany. Credit: ©Greenpeace/J Henry Fair

When Germany decided to phase out nuclear power in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, Vattenfall faced a major loss of potential profits and sued the German state. The company’s coal operations across Europe are also taking a financial hit as the coal industry worldwide has entered a huge slump. More than half of Vattenfall’s coal power stations are old and particularly polluting.

In the run-up to the Swedish general elections last year, the parties that now make up Sweden’s ruling coalition committed themselves to stop the lignite expansion of Vattenfall, thanks to pressure from Greenpeace and Swedish environmental groups.

“States have a responsibility to start leaving their fossil fuel reserves in the ground,” says Annika Jacobson from Greenpeace Sweden, who has just launched a Europe-wide petition to that effect with partners at 350.org and Skiftet [Democracy in Motion]. “What people all over Sweden and Europe are demanding is not only an end to expansion, but also the action of leaving them untouched.”

In this crucial year for climate action – with the next U.N. Climate Change Conference scheduled in Paris in December – Sweden has the opportunity to raise its head and translate ambition into action by stranding its dirty coal assets.

Not selling Vattenfall and focusing on achieving a just transition to renewable energy would be a bold and unprecedented move by a nation state which has built up its own wealth and climate resilience on a fossil-fuelled economy. This would pose a challenge to other states, considering the impending deflation of the carbon bubble.

If, as Ekot reported, Vattenfall is about to be sold, this would be flying in the face of the overwhelming majority of Swedish people who want strong climate leadership from their government, giving the country the opportunity to act on its moral responsibility to keep fossil fuels underground.

A majority of Germans also want coal to be phased out – and there is fierce resistance to Vattenfall’s lignite mining and power plants in Germany’s Lusatia region.

“The earlier promise by Sweden not to expand lignite mining in Lusatia has given hope to a community of around 3,500 people that faced forced relocations as their villages stood to be destroyed,” says Falk Hermenau, a grassroots activist from Cottbus, the largest town in the region.

“By committing now to keep its coal in the ground, Sweden has the opportunity to be a driving force for a coal phase out in Germany and inject new momentum for climate action across the world,” he argues

The rapidly growing movement against fossil fuel extraction and climate disruption – and a steady flow of news reports indicating the end of the fossil fuel era – have injected a momentum that can change the dynamics in the months before the U.N. climate talks in December.

Any meaningful deal in Paris will need to require all nations to leave fossil fuel reserves in the ground – and people from all over the world are demanding this kind of leadership. Sweden can and must lead the way by committing itself not to sell Vattenfall’s lignite operations and rather #keepitintheground.

Edited by Phil Harris    

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

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In Nicaragua Marriage Is Only for ‘Him’ and ‘Her’http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-nicaragua-marriage-is-only-for-him-and-her/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-nicaragua-marriage-is-only-for-him-and-her http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/in-nicaragua-marriage-is-only-for-him-and-her/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 21:49:55 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140394 One of the many protests held in 2014 by sexual diversity activists and organisations demanding recognition of the right of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans persons to marry and adopt, which was not included in the new Family Code. Credit: Courtesy of the Sustainable Development Network of Nicaragua

One of the many protests held in 2014 by sexual diversity activists and organisations demanding recognition of the right of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and trans persons to marry and adopt, which was not included in the new Family Code. Credit: Courtesy of the Sustainable Development Network of Nicaragua

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

A new Family Code that went into effect in Nicaragua this month represents an overall improvement in terms of the rights of Nicaraguans. However, it has one major gap: it fails to recognise same-sex marriage, and as a result it closes the doors to adoption by gay couples.

Organisations that defend the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, trans and intersex persons (LGBTI) fought to the end without success to get the new Code – Law 870 – to include the right of gay couples to marry and adopt children.

Marvin Mayorga, an activist with the Urgent Actions Against Discrimination for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Project in Nicaragua, told IPS that the law is discriminatory.

“The lack of recognition of gay marriage forces us to formally remain single, and single people are not legally allowed to adopt children in this country and establish a family,” he said.“The lack of recognition of gay marriage forces us to formally remain single, and single people are not legally allowed to adopt children in this country and establish a family.” -- Marvin Mayorga

“And outside the family there are more barriers to achieving minimal guarantees and benefits like decent work, social security coverage, education, healthcare and housing,” he complained.

The activist stressed that “families in Nicaragua are diverse, but they want to impose one single model of what a family is.”

The new Code, approved by the legislature in 2014, finally entered into force on Apr. 8.

Its aim is to protect the rights of each member of the family as well as enforce the collective rights and obligations of families.

The driving force behind the drafting of the new Code, lawmaker Carlos Emilio López of the governing left-wing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), told IPS that the 674-article Code updates and brings together in one legal instrument what was previously dispersed in 47 different laws and regulations.

The new Code addresses questions such as marriage, property rights, adoption, retirement, the rights of mothers, fathers and children, divorce, alimony and paternal and maternal responsibility.

Up to now, family questions were mainly included in the 1904 Civil Code, which according to López regulated these issues with a strongly conservative and Catholic tint, which subordinated women and children to the father as the breadwinner of the family.

“A careful analysis was made so that each member of society, as individuals that form part of families, had clear rights, obligations and duties in keeping with the country’s constitution and laws, so that there would be no discrimination against anyone for any reason,” he said.

López argued that there is no discrimination against the LGBTI community because the Nicaraguan constitution, which is above the new Code, protects the right of all Nicaraguans, and provides guarantees against inequality.

But Luis Torres, head of the local NGO Nicaraguan Sexual Diversity Alternative, told IPS that the new Code does discriminate against LGBTI persons by excluding them from the right to marry and forcing the state to provide social benefits only to family units recognised as such by the new Code.

“It’s a step backwards,” he complained. “Through the Code, the state excludes cohabiting same-sex couples from social security coverage. Neither marriage nor civil union between people of the same sex are recognised.”

That means in practice that “LGBTI couples do not have access to related rights like the right to a family loan, to adopt children, or to obtain social security coverage in case of the death or injury of a spouse, among other rights enjoyed by heterosexual couples,” Torres said.

The advances made by the new Code include recognition for the first time in this Central American country that civil unions – but only between a man and a woman – have the same rights and obligations as traditional married couples.

Ramón Rodríguez, a professor of criminal law and human rights law at the Central American University and the American University, said that because the Code “establishes that marriage and stable civil unions are only between a man and a women, a significant segment of the population, which forms part of the sexual diversity spectrum, is the direct victim of the violation of the universal principals of equality and non-discrimination.”

But Samira Montiel, Nicaragua’s ombudswoman for sexual diversity, disagreed with the criticism by human rights activists and LGBTI rights organisations.

“I would also have liked the Code to allow me to marry and adopt, but the constitution does not permit that and the Code cannot be above the constitution,” she told IPS.

Montiel said that although “for now” same-sex marriage has not been recognised, “the individual rights of each member of the lesbian-gay community are protected because they have equal rights as siblings, children, parents, relatives and citizens.”

“No lesbian woman or gay man who has a child will lose their right to parenthood, and they won’t be denied any benefits. So far I haven’t received a single formal complaint about the Code, no one has appealed it, there isn’t a single request for adoption of a child by a gay couple, and healthcare has not been denied to any lesbian or bisexual,” she told IPS.

One of the positive aspects of the Code is the fact that it accelerates the legal process for suing for alimony in divorce cases. Instead of dragging on for up to five years, the process can now take no longer than 150 days.

It also sets child support for sons and daughters under 18 to up to half of the income of the parent who is being sued, and creates fines for incompliance.

In addition, it creates a process for elderly parents to sue their children for abandonment, and gives sons and daughters up to the age of 24 the right to receive from their families money to buy food, in the case of proven need.

Furthermore, it addresses matters related to divorce, the division of assets, child protection, parental leave and other areas.

It also prohibits physical punishment or other humiliating treatment of children in any setting, and sets the age of marriage at 18 – the age of majority for both sexes, in terms of legal obligations.

The Nicaraguan federation of non-governmental organisations that work on behalf of children and adolescents had demanded that the age of marriage be raised, in order to put an end to marriages between girls aged 14 or even younger to adult men.

These marriages are often the so-called “family remedy” in cases of sexual abuse or pregnancy of girls and adolescents by adult men.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Deadline Looms for NGOs to Apply for ECOSOC Statushttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/deadline-looms-for-ngos-to-apply-for-ecosoc-status/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=deadline-looms-for-ngos-to-apply-for-ecosoc-status http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/deadline-looms-for-ngos-to-apply-for-ecosoc-status/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 21:27:34 +0000 Valentina Ieri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140390 A wide view of the conference room as Vladimir Drobnjak (shown on screens), Permanent Representative of Croatia to the UN and Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), addresses the 2015 ECOSOC Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

A wide view of the conference room as Vladimir Drobnjak (shown on screens), Permanent Representative of Croatia to the UN and Vice-President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), addresses the 2015 ECOSOC Youth Forum on the theme, “Youth Engagement in the Transition from the Millennium Development Goals to Sustainable Development Goals: What will it take?” Credit: UN Photo/Loey Felipe

By Valentina Ieri
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

The NGO Branch of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs at the United Nations is calling on non-governmental organisations to apply for Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) consultative status in order to be considered by the 2016 NGO Committee.

The deadline for the application is Jun. 1, 2015.

ECOSOC consultative status relates to ECOSOC resolution 1996/31 – based on article 71 of the Charter of the United Nations, which regulates the relationship between the U.N. and NGOs.

Resolution 1996/31 sets the rules NGOs should abide to – rights and obligations – in order to participate in international conferences convened by the U.N., and it develops strategies to improve the work on the Committee on NGOs and the NGOs Section of the Secretariat.

Consultative status is granted by ECOSOC upon recommendation of the ECOSOC Committee on NGOs – made up of 19 Member States.

According to NGO Branch, any international, regional, sub-regional and national non-governmental organisation can be eligible for ECOSOC consultative status, as long as it follows the subsequent criteria:

“An NGO must have been in existence (officially registered with the appropriate government authorities as an NGO/non-profit) for at least two years, must have an established headquarters, a democratically adopted constitution, authority to speak for its members, a representative structure, appropriate mechanisms of accountability and democratic and transparent decision-making processes. The basic resources of the organization must be derived mainly from contributions of the national affiliates or other components or from individual members.”

On the NGO Branch website, it says that NGOs which are granted consultative status by ECOSOC are able to attend official meetings, submit written statements prior to sessions, make oral statements, meet official government delegations and other NGOs representatives.

NGOs with consultative status can also benefit from organising and attending parallel events aside from main sessions, and participating in debates and interactive dialogues, such as panel discussions and informal meetings.

In 1945, when the U.N. was created in the aftermath of World War II, 41 NGOs were granted consultative status by the council, and in 1992 more than 700 NGOs received  consultative status. According to the 2014 list of the non-governmental organisations in consultative status with ECOSOC the number has increased to about 3,900 organisations.

To apply for ECOSOC consultative status, follow this link to the NGO Branch website.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Nigeria’s Anti-Corruption Pledge Resonates in Far-Off Zambiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nigerias-anti-corruption-pledge-resonates-in-far-off-zambia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nigerias-anti-corruption-pledge-resonates-in-far-off-zambia http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/nigerias-anti-corruption-pledge-resonates-in-far-off-zambia/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 21:08:07 +0000 Lisa Vives http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140389 By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

Nigeria’s president-elect is already making waves with his pledge to attack corruption, starting with the missing 20 billion dollars allegedly swiped from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation during the previous administration.

Muhammadu Buhari pledged to pursue the claim of former Central Bank governor, Lamido Sanusi, who was suspended last year by former president Goodluck Jonathan after he warned of massive mismanagement by the oil corporation. His claim was never investigated by the ex-president.

“This issue is not over yet,” declared Buhari, who will be sworn in on May 29. “Once we assume office we will order a fresh probe into the matter… We will not allow people to steal money meant for Nigerians to buy shares and stash (them) away in foreign lands.”

Buhari’s warning to those who pocketed national funds thrilled Africans as far away as Zambia and prompted an editorial in The Post newspaper.

“Nigerian President-elect General Muhammadu Buhari’s message on corruption brings some hope for that country and our continent,” wrote The Post’s editor in a piece viewed 1,294 times.

The editorial continued: “We wish this was the message we were getting from our own President, Edgar Lungu. But it is not. If there is anything Edgar hardly talks about, it is corruption.

“What we have in Zambia today is a corrupt government… This is a government where those in leadership are the ones getting government contracts. They are the suppliers of government. Leaders and cadres of the ruling party are the ones doing business with government.

“If one scrutinises all government contracts, it will not be difficult to discover that almost all of them have been given to people connected to the ruling party and its leadership…. When one criticises such practices, he is seen to be hurtful, frustrated.

“Look at how quickly those in the leadership of government, from president to the lowest cadre, become rich! What is the magic? Where is the money coming from? It is from corruption, from bribes, from selling government policy. There is no other source of that money other than corruption.”

Africans surveyed by the group Afrobarometer in 2013 expressed similar views and many believe the situation has deteriorated in the last decade.

In the survey of 34 countries, 56 percent of the 51,000 people surveyed thought their governments were doing “fairly badly” or “very badly” in the fight against corruption. Only 35 percent said their governments were doing “fairly well” or “very well”.

Among those most dissatisfied by official efforts to end corruption were Nigerians and Egyptians at the top, followed by Zimbabweans, Ugandans and Sudanese, Kenyans, Malians, Tunisians, Togolese, Tanzanians and South Africans.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Staffers Secure at Home, Moving Targets Overseashttp://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-staffers-secure-at-home-moving-targets-overseas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-staffers-secure-at-home-moving-targets-overseas http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/04/u-n-staffers-secure-at-home-moving-targets-overseas/#comments Wed, 29 Apr 2015 20:17:27 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=140385 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon signs a book of condolences at UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) headquarters, on the death of the agency’s staff members killed in the 20 April attack on a vehicle in which they were riding in Garowe, Somalia. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon signs a book of condolences at UNICEF (UN Children’s Fund) headquarters, on the death of the agency’s staff members killed in the 20 April attack on a vehicle in which they were riding in Garowe, Somalia. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 29 2015 (IPS)

When the United Nations spent over 2.2 billion dollars refurbishing its ageing 65-year-old Secretariat building, one of its primary goals was to strengthen security to prevent any violent attacks on the glass house by New York city’s East River.

With a voluntary donation of nearly 100 million dollars from the United States as host country (in addition to its assessed contribution for the renovations), the United Nations has installed bollards and other security devices enhancing the entrances and perimeters of the campus where more than 3,000 staffers now work in a modernised and energy-efficient 39-storeyed high-rise building."We hope [Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon] will recognise the fact that the U.N. has to start making some tougher choices about whether it actually has the means to be able to operate in dangerous locations and protect its staff." -- Ian Richards

The new security measures are expected to be in place by next year while the refurbishment that began in 2008 – financed by the 193 member states with assessed contributions based on “capacity to pay” – is virtually complete.

Acutely conscious of its security, the United Nations is also planning to empty and shut down its historic Dag Hammarskjold library building, keeping it permanently vacant, because of possible terrorist attacks from an adjacent roadway and an exit ramp from the highway – both of which the U.S. government is refusing to close down because it is “not feasible” to do so in a traffic-clogged city.

Still, say U.N. staffers, while they appreciate the protective measures in home territory, the world body has not placed as high a priority on their safety and security in emergency operations in conflict zones.

As international aid workers increasingly come under violent attack overseas, U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos provided a candid assessment last week when she said “respect for the U.N. flag and the Red Cross and Red Crescent flag is disappearing.”

According to the latest statistics, attacks on U.N. staffers have continued to increase over the last decade – with a record high of 264 attacks, affecting 474 aid workers, in 2013 alone.

In early April, four staffers working for the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF were killed in “a horrific attack” in Somalia as a result of a roadside bomb destroying their minivan.

The increasing deaths and the continued attacks have prompted the U.N. staff union to call for the establishment of an independent high-level panel to review U.N. security.

Asked if the establishment of such a panel is at the discretion of member states or a decision by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Ian Richards, president of the Coordinating Committee of International Staff Unions and Associations (CCISUA), representing 60,000 staffers, told IPS the staff union is requesting Ban to set up the panel.

“So it is entirely his discretion. But we hope he will recognise the fact that the U.N. has to start making some tougher choices about whether it actually has the means to be able to operate in dangerous locations and protect its staff,” he said.

In a statement released here, the CCISUA said it has been 10 years since the United Nations Department of Safety and Security was created in the aftermath of the 2003 Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad.

Employees at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, search through the rubble after an explosion in 2003 that killed at least 17 people including the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Credit: UN Photo/AP Photo

Employees at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, search through the rubble after an explosion in 2003 that killed at least 17 people including the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Credit: UN Photo/AP Photo

Since that time, the United Nations has been the target of numerous attacks.

The Staff Union says is time to call for an independent high-level panel, modelled on two earlier U.N. panels, the Ahtisaari panel (2003, headed by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisari) and the Brahimi panel (2008, headed by former Algerian Foreign Minister Lakhdar Brahimi), to review security policies and procedures.

The panel should find answers to questions such as: Is the United Nations doing enough to protect its staff? Is the world body better off today in protecting its staff with the Department of Safety and Security? Is it subjecting staff to unnecessary risks with the “stay and deliver” policy?

The CCISUA has also sought answers to several other questions: What were the circumstances of the latest attack (in Somalia), and should anyone be held accountable for the gaps in security leaving staff vulnerable to those types of attacks?

Have politics taken precedence over proper security concerns, since stricter measures were not in place in Puntland, an area that has suffered deadly attacks and repeated threats by the Al Qaeda-linked al Shaabab, a terrorist group that has threatened and repeatedly attacked United Nations staff in Somalia in the past?

The 2008 Report of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of U.N. Personnel and Premises Worldwide (Brahimi Report) noted that “Member States are not equally well-equipped to provide that security. Indeed, it is quite often in those countries where capacity is modest or lacking all together that the most serious risks exist. All the United Nations can and should expect from the host government is that it provides security to the best of its ability.”

“It is incumbent to the Organization in particular the Secretary-General, and the Department of Safety and Security, to fill in this void, including by ensuring that proper policies, procedures and standards are established and always followed – which in the instance of the latest attack would have born no monetary cost to the Organization,” the statement said.

The Staff Union thinks the secretary-general’s policy of “stay and deliver”, combined with “do more with less”, has shown its limits and has placed staff in more of a high-risk situation than at any time before.

Thus, the Staff Union calls on the secretary-general to immediately initiate a review of security policies worldwide and an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the latest attack on the organisation, so that future such attacks may be prevented.

“The Staff Union believes we owe this to all staff and the families of the victims. The Secretary-General, as chief administrative officer of the United Nations, has an inherent responsibility to seek to ensure the safety of staff,” the statement said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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