Inter Press Service » TerraViva Europe http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 24 Apr 2014 23:55:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 Storm in a Rice Bowl http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/storm-rice-bowl/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=storm-rice-bowl http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/storm-rice-bowl/#comments Thu, 24 Apr 2014 05:49:41 +0000 Ahn Mi Young http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133854 Rice, a staple of the South Korean diet, is stirring up a bowlful of worry for Seoul. Under a promise to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the government has to make a tough choice on rice imports by June this year. It can either allow foreign suppliers to sell rice in its market – that […]

The post Storm in a Rice Bowl appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Korean rice farmers protesting in Seoul against any new imports under an agreement with the World Trade Organisation. Credit: Ahn Mi Young/IPS.

Korean rice farmers protesting in Seoul against any new imports under an agreement with the World Trade Organisation. Credit: Ahn Mi Young/IPS.

By Ahn Mi Young
SEOUL, Apr 24 2014 (IPS)

Rice, a staple of the South Korean diet, is stirring up a bowlful of worry for Seoul. Under a promise to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the government has to make a tough choice on rice imports by June this year.

It can either allow foreign suppliers to sell rice in its market – that is, open up its rice sector to the world – or it can continue to import a fixed quota of rice annually from countries like the U.S., China and Thailand.To open up its rice market or to stick to an import quota – the decision will not be easy for Seoul.

While opening up the rice market would bring competition for local varieties of the grain – and in turn invite the wrath of Korean farmers – the second option would mean allowing a huge quantity of foreign rice despite little domestic demand for it.

The government’s dilemma comes at a time when rice consumption is falling in the country. South Koreans no longer have the “peasant diet” – a full rice bowl, a bean fermented soup and the spicy vegetable dish kimchi. They often dine out and opt for other menus. Often, women on a diet cut down their rice intake.

An average South Korean who used to eat 130 kg of rice a year in 1982 and 112.9 kg in 1992 ate only 67.2 kg rice in 2013, according to agriculture ministry data.

Despite such a trend, the government has to take a decision soon.

In 1993, when the Korean government tried to open up the rice sector, tens of thousands of angry farmers gathered across the nation to protest. “Opening up the rice market is like giving away the country’s food sovereignty”, their slogan said.

The government then promised farmers it would not liberalise the rice sector.

WTO instead allowed South Korea a concession in the form of minimum market access (MMA) norms. This system meant Seoul would have to permit a specified quantity of rice to be imported under an annual quota.

Thus, in 1994, South Korea began to import four percent of its annual rice consumption. In 2004, this agreement was extended for another 10 years, with the condition that the annual quota of imported rice be increased by 20,000 tonnes each year.

As a result, rice import under the quota jumped from about 225,000 tonnes in 2005 to 408,000 tonnes in 2014. The current quantity imported under the quota amounts to about 10 percent of the country’s total rice production, which was 4.23 million tonnes last year.

The major sources of its rice imports are China, the U.S. and Thailand, and it also buys from India, Vietnam and Cambodia.

But few South Koreans buy foreign rice, because of their strong preference for the “delicious” homegrown variety. Most of the imported quota rice is sold to food, liquor or confectionery companies but these too increasingly use more of Korean rice because of consumer preferences.

Seoul’s agreement with the WTO on the current import quota expires at the end of 2014. It must decide by June so that it can notify the WTO of its decision by September. Seoul has said the WTO is unlikely to allow any further delay in opening the rice market.

A senior official at the agriculture ministry told IPS: “If we open up, we will try to impose a 300 or 500 percent tariff on imported rice. Then the price gap between imported and domestic rice would be big enough to keep our farmers unaffected.”

Such a proposal from Seoul would have to be ratified by the WTO. “The key issue would be how high the tariff on imported foreign rice can be,” agriculture minister Lee Dong-Pil said at a press meeting in March.

Currently domestic rice sells for 162 dollars per gamani (80 kg). If South Korea imports the cereal at 60,000-70,000 won (56-65 dollars) per gamani and imposes 400 percent tariff, imported rice will cost about 280 dollars per gamani.

“Then even fewer companies would buy imported rice,” said a senior agriculture ministry official on condition of anonymity. “This may explain why major rice exporters like China or the U.S. may secretly want Seoul to maintain the current import quota system.”

The government also believes that settling for an import quota yet again – and thereby buying greater quantities of foreign rice – will not help the country. “Another delay will not benefit South Korea,” minister Lee said, referring to a growing stock of imported rice.

Talk of opening up the rice market has already spurred farmer protests.

Hundreds of them gathered in Seoul on Mar. 13 to oppose free import of foreign rice. “As we plant rice saplings in our fields, we also sow the seeds of worry in our heart,”, said a placard at the demonstration. “We will never accept an opening up of the rice market” read another.

There are 1.15 million farmers in the country and 494,352 of them are engaged in rice cultivation, according to 2012 data from the Korean Statistical Information Service.

Last month about 10,000 farmers gathered near a Seoul building where trade officials from South Korea and China were meeting for a bilateral free trade deal that would allow these two countries to increase trade between them by reducing or removing tariff on imports.

“Once a free trade deal is made between Beijing and Seoul, how can Seoul impose 300 percent tariff on Chinese rice?” asked Lee Byong-Gyu, who was leading the farmer group.

To open up its rice market or to stick to an import quota – the decision will not be easy for Seoul.

The post Storm in a Rice Bowl appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/storm-rice-bowl/feed/ 0
Kyrgyzstan: Russian ’Information Wars’ Heating Up http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kyrgyzstan-russian-information-wars-heating/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kyrgyzstan-russian-information-wars-heating http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kyrgyzstan-russian-information-wars-heating/#comments Thu, 24 Apr 2014 00:34:34 +0000 Chris Rickleton http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133862 Relative to other Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan has a fairly free and perennially noisy domestic media scene. Even so, Kyrgyz outlets tend to be no match for Russian state-controlled media when it comes to establishing narratives for current events. A recently released and annually updated poll funded by USAID and carried out by the Gallup-endorsed […]

The post Kyrgyzstan: Russian ’Information Wars’ Heating Up appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Looking for balanced news in Kyrgyzstan. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

Looking for balanced news in Kyrgyzstan. Credit: David Trilling/EurasiaNet

By Chris Rickleton
BISHKEK, Apr 24 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Relative to other Central Asian states, Kyrgyzstan has a fairly free and perennially noisy domestic media scene. Even so, Kyrgyz outlets tend to be no match for Russian state-controlled media when it comes to establishing narratives for current events.

A recently released and annually updated poll funded by USAID and carried out by the Gallup-endorsed SIAR consulting company indicates that the Ukraine crisis is enabling Russian media outlets to expand their reach in Kyrgyzstan, a country where 94 percent of respondents claimed to obtain news about politics from television."We are located at the crossroads of a number of interests – internal and external. Political speculation is profitable and objectivity is expensive." -- Ilim Karypbekov

According to the latest poll, Kremlin-funded Russian Public Television (ORT) is the second most-watched channel in Kyrgyzstan.

It also shows that ORT’s popularity is on the rise, with 20 percent of respondents selecting it as their “most frequent” source of political information and 16 percent as the “most trusted” outlet. Those figures are up from 13 percent and 10 percent respectively in the previous year’s poll.

ORT’s rise is coming at the expense of Kyrgyzstan’s national broadcaster, OTRK, which saw its popularity percentage fall to 34 percent this year from 38 percent in 2013. Likewise, OTRK’s perceived reliability slipped to 29 percent from 32 percent.

The polling data has important implications for Kyrgyzstan’s political future, as Russian media now seems better positioned than ever to influence Kyrgyz public opinion. ORT and other Russian-controlled outlets have an established history of trying to shape its coverage to suit the Kremlin’s interests. Most notably, ORT led a media campaign against former Kyrgyz president Kurmanbek Bakiyev in the run-up to his violent ouster four years ago.

In the coming weeks and months, analysts of the local press believe that a Russian “information war” will intensify as Kyrgyz officials dither on the issue of joining what is Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s pet project — the Customs Union.

Beyond the government’s hesitation about joining a Kremlin-led economic group — which currently comprises Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and which is expected to metamorphose into a Eurasian Economic Union as early as May — public opinion in Kyrgyzstan about the country’s growing fealty to its northern neighbour is growing more skeptical.

Polling data from the latest SIAR survey showed that the number of Kyrgyzstanis “categorically against” Bishkek joining the union has risen from 10 percent in 2013 to 21 percent this year.

Speaking to local media on Apr. 11, Kyrgyz officials involved in accession negotiations said most of the Kyrgyz side’s key demands for concessions had not been met.

The Customs Union — along with the sale of the country’s gas network to Russian state energy giant Gazprom and the mooted sale of a majority stake in the country’s main airport to another Kremlin firm, Rosneft — were all sources of discontent expressed at a recent 1,000-strong protest on Apr. 10 in Bishkek, organized by the nominally anti-Russia National Opposition Movement.

Nargiza Ryskulova, a Bishkek-based journalist who writes for the BBC’s Kyrgyz service, suggests most Russian-speaking Kyrgyz tend to tune in to cash-strapped OTRK for national news and ORT for international news.

“Now people are interested in Ukraine since Russia is interested in Ukraine. But many people lack an alternative to Russian coverage of world events. Internet penetration is only about a fifth of the population,” Ryskulova said.

Other observers are more worried. In a fiery Apr. 8 op-ed for the Kyrgyz news outlet AkiPress, Edil Baisalov, who served as chief of staff to the former interim government, wrote: “I am willing to bet that the average Kyrgyzstani consumes more products of Russian propaganda annually than the average Tatar, Chechen or Yakut.”

The consequence of such viewing habits, he added, can be seen in the national parliament, where lawmakers are considering bills almost identical in substance to those discussed in the Russian state Duma, and among illiberal youth groups that parrot the Kremlin’s homophobic and anti-Western rhetoric at press conferences that receive disproportionate airtime. These trends showed some Kyrgyz have become “tired of independence,” Baisalov asserted.

In print media, traditionally pro-Russian publications have been mirroring ORT’s narrative concerning Ukrainian events (i.e. that Ukrainian fascists are trampling on the rights of Russian speakers) and other topics.

The introduction to an article titled Russophobic Hysteria in the Apr. 9 edition of the Russian language weekly Delo Nomer vented against Washington-funded Radio Free Europe, which earlier had alleged that the Kyrgyz periodical received funding from Moscow.

The remainder of the article featured an interview with “political scientist and ex-diplomat” Bakyt Baketaev, who opined: “let’s speak openly – if there was a referendum on Kyrgyzstan entering the Russian Federation, many Kyrgyz would vote [yes], first and foremost those who remember the Soviet Union.”

Pro-Russian periodicals in Kyrgyzstan offer a heavy dose of anti-Americanism. Another article in same edition of Delo Nomer, for example, raised alarm about the supposed danger posed by “The United States’ Kyrgyz Front.” It linked a recent visit to Bishkek by the U.S. State Department’s Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs, Nisha Biswal, to the April 10 National Opposition Movement protest.

U.S. officials have denied financing such activity. Meanwhile, Dengi i Vlast, another newspaper that leans pro-Russian ran a story in its Apr. 4 edition with a headline that read “Who is this bird Jomart Otorbayev?” The story featured a cartoon of Kyrgyzstan’s new prime minister on a tank with an American flag. Otorbayev’s “great mission” is “to block Kyrgyzstan’s entry into the Customs Union,” it alleged.

Funding sources for Kyrgyz media outlets are notoriously difficult to trace, prompting speculation that Russia is funneling money to local periodicals and broadcasters. It is “completely possible” that Kyrgyz media platforms receive money from Russian and other foreign sources, acknowledges Ilim Karypbekov, the chair of the public advisory board at the Kyrgyz broadcaster OTRK.

But, he adds, the republic’s media woes go deeper than that. Kyrgyz media is generally unprofitable, he says, meaning that “any sharp political confrontations” are “a means to earn money in exchange for coverage of a certain kind.”

What results is less an information war and more an “information vacuum” wherein outlets “attack politicians and each other, but don’t really highlight issues,” Karypbekov told Eurasianet.org.

Given its weak, fledgling democracy and strategic geopolitical location, Kyrgyzstan remains vulnerable to media manipulation, adds Karypbekov. “In our current situation we are located at the crossroads of a number of interests – internal and external — political speculation is profitable and objectivity is expensive,” he said.

Editor’s note: Chris Rickleton is a Bishkek-based journalist. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

The post Kyrgyzstan: Russian ’Information Wars’ Heating Up appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/kyrgyzstan-russian-information-wars-heating/feed/ 2
Argentina’s Informal Economy Shrinks, But Not Fast Enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/argentinas-informal-economy-shrinks-fast-enough/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=argentinas-informal-economy-shrinks-fast-enough http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/argentinas-informal-economy-shrinks-fast-enough/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 21:29:15 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133857 At the age of 22, Franco finally landed his first job, although he is not on any payroll and receives no labour benefits. He is part of Argentina’s informal economy, where one out of three workers are employed – a proportion the government aims to reduce by means of a new law. Franco, who asked […]

The post Argentina’s Informal Economy Shrinks, But Not Fast Enough appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Daniel Reynoso with one of his three children at one of the spots in Buenos Aires where he sells the feather dusters that support his family. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet /IPS

Daniel Reynoso with one of his three children at one of the spots in Buenos Aires where he sells the feather dusters that support his family. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet /IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Apr 23 2014 (IPS)

At the age of 22, Franco finally landed his first job, although he is not on any payroll and receives no labour benefits. He is part of Argentina’s informal economy, where one out of three workers are employed – a proportion the government aims to reduce by means of a new law.

Franco, who asked that his last name not be used, works in a company where 10 percent of the total 150 workers are not on the payroll – most of them young people.

“I don’t have any medical coverage, so if something happens to me in the street on the way to work, they won’t assume any responsibility,” Franco, who is also a student, told IPS. “And no contributions are made towards a pension, so this whole year I’ve been working won’t be counted towards my retirement.

“But I couldn’t afford to say no to the job because it’s off the books; I took it because I needed it.”

During the governments of the late Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007) and his successor, President Cristina Fernández, unemployment fell from 17.3 percent in 2003 to 6.4 percent in late 2013.

In addition, informal sector employment was reduced from 49.6 to 33.6 percent, according to official figures.

But unemployment and precarious employment are still a problem, especially for the young.

The Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security reports that young people under the age of 24 account for 58.7 percent of precarious employment.

“Since a large part of the population does not have access to posts with social protection, workers are forced to accept the labour conditions they are offered,” economist Juan Graña of the Centre of Studies on Population, Employment and Development (CEPED) and author of the book “Salario, calidad de empleo y distribución” (Salary, quality of employment and distribution), told IPS.

“Large companies directly put their workers in precarious conditions by means of legal mechanisms, thanks to the reforms of the 1990s, which expanded this kind of work through short-term contracts or trial periods, or by outsourcing part of their processes to small companies,” to cut costs, he added.

The manager of a company that sells school supplies told IPS that in small or medium companies like his, the costs of labour and social benefits represent an additional 50 percent on top of the wages paid.

“They are very high fixed costs that leave little profit margin, and if the company doesn’t manage to sell, it goes under,” said the executive, who asked to be identified only by his initials, D.G.

On Apr. 15, the centre-left government introduced a bill in Congress for the “promotion of registered labour and prevention of labour fraud”.

The bill is aimed at regularising the situation of 650,000 workers in the first two years, in order to lower the portion of the workforce active in the informal economy from 33.6 percent to 28 percent.

According to President Fernández, precarious and informal labour “is the second-most pressing problem” facing workers in Argentina, after unemployment.

The bill would cut employer contributions in half for companies with up to five workers, and would create incentives for putting employees on the payroll, based on the size of the company.

Companies with up to 15 workers would not make contributions for new employees in their first year of work, and would only pay 25 percent in the second. Businesses with between 16 and 80 employees would be given a 50 percent discount for 24 months, and those with more than 80 would have a discount of 25 percent for the same period of time.

Another central pillar of the reform is a public registry of companies that receive subsidies, credits and tax exemptions from the state. If they commit labour fraud, these benefits would be cancelled, and they would be subject to other penalties as well.

In addition, the number of labour inspectors would be increased.

The most likely to work in the informal economy are domestics, plumbers, electricians, cleaners, and textile workers, followed by agricultural labourers, construction workers, and hotel and restaurant workers. There are also many freelance professionals and self-employed workers, such as street vendors.

Daniel Reynoso, who has sold feather dusters in Buenos Aires since the age of 12, is one of them. With his work as a street vendor he supports his three children and managed to build a house in a poor suburb of the capital.

Although he likes a job where he feels “free,” such as selling feather dusters at a street stall, he laments that he has neither health coverage nor the right to a pension when he retires.

“I’m scared for my kids; when something happens to them I have to go to a clinic and pay up front, or to a public hospital,” said Reynoso, who has a feather duster workshop in his house.

Moreover, sales are not steady. “When it rains, I don’t go out, and I lose what I would have earned that day,” he told IPS.

In the past decade, some six million jobs were created in this country of 42 million.

But Fernández admits that precarious working conditions continue to undermine social equality.

Graña said, “Precarious workers, who have no institutional coverage, are in poor conditions to improve their working situation and defend their wages,” which are threatened by inflation.

Furthermore, these jobs “tend to have high turnover, which hurts people’s job prospects, since they don’t gain skills or knowledge in these jobs.”

And wages are 35 to 50 percent lower than those of employees in the formal sector of the economy.

“Precariousness is one of the main factors of income inequality in any economy,” Graña said. For that reason “any policy aimed at combating the phenomenon is welcome, because of the effect on the living standards of families and on the distribution of income.”

There are factors that influence the precariousness of labour, such as the difficulty to compete faced by companies, which cut labour costs in order to survive, the expert said. “The definitive solution for that is economic development,” he argued.

He said there is a need for measures such as the ones the bill would introduce, because the mentality is “I won’t register any of my workers until the process is subsidised.”

The economist stressed that since the late 2001 financial meltdown that plunged the economy into the most severe economic crisis in Argentine history, “the quality of the labour market has improved, and in many cases, labour flexibility measures of the 1990s have been revoked.”

But “in terms of both pay and quality, we are currently far from the levels that we once had in Argentina. The purchasing power of industrial workers is still 27 percent lower than it was in 1974,” Graña said.

Ernesto Mattos, an economist at the Centre for Research and Management of the Solidarity Economy (CIGES), underscored advances made in combating informal labour conditions for rural workers and domestics, for example, whose labour rights have been guaranteed by new legislation passed in 2011.

In his view, more credit should be made available to small businesses which, although they are low capital intensive, “hire more labour power for production.”

Growth of economic activity was the main factor in reducing the informal economy, said Mattos. But in order to continue making progress, labour training is essential “in this stage of capitalism in which technology is important,” he said.

The post Argentina’s Informal Economy Shrinks, But Not Fast Enough appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/argentinas-informal-economy-shrinks-fast-enough/feed/ 0
Persecution of Uganda’s Gays Intensifies as Rights Groups Go Underground http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/persecution-ugandas-gays-intensifies-rights-groups-go-underground/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=persecution-ugandas-gays-intensifies-rights-groups-go-underground http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/persecution-ugandas-gays-intensifies-rights-groups-go-underground/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 16:23:20 +0000 Amy Fallon http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133840 As she sits in a Kampala hotel holding a mobile phone that rings frequently, Sandra Ntebi tells IPS: “I’m really exhausted. I don’t know where to start. We have many cases pending.” Ntebi manages a hotline and is helping Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community find alternative, safe accommodation after they have faced […]

The post Persecution of Uganda’s Gays Intensifies as Rights Groups Go Underground appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Sandra Ntebi, who runs a hotline and helps Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community find alternative, safe accommodation, pictured here at the 2013 Gay Pride parade. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

Sandra Ntebi, who runs a hotline and helps Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community find alternative, safe accommodation, pictured here at the 2013 Gay Pride parade. Credit: Amy Fallon/IPS

By Amy Fallon
KAMPALA, Apr 23 2014 (IPS)

As she sits in a Kampala hotel holding a mobile phone that rings frequently, Sandra Ntebi tells IPS: “I’m really exhausted. I don’t know where to start. We have many cases pending.” Ntebi manages a hotline and is helping Uganda’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community find alternative, safe accommodation after they have faced harassment.

“Right now, some people have been thrown out of their homes, some are in jail. Every day there are cases.”

It’s nearly 4.30pm on Tuesday, Apr. 22, just over two months since Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed a draconian anti-gay bill that further criminalises homosexuality in this East African nation.Many activists had fled Uganda to seek asylum in different countries, while most LGBTI organisations were closed “due to fear”.

So far today Ntebi has received calls relating to four new cases concerning LGBTI people or those perceived to be LGBTI that include incidents of evictions by landlords, police arrests and mob attacks.

In total she and a colleague have received reports of about 130 different cases across the country since Museveni inked his signature on the Anti-Homosexuality Act 2014 in late February.

The law prescribes life imprisonment for some homosexual acts and also criminalises the “promotion of homosexuality”, among other measures.

“The situation is tense. Right now this act is promoting violence,” says Ntebi.

“I get the reports since I have the hotline. We sit down later with the details then categorise them into evictions, arrests and assaults.”

Today her co-worker has received a call about a new incident in Hoima, western Uganda. Among the cases Ntebi is dealing with is a fresh attack on Brenda, an HIV positive, transgender sex worker in her late 30s who lives just outside the capital, Kampala.

In March Brenda was “paraded” before local media, outed as a transsexual, beaten, undressed and arrested.

“We bailed her out, she went back to her house in the village and she couldn’t even leave because people were out every day waiting for her,” says Ntebi. “They were throwing stones.”

Brenda went to stay with a friend based on advice from the LGBTI hotline. Then on Thursday, Apr. 17, she was beaten again, taken to hospital and is now holed up in a hotel.

“We’re trying to secure a house for her to rent,” says Ntebi, who on Wednesday went to help Brenda.

Around Mar. 19, the same time that Brenda was first attacked, three Ugandan men who were perceived to be gay were assaulted and admitted to the Mulago Hospital in Kampala. A few weeks later, Ntebi says, the team were alerted to a possible suicide of an LGBTI person by an embassy.

On Apr. 3 crime intelligence officers raided the Makerere University Walter Reed Project clinic, a non-profit collaboration between Makerere University in Kampala and the U.S. Military HIV Research Programme. Police claimed the project, one of the few in Kampala willing to offer services to LGBTI people with AIDS, was “carrying out recruitment and training of young males in unnatural sex acts.”

Many activists and other members of the gay community are now in hiding, says Ntebi, who is wearing a black vest from a 2006 campaign run by Sexual Minorities Uganda (SM-UG), an NGO and the umbrella for all homosexual organisations in Uganda. The words “Leave me in peace” are embroidered on the back.

Ntebi says many activists had fled Uganda to seek asylum in different countries, while most LGBTI organisations were closed “due to fear”.

Ntebi now only goes to work at her office when it’s absolutely essential.

Beyondy is the nickname for a 23-year-old fashion designer who is in hiding.

He used to spend his days sewing a dress for a client or mastering routines for upcoming events, like the second Gay Pride parade in 2013.

Since the bill was signed he has moved to a tiny one-bedroom shack, tucked away at the back of a slum in a lively Kampala suburb. Beyondy now spends his days mostly indoors watching music videos by Beyoncé, Pink and Rita Ora, only going outside when he has to.

“I like Rita’s style – the blonde hair, her red lipstick,” cooes Beyondy, wearing a T-shirt and board shorts showing off his muscular build, when IPS met him recently.

“I wanted to be a performer, for people to see my talent and discover me. But right now I think it’s impossible. Right now it’s all about survival, saving your life and being quiet, being underground all the time.”

In the past Beyondy was attacked “a lot”, and fears he’ll be targeted again now that the anti-gay act is in force.

“You know someone was saying recently, ‘if we had a choice between forgiving a rapist and a gay person, we’d rather choose a rapist,’” he says.

Activists are hoping a petition filed in March challenging the act will come up in the country’s constitutional court early next month.

According to the Ugandan newspaper The Observer, the government has filed a defence, claiming the act does not contravene the right to equality and freedom from cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment guaranteed under the country’s constitution. The government wants the petition dismissed.

But even if the law is overturned Beyondy says it will take much more than a court ruling to change social attitudes towards homosexuality in Uganda.

In the current climate of homophobia, which activists stress has been “imported” to Uganda via western evangelists, virtually everyone is aware they can use another person’s sexuality to exact revenge.

“It’s in people’s minds and even if it’s overturned they’ll still think about it.”

But he’s adamant he will remain in Uganda to “rebuild both personally and professionally”.

The post Persecution of Uganda’s Gays Intensifies as Rights Groups Go Underground appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/persecution-ugandas-gays-intensifies-rights-groups-go-underground/feed/ 1
Japan Seeks Foreign Workers, Uneasily http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/japan-seeks-foreign-workers-uneasily/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=japan-seeks-foreign-workers-uneasily http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/japan-seeks-foreign-workers-uneasily/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 13:29:38 +0000 Suvendrini Kakuchi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133846 Desperate for more workers to support a construction boom, Japan has proposed to expand its controversial foreign trainee programme to permit more unskilled labour from Asia to work in Japanese companies for five years from the current three years. The internship plan launched in 1993 invites foreign trainees to work in Japanese companies under the […]

The post Japan Seeks Foreign Workers, Uneasily appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Foreign workers rallying in Tokyo against discrimination and denial of basic rights. Credit: Catherine Makino/IPS.

Foreign workers rallying in Tokyo against discrimination and denial of basic rights. Credit: Catherine Makino/IPS.

By Suvendrini Kakuchi
TOKYO, Apr 23 2014 (IPS)

Desperate for more workers to support a construction boom, Japan has proposed to expand its controversial foreign trainee programme to permit more unskilled labour from Asia to work in Japanese companies for five years from the current three years.
The internship plan launched in 1993 invites foreign trainees to work in Japanese companies under the slogan of learning new technologies before returning home.

But it is ridden with problems."The new move is a clear example of a ‘use and discard foreign labour’ goal."

More than 200 companies were reported in 2012 for abuses such as low pay and long working hours for foreign workers. Activists view the trainee system as a blatant stop-gap measure to counter Japan’s aging population – a quarter of its 130 million people are above 65. From a peak of 83 million workers in 1995, their number had fallen by almost five million in 2012.

The construction industry badly needs foreigners for jobs such as plasterers and mold makers.

The government has now proposed a plan for trainees to extend their visas by two years for “designated activities” to pave the way for employment for trainees.

Labour activists say the move is suspiciously timed for Japan to host Olympics 2020, and that it will do little for the stated policy of the trainee system to exchange technology with developing countries.

“Japan’s immigration policy refuses to treat migrant workers as people with rights that must be protected. The new move is a clear example of a ‘use and discard foreign labour’ goal,” Ippei Torii, head of the foreign workers branch at Zentotsu, a leading labour organisation, tells IPS.

Zentotsu has taken up negotiations on behalf of several foreign trainees who have been discriminated against by their employees. A typical example is the ongoing cases of six Chinese women who were paid four dollars an hour, half of the official minimum wage, for three years at a sewing factory in rural Japan.

“They could not escape because each was saddled with 8,000 dollars in debt they had incurred in their home towns in China to brokers,” says Ippei.

Currently 19 percent – or 136,603 – of all foreign workers in Japan are trainees. Nationals from China, Vietnam and the Philippines top the list. About 15,000 of the foreigners are employed in construction. Their average wage is around 1,200 dollars per month, plus payment for overtime work.

Jotaro Kato at the Asian People’s Friendship Society (APFS) tells IPS that the government must enact a working visa for unskilled workers. “The [proposed] increase in foreign trainees smacks of a typical bureaucratic approach and is not a sustainable solution to a crucial national issue.”

Following a clampdown, the number of foreigners overstaying has dropped to about 6,000, from a high of 250,000 recorded in the nineties. “Because of the crackdown, poor people from Asia are now entering Japan as trainees or extending their stay by applying for refugee status, or marrying local people in a desperate bid to live here,” Kato tells IPS.

The Construction Workers Union is opposed to the new trainee plan on the basis that it would increase the number of low-paid foreigners, posing a risk to the higher salaries of Japanese workers.

The Japan Federation of Construction issued a statement last week calling for doubling the number of female workers from the current 90,000 over the next five years to bridge the gap between supply and demand.

In a Yomuiri newspaper public opinion survey in March, only 10 percent of those polled were ready to accept unskilled migrant workers, because of concerns such as crime. An overwhelming 85 percent supported more women in the workforce as a solution.

Japan has an embarrassingly low acceptance of foreigners – less than two percent of the Japanese population. This includes almost 400,000 people under the Special Permanent Residents category reserved for people of Korean descent who were born in Japan but have not become citizens.

With only 1.1 percent of its workforce comprising foreigners, Japan is at the bottom of the list among industrialised countries. Germany comparatively has 9.4 percent and the United Kingdom 7.6 percent.

Even South Korea, facing a workers crunch, showed higher figures at 2.2 percent in 2011, the result of offers of a three-year working permit for foreign labour.

In the face of the looming demographic crisis, Japan too has had to make some changes in its immigration policies.

Two Economic Partnership Agreements were signed with Indonesia and the Philippines in 2008 that included a provision for nurses and caregivers from those countries to work in Japan. About 750 nurses have arrived in the past five years.

Japan’s nursing industry is grappling with a shortfall of 43,000 nurses, according to the Health and Welfare Ministry. Many Japanese nurses quit after starting a family because they are unable to cope with the long working hours in hospitals.

Japan introduced a policy in 1990 to permit Latin Americans of Japanese descent to work as temporary migrant labourers. More than 220,000 arrived, mostly from Brazil. These Nikkeijin as they are called are descendants of Japanese who had emigrated to Latin America in the 1920s.

The Nikkeijin policy changed soon after the 2008 global financial crisis, when the government took the unprecedented measure of offering free transport to Japanese Brazilians who opted to return to Brazil.

Indonesian and Filipino caregivers who study and work in Japan have struggled with passing tests to continue nursing in Japan. Of the first 104 Indonesians candidates, just 24 passed in 2011. Others are still studying.

“The bottom line must be a policy that accepts overseas unskilled workers as human beings who will enter Japan to work and start new lives,” says Jun Saito at the Japan Centre for Economic Research, a leading think-tank. “They are not robots to be returned after their visas end.”

The post Japan Seeks Foreign Workers, Uneasily appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/japan-seeks-foreign-workers-uneasily/feed/ 1
Culture Increasingly Unaffordable for Cubans http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/culture-increasingly-unaffordable-cubans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=culture-increasingly-unaffordable-cubans http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/culture-increasingly-unaffordable-cubans/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 09:20:18 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133831 Standing in line for a concert at the Centro Cultural Fábrica de Arte, a cultural centre in the Cuban capital, Alexis Cruz anxiously checks his billfold, where he has the price of the ticket – 50 Cuban pesos (two dollars) – and three CUCs (equivalent to one dollar each) to buy something to drink. “I […]

The post Culture Increasingly Unaffordable for Cubans appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A crowd outside the Fábrica de Arte, a cultural centre that is managed by singer X-Alfonso and self-financed through its ticket sales, although a large part of the initial investment came from Cuba’s Ministry of Sports. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A crowd outside the Fábrica de Arte, a cultural centre that is managed by singer X-Alfonso and self-financed through its ticket sales, although a large part of the initial investment came from Cuba’s Ministry of Sports. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Apr 23 2014 (IPS)

Standing in line for a concert at the Centro Cultural Fábrica de Arte, a cultural centre in the Cuban capital, Alexis Cruz anxiously checks his billfold, where he has the price of the ticket – 50 Cuban pesos (two dollars) – and three CUCs (equivalent to one dollar each) to buy something to drink.

“I can rarely attend these things, because they cost one-quarter of my monthly salary of 450 pesos [19 dollars],” the 26-year-old lawyer tells IPS. “But all prices are this high or higher, and at least here I can hear good music.”

The shortage of attractive, affordable entertainment and cultural events is becoming a problem in Cuba, where 20 dollars is the average monthly salary paid by the state – which still employs about 80 percent of the workforce, despite efforts to pare down the government payroll.

As family budgets have shrunk in a crisis that has dragged on for over two decades, it is nearly impossible for most to afford the steep entrance price at the new discotheques and clubs that have begun to liven up Cuba’s nightlife since economic reforms began to be introduced in 2008, opening up more space for private enterprise.

Since then, differences in socioeconomic levels have become more pronounced.

While Havana’s emerging elite are entertained in the glamorous private bars of upscale neighbourhoods like Vedado, Miramar and Playa, there are few options for the rest of society.

Although Cuba has nearly 300 cinemas, 361 theatres, 267 museums and 118 art galleries where programming is financed by the state and ticket prices are subsidised, the installations are increasingly run-down, the quality is irregular, the schedules are inflexible and the publicity is inadequate.

“If I want to go out and dance at a nice place, I save up for a month or two, which I am able to do thanks to my mom, who brings in almost all of the income in our household from cooking sweets for a private cafeteria,” says Jorge Mario Rodríguez, 24, who lives in the poor suburb of El Palmar.

Like other young people, Rodríguez, who works as a bill collector for the state-run Empresa Eléctrica power company, likes reggaeton, pop and salsa. But he does not frequently go to concerts, the theatre or the movies.

“Those places are downtown, and transportation is really bad,” he says. “When there isn’t a party at some friend’s house, I try to stay home watching series or movies on DVDs.”

Besides the programming of the five government TV channels, there is an informal alternative network that offers the latest international series and movies.

The network includes shops where people can rent and copy movies, TV series and music, and stalls that sell pirate copies of albums – businesses that have been legal since 2010, when the government expanded the number of areas where private enterprise is allowed.

Very popular is what is known as “the package of the week”, which weighs one terabyte and includes the latest series, soap operas, movies, documentaries, cartoons, videoclips, reality shows, music, software, antivirus updates, language courses, magazines and many other things – all for 50 pesos (two dollars).

Every Tuesday, Laudelina Rodríguez’s living room is packed with people copying portions of the “package” onto USB drives. Paying between five and 20 Cuban pesos, customers take home up to eight gigabytes of widely varying content.

Rodríguez, an officially registered “cuentapropista” or self-employed worker, distributes some 600 gigabytes and three or four complete “packages” a week to her roughly 300 clients in the Cerro neighbourhood. She says 65 percent of her customers are under 30 years of age.

“Most in demand are the ‘narconovelas’ [soap operas about the world of drug trafficking] and Mexican ‘telenovelas’ [soap operas], followed by series from the United States and reality talent shows like ‘La Voz Kids’ and ‘Nuestra Belleza Latina’,” Rodríguez tells IPS.

“They also like Cuban films and comedy shows. But national programming is almost never included, maybe because no one wants to have copyright problems,” she says.

Intellectuals are scandalised by this kind of cultural consumption in Cuba, whose socialist government has tried for 50 years to build “the new man”, guided by values that differ from those of Western capitalism.

The Apr. 11-12 congress of the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) called for efforts to combat the increasingly banal tastes of the population.

Havana’s International Book Fair is one of the most popular, and lucrative, cultural events in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Havana’s International Book Fair is one of the most popular, and lucrative, cultural events in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

“We have to analyse the ‘package’ so people will understand that they are being cheated,” writer Abel Prieto, a former culture minister, said at one of the televised sessions of the UNEAC congress.

In an interview in the online magazine OnCuba, Prieto, who is now a presidential adviser, acknowledged the state’s responsibility with respect to what he considered the deformation of popular tastes.

He added that the production of entertaining national cultural programming was urgently needed – content that could draw in young people but wasn’t “empty of meaning.”

Those meeting at the congress also called for an easing of longstanding tensions between art and the market, in this socialist country where mass access to culture has been subsidised for decades.

The economic reforms, which reached the world of culture in 2010, eliminated the subsidies, and now artists and institutions have to find ways to become self-financing.

In 2013, the budget for culture, art and sports was reduced by 172 million dollars with respect to the 2012 budget. And only one percent of public spending went to that sector, according to official statistics.

The UNEAC congress proposed evaluating non-state management of cultural projects, such as cooperatives.

But the government tends to react to independent initiatives by adopting restrictions, as illustrated by the closure of privately run film parlours on Nov. 2, on the argument that they had never been authorised.

Although they cost more than the state-run cinemas, in just over a year the film salons had become increasingly popular, offering a broader menu of options in suburban areas.

Ulises Aquino, director of the Ópera de la Calle, which brings together 120 artistes, tried to make the company self-financing with shows in his private restaurant El Cabildo. But the government closed down his restaurant in 2012 over alleged management irregularities.

“We covered our personal expenses and financed our artistic productions,” Aquino tells IPS. “But [the authorities] got scared when international media outlets said I had built an ‘empire’ by improving the living standards of our artistes.”

Without the restaurant, Ópera de la Calle now depends on the budget assigned by the National Council for Performing Arts, which does not cover reparations of equipment, or musical instruments or costumes, and does not cover the cost of lunches and community work.

“Subsidised creations and creators must continue to exist – not due to tradition or name, but because they truly contribute to the spiritual and cultural welfare of the nation,” wrote Elena Estévez in the interactive section of the IPS Cuba website.

Economist Tania García, an expert on culture, tells IPS that subsidising ticket prices to cultural events is an investment in human growth.

In the last five years, the arts accounted for between 4.3 and 4.7 percent of GDP. But to that must be added, according to García, the value of cultural exports as well as taxes on the personal incomes of artists.

The post Culture Increasingly Unaffordable for Cubans appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/culture-increasingly-unaffordable-cubans/feed/ 0
Bringing the Bridges Home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/bringing-bridges-home/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bringing-bridges-home http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/bringing-bridges-home/#comments Wed, 23 Apr 2014 05:02:35 +0000 Francesca Dziadek http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133759 As foreign forces withdraw slowly from Afghanistan, they leave behind a vulnerable band of people who were their ears and guides on the ground. These people who served as interpreters, face a life of threats and uncertainties. Many have been killed. Increasingly, linguists, media professionals, NGOs and advocacy groups are stepping up demands for international […]

The post Bringing the Bridges Home appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A soldier and an Afghan interpreter in a scene from the German film Inbetween Worlds. Credit: Wolfgang Ennenbach/Majestic.

A soldier and an Afghan interpreter in a scene from the German film Inbetween Worlds. Credit: Wolfgang Ennenbach/Majestic.

By Francesca Dziadek
BERLIN, Apr 23 2014 (IPS)

As foreign forces withdraw slowly from Afghanistan, they leave behind a vulnerable band of people who were their ears and guides on the ground. These people who served as interpreters, face a life of threats and uncertainties. Many have been killed.

Increasingly, linguists, media professionals, NGOs and advocacy groups are stepping up demands for international recognition of interpreters’ human rights to safety and sanctuary.

“Leaving them behind is tantamount to a death sentence,” Maya Hess, forensic linguist and head of the advocacy group Red T supporting translators and interpreters tells IPS. They must be granted protective asylum by the countries employing them, she says."Leaving them behind is tantamount to a death sentence."

Red T in collaboration with the International Association of Conference Interpreters and the International Federation of Translators published the first multilingual international Conflict Zone Field Guide in 2012, with new translations being added continually. The document, a reference source in the UK’s Ministry of Defence publication ‘Linguistic Support to Operations’ spells out best practices between host nation linguists and users of their services.

Indeed, formalising the rights to safety and security provisions for civilian interpreters and translators in war zones is long overdue.

Between 2007 and 2009, says Hess, Military Essential Personnel, a U.S. defence contractor, confirmed a death toll of 30 interpreters in 30 months. In Iraq, British forces lost 21 interpreters over a 21-day period.

Many more have been injured and have suffered life threats and persecution. The Bundeswehr, the German military, has received more 700 such claims from local employees.

Noor Ahmad Noori (29), an Afghan interpreter who worked formerly for The New York Times in Afghanistan, is among the latest casualties in a long trail of bloodshed among interpreters.

He was abducted and later found beaten and stabbed to death near Lashkar Gah, a Taliban stronghold, in January.

Jawad Wafa (25) a Bundeswehr interpreter with the Kunduz Task Force within the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was found strangled in the boot of a parked vehicle on Nov. 24, 2013. His death came a month after the German armed forces’ withdrawal.

Despite repeated threats he faced, and an entitlement to protective asylum, his documents were not expedited in time.

“Red tapes costs lives,” Hess warns.

Wafa had been invited to the Bundeswehr headquarters in Mazar-e-Sharif, and his name was on the list of the 182 permits announced in October 2013 by the Federal Minister for the Interior, Hans Peter Friedrich.

A grinding maze involving a paper shuffle between the Foreign Office in Berlin, the Federal office for Migration and Refugees – which expedites eligibility permits – and the German embassy in Kabul, did not help Wafa.

In 2008, Matt Zeller, a U.S. army captain was saved “in extremis” by Janis Shinwari, his interpreter who shot down Taliban snipers just before they could pull the trigger on Zeller. When his name ended on a Taliban death list, he was swiftly given a U.S. visa thanks to Zeller’s efforts.

A year later the U.S. Congress passed the 2009 Afghan Allies Protection Act, which made 7,500 visas available to Afghan employees – mainly translators and interpreters.

In Germany, Red T, together with the International Association of Conference Interpreters, the International Federation of Translators, and the International Association of Professional Translators and Interpreters, sent an open letter to Chancellor Angela Merkel in June 2013 citing Section 22 of the German Residence Act which provides residency visas for “urgent humanitarian reasons”.

The German government acknowledged in October 2013 that translators and interpreters are a “high-risk category” because of their particular “visibility” in their role as communication brokers for the military and police. This was an important, yet insufficient step forward.

“While the intention of the German authorities to change their visa policy and grant permits to Afghan interpreters and ancillary staff may be laudable, the fact that only a few interpreters have made it to Germany since the announcement is appalling,” says Hess.

In February this year Bundeswehr interpreters Aliullah Nazary (26) and Qyamuddin Shukury (25) landed relieved and elated in Hamburg after facing months of life threats. Chilling messages were dropped on their doorsteps. “You German spy, you wait for your death now”, one read.

Approximately 500 translators and interpreters are believed to have been employed by German forces and government bodies. The latest Foreign Office figures obtained by IPS confirm that 296 eligibility permits, or Aufnahmezusagen, and 131 immigration visas have been issued, and that 107 Afghan claimants have arrived in Germany.

The low number of arrivals may be due to the transition in Afghanistan. In some cases applicants receive financial compensation after their contracts expire. Bernd Mesovic, spokesperson for Pro Asyl, says many may be holding on to their German permits in the hope that the security situation will improve in Afghanistan and Taliban threats subside. “We recommend that the process be further expedited,” says Mesovic.

“We urgently need a paradigm shift in how translators and interpreters are treated and perceived,” says Hess. “I do hope that the powers that be increasingly wake up to how dangerous this profession is, and that safe houses and security will be provided for linguists until they are able to leave.”

A recent German war drama, titled ‘Inbetween Worlds’, which centres on the story of an 18-year-old Afghan interpreter for a German squad, has brought home the plight of interpreters in the war zone to many Germans.

The post Bringing the Bridges Home appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/bringing-bridges-home/feed/ 0
U.S. Urged to Tackle Lead in Aviation Gasoline http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-urged-tackle-lead-aviation-gasoline/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-urged-tackle-lead-aviation-gasoline http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-urged-tackle-lead-aviation-gasoline/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 19:37:37 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133826 Consumer advocates, public health workers and environmental groups here are calling on the federal government to take a formal step towards regulating the use of lead in aviation gasoline, despite a failure to do so for nearly two decades. The United States is one of the few countries that continue to allow the use of […]

The post U.S. Urged to Tackle Lead in Aviation Gasoline appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
The global drawdown in the use of leaded fuel has resulted in benefits of some 2.5 trillion dollars a year. Credit: Bigstock

The global drawdown in the use of leaded fuel has resulted in benefits of some 2.5 trillion dollars a year. Credit: Bigstock

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Apr 22 2014 (IPS)

Consumer advocates, public health workers and environmental groups here are calling on the federal government to take a formal step towards regulating the use of lead in aviation gasoline, despite a failure to do so for nearly two decades.

The United States is one of the few countries that continue to allow the use of lead in aviation gasoline, known as “avgas” and used in more than 150,000 small planes and helicopters at around 20,000 U.S. airports. Avgas is now the country’s largest source of lead in air emissions, with significant, universally acknowledged ramifications for the natural environment and, particularly, for human health."The EPA has the evidence it needs, the science is clear, so we really feel that there’s no need to wait any longer.” -- Kathy Attar

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the lead regulator on such issues, ordered the removal of lead from the gasoline used in motor vehicles a decade and a half ago. Yet despite what proponents of new regulations say are clear scientific findings and a straightforward conversion process, the EPA has yet to weigh in on the matter.

“We already know there’s no safe threshold for lead exposure, and we also know that lead is toxic and a possible carcinogen even at low levels, leading to brain damage and learning disabilities,” Kathy Attar, toxics programme manager with Physicians for Social Responsibility, a consumer protection group, told IPS.

“These effects are particularly dangerous for children. The EPA has the evidence it needs, the science is clear, so we really feel that there’s no need to wait any longer.”

Few other countries continue to use leaded avgas, though Algeria, Iraq and Yemen did still do so as of late last year. The United States is not only the world’s most prominent laggard in this regard, but also by far avgas’s largest user.

Smaller aircraft tend to fly much lower to the ground than jet airliners, and hence their emissions can have a much more pronounced, immediate effect on human health (jet fuel is already lead-free). Further, lead stays in the environment for a long time, leading to a  “legacy lead” already left over from decades’ of use of leaded gasoline and paint.

Meanwhile, the global drawdown in the use of leaded fuel has resulted in benefits of some 2.5 trillion dollars a year, according to United Nations estimates from 2011. That study found that the economic benefits of this phase-out, primarily in terms of public health, outweighed the costs by 10 times.

New evidence

Physicians for Social Responsibility is one of three advocacy groups now calling on the EPA to make what is known as an endangerment finding over the lead in aviation gas. This initial step would recognise that avgas lead causes pollution and that this pollution poses a threat to human health.

Such a finding would constitute a necessary first step towards eventually creating a new regulation on the issue. Yet some say that past EPA determinations on these issues already satisfies the requirements for a formal endangerment determination.

“The only showing required for a finding of endangerment is that lead emissions from aircraft engines fuelled by leaded aviation gasoline cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare,” the new petition, filed with the EPA on Monday, states.

“In this case, both prongs of that test have been met … There is no need for further study. EPA has all of the evidence it needs to make an endangerment finding.”

The EPA was unable to comment for this story by deadline.

Another green group, Friends of the Earth U.S., has pushed this line with the EPA in the past, and been turned down. Indeed, the current petition is actually a request for reconsideration of a similar petition filed with the regulator in 2006, while two years ago a court refused to force the agency to take further action.

In 2010, the EPA did take initial steps to start drafting a rule, but that didn’t include the endangerment finding and the agency has since stated that it needs to undertake more analysis. In mid-2012 it responded to the original Friends of the Earth petition, however, and has said it could decide on future action by the end of 2015.

It didn’t commit to that date, however. And advocates say new evidence has emerged that wasn’t taken into account during the legal proceedings and past agency decisions.

“We’ve seen the EPA issue the results of a lead-monitoring study at 17 airports, including findings of lead levels higher than federal standards,” Marcie Keever, legal director at Friends of the Earth, which took part in Monday’s petition, told IPS.

“In addition, in 2011 a study from Duke University reported on the severe negative impacts of lead from aircraft, finding elevated levels of lead in the blood of those living within 500 meters of airports.”

The EPA’s powers have become intensely politicised in recent years, due both to the agency’s positioning as the prime regulator on greenhouse gas emissions and the perception that its rules often increase companies’ operating costs.

Keever acknowledges that the agency needs to be careful about its rationale for action, but also suggests that the issues surrounding leaded avgas are relatively straightforward.

“Because of the pressures the EPA faces whenever it moves forward with regulation, they want to be very thorough,” she says. “But we think this issue is much easier than, for instance, greenhouse gases – the science is extremely clear.”

Alternatives available

In the past, members of Congress have pushed the EPA to go slow on the avgas issue. Particularly vocal have been lawmakers from the large northern state of Alaska, where small aircraft are especially important for reaching otherwise inaccessible communities.

“While we understand and share your desire to remove lead from avgas … we also need to ensure the EPA does not ban lead used in avgas until we have a safe, viable, readily available, and cost-efficient alternative,” 27 U.S. senators wrote to the EPA in 2011.

Now that situation could be changing. In December, Shell became the first major oil company to unveil a “lead-free alternative” avgas, and last year the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration formally noted that such alternatives exist.

Further, the economic burdens involved in such a transition could be relatively low. Currently, unleaded gasoline used in automobiles is actually cheaper than leaded avgas.

And while some new infrastructure would be required at airports, most aircraft would require no updating whatsoever. According to Friends of the Earth, some 75 percent of the current U.S. fleet could start using unleaded fuel with no retrofitting whatsoever.

The post U.S. Urged to Tackle Lead in Aviation Gasoline appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-urged-tackle-lead-aviation-gasoline/feed/ 0
Charting a Course for Survival, or Oblivion? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/charting-course-survival-oblivion/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=charting-course-survival-oblivion http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/charting-course-survival-oblivion/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 19:08:59 +0000 Stephen Leahy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133823 Hopefully, on Earth Day today, high-level ministers from all countries are thinking about what they can bring to the table at a key set of meetings on climate change in early May. This will be the first opportunity for governments to discuss their proposed climate action plans in light of the final Intergovernmental Panel on […]

The post Charting a Course for Survival, or Oblivion? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Flooding in Trinidad's capital of Port of Spain left residents little choice but to wade through the deluge. The Caribbean region is already seeing numerous impacts from climate change. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

Flooding in Trinidad's capital of Port of Spain left residents little choice but to wade through the deluge. The Caribbean region is already seeing numerous impacts from climate change. Credit: Peter Richards/IPS

By Stephen Leahy
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Apr 22 2014 (IPS)

Hopefully, on Earth Day today, high-level ministers from all countries are thinking about what they can bring to the table at a key set of meetings on climate change in early May.

This will be the first opportunity for governments to discuss their proposed climate action plans in light of the final Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last week.“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual.” -- Professor Ottmar Edenhofer

That report warned that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from burning fossil fuels are still rising far too fast, even with more than 650 billion dollars invested in renewable energy in the last three years. However, over the same time period even more money was invested in getting more fossil fuels out of the ground.

The latter investment is keeping humanity and the planet locked onto a devastating path of a global temperature increase of four to five degrees C, the IPCC’s Working Group III report warned.

Scientists and economists say that unlocking ourselves from disaster will require a massive reduction in emissions – between 40 percent and 70 percent – by midcentury. This is can be readily accomplished without inventing any new technology and at a reasonably low cost, reducing global economic growth by a comparatively tiny 0.06 percent.

“It doesn’t cost the world to save the planet,” economist Professor Ottmar Edenhofer, who led the IPCC team, said at a press conference.

It does mean an end to investments in expanding fossil fuel infrastructure as the annual growth in CO2 emissions from burning oil, coal and gas must peak and decline in the next few years. The atmosphere already has 42 percent more CO2 than it did prior to 1800.

This extra CO2 is trapping more heat from the sun, which is heating up the oceans and land, creating the conditions that spawn super storms and extreme weather. And it will do so for the next 1,000 years since CO2 is a very durable molecule.

Current emissions are adding two percent more heat-trapping CO2 each year. That will push humanity’s ‘CO2 contribution’ to 50 percent four years from now.

“There is a clear message from science: To avoid dangerous interference with the climate system, we need to move away from business as usual,” Edenhofer said.

The IPCC’s first report released last September as part of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) clearly stated once again that the climate is changing rapidly as a result of human activity and urgent action is needed.

This was followed last month with a strong confirmation that climate impacts are already occurring on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans. This second report warned that one of the major impacts will be declines in food production unless emissions begin to decline.

The fossil fuel sector, the richest in human history, appears to be ignoring the IPCC warnings.

Earlier this month, oil giant ExxonMobil issued a report to its shareholders saying it does not believe the world will curb CO2 emissions and plans to extract and sell all of its 25.2 billion barrels worth of oil and gas in its current reserves. And it will continue investments hunting down more barrels.

“All of ExxonMobil’s current hydrocarbon reserves will be needed, along with substantial future industry investments, to address global energy needs,” said William Colton, ExxonMobil’s vice president in a statement.

The IPCC agrees oil, gas and coal will still be used in future but there is a CO2 maximum to have a reasonable chance of staying below two degrees C. That fossil energy cap won’t be enough to meet global energy needs so Working Group III recommends shifting to large-scale bioenergy and biofuels, waste incineration, nuclear power and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

These energy sources are controversial and risky. Large-scale bioenergy and biofuels needs huge areas of land and vast quantities of water and will compete with food production.

Studies show ethanol results in more emissions than burning gasoline. Even making ethanol from the leftovers of harvested corn plants released seven percent more CO2 than gasoline while depleting the soil, a new study revealed in Nature Climate Change this week.

The IPCC acknowledges bioenergy and biofuels can increase emissions, destroy livelihoods and damage the environment, says Rachel Smolker of Biofuelwatch, an environmental NGO.

“It is a shame they put so much stock in something that would make things worse rather than better,” Smolker told IPS.

Given all this, what climate action plans are governments going to propose when they meet in Abu Dhabi on May 4 and 5th? This is an informal ‘put your cards on the table’ regarding a new set of commitments on emission reduction targets and action plans to be made public at the U.N. Climate Summit in September.

Current reduction targets will not avoid four degrees C, most experts agree.

In hopes of getting countries to increase their reduction targets, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon asked governments to bring new proposals to New York City in September. With the current U.N. Climate Change Convention meetings deadlocked on key issues, the New York Summit is intended to kick-start political momentum for an ambitious, global, legal climate treaty in 2015.

The May get-together titled the “Abu Dhabi Ascent” is the only meeting before the Summit where governments, and invited members of the private sector and civil society will come together to explore how to get ambitious action to reduce emissions.

The Abu Dhabi meeting will be a window into the future of humanity: ascent or descent?

The post Charting a Course for Survival, or Oblivion? appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/charting-course-survival-oblivion/feed/ 0
Nigeria – From Sticks and Machetes to Rocket-propelled Grenades http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/nigeria-sticks-machetes-rocket-propelled-grenades/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nigeria-sticks-machetes-rocket-propelled-grenades http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/nigeria-sticks-machetes-rocket-propelled-grenades/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 14:04:38 +0000 Sam Olukoya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133802 Nigerians are beginning to adjust to the sad reality that they live in a country where suicide bombers and terrorists could be lurking around the next corner thanks to a ready supply of advanced weapons smuggled through the country’s porous borders.  Last week, Ngupar Kemzy’s cousin, Andy Nepli, told him that he planned to spend […]

The post Nigeria – From Sticks and Machetes to Rocket-propelled Grenades appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Boko Haram's latest bomb attack in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Apr. 14, 2014, claimed 75 lives. Courtesy: Ayo Bello

Boko Haram's latest bomb attack in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, on Apr. 14, 2014, claimed 75 lives. Courtesy: Ayo Bello

By Sam Olukoya
LAGOS, Nigeria, Apr 22 2014 (IPS)

Nigerians are beginning to adjust to the sad reality that they live in a country where suicide bombers and terrorists could be lurking around the next corner thanks to a ready supply of advanced weapons smuggled through the country’s porous borders. 

Last week, Ngupar Kemzy’s cousin, Andy Nepli, told him that he planned to spend the Easter holidays with him.

But two days later, on Apr. 14, 32-year-old Nepli was one of the 75 people killed in two powerful explosions at a crowded bus station in Nyanya, a suburb in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja.“Those using these modern weapons have attained a boldness they never would have had if they were handling crude weapons.” -- Steve Obodokwe, of the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development

Many of the victims were so badly wounded that it was difficult to identify them.

“We only knew it was him after checking his clothes and seeing his identity card,” Kemzy, who rushed to the scene, told IPS. “Human body parts were littered all over the place,” he said.

On the same night, Nigeria was forced to contend with yet another horror when 129 schoolgirls were abducted from their hostel in Chibok, Borno State in the country’s northeast.

Boko Haram, a group waging a violent campaign for the imposition of Islamic rule in this West African nation, claimed responsibility for the bombing. The group is suspected to also be responsible for the abduction of the schoolgirls in Chibok.

Bombings, abductions and a scorched earth policy of burning down entire villages and killing the inhabitants are some of the violent techniques used by the extremist group.

Boko Haram, which is believed to have links with Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, like Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Somali-based Al-Shabaab, is mainly active in northeastern Nigeria

Global human rights movement Amnesty International says 1,500 people were killed within the first three month of this year by Boko Haram and “uncontrolled reprisals by Nigeria’s security forces.”

A transformation to modern weaponry is said to have aided the escalation of the crisis in the country.

Besides Boko Haram, several other armed ethnic militia operate in Central Nigeria. And armed groups have moved from using crude weapons like sticks, machetes, cudgels, and dane guns to more lethal and advanced weapons like machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

“Those using these modern weapons have attained a boldness they never would have had if they were handling crude weapons,” Steve Obodokwe, of the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, told IPS.

“With their modern weapons, armed groups have been able to gather the courage to attack even military barracks,” said Obodokwe.

There is a ready supply of weapons smuggled into Nigeria through its porous borders. Some weapons are believed to have entered the country following armed conflicts in countries like Libya and Mali.

Former Nigerian defence minister Olusola Obada says some of the smuggled weapons were those looted from Libyan armouries during the 2011 crisis to oust the late Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi (1942 – 2011).

It is also believed that some of the weapons, especially those being used by Boko Haram, entered Nigeria through Al-Qaeda’s network.

“It is not out of place to suggest that some of the weapons in Nigeria were supplied by Islamist groups in Somalia and Mali,” says Obodokwe.

With its links to Al-Qaeda and a good supply of arms, Boko Haram has successfully carried out several high-profile terrorist attacks in Nigeria. These include attacks on military bases and the 2011 bombing of both the national police and United Nations headquarters in Abuja.

“The consequences of these successful attacks is that Boko Haram has demystified Nigeria’s security agencies,” Ifeanyi Okechukwu, national coordinator of the West Africa Network for Peace Building, which works with international organisations to prevent armed conflict, told IPS.

He says the success of Boko Haram has encouraged other groups here to pick up arms against their opponents, knowing that security agencies are incapable of stopping them.

The great cost to Nigeria

The conflicts in Nigeria have come at great cost. The International Crisis Group, an independent organisation working to prevent deadly conflicts, says the Boko Haram’s insurgency alone has “displaced close to half a million people, destroyed hundreds of schools and government buildings and devastated an already ravaged economy in the northeast, one of Nigeria’s poorest regions.”

The organisation fears that with no end in sight, the insurgency could spill over “to other parts of the north and risks reaching Niger and Cameroon, weak countries poorly equipped to combat a radical Islamist armed group.”

Some Nigerians are beginning to lose faith in the ability of security agents to stop Boko Haram and other militant groups in the country. But the government has continued to assure the populace that it will win the war against terror.

“Terror will not stop Nigeria from moving. The terrorists and those who are sponsoring them will never stop this country from moving, we will continue to move from strength to strength,” President Goodluck Jonathan said at a political rally a day after the Abuja bus station bombings.

Nigeria is scheduled to hold general elections next year.

Here, the buildup to elections is usually characterised by politicians arming their supporters in their quest for power. But with so many armed groups and with so many illegal firearms already in circulation, the build-up to next year’s elections might just stretch Nigeria beyond its limits.

The post Nigeria – From Sticks and Machetes to Rocket-propelled Grenades appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/nigeria-sticks-machetes-rocket-propelled-grenades/feed/ 0
Weak Laws and Capitalist Economy Deplete Kenya’s Natural Wealth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/weak-laws-capitalist-economy-deplete-kenyas-natural-wealth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=weak-laws-capitalist-economy-deplete-kenyas-natural-wealth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/weak-laws-capitalist-economy-deplete-kenyas-natural-wealth/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 13:48:27 +0000 Miriam Gathigah http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133796 Each season Peter Gichangi, a vegetable and arrowroot commercial farmer who owns four hectares of land in Nyeri County, Kenya’s Central Province, cultivates his crops near the Nduyi River. “Although every now and then the Nduyi River bank bursts, flooding the farm, the loss is small compared to the good harvest and financial gains during […]

The post Weak Laws and Capitalist Economy Deplete Kenya’s Natural Wealth appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Farmers trying to build a barrier to protect their crops from the Nduyi River in Nyeri County. The river usually bursts its banks after a heavy downpour. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

Farmers trying to build a barrier to protect their crops from the Nduyi River in Nyeri County. The river usually bursts its banks after a heavy downpour. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Apr 22 2014 (IPS)

Each season Peter Gichangi, a vegetable and arrowroot commercial farmer who owns four hectares of land in Nyeri County, Kenya’s Central Province, cultivates his crops near the Nduyi River.

“Although every now and then the Nduyi River bank bursts, flooding the farm, the loss is small compared to the good harvest and financial gains during good weather patterns,” Gichangi tells IPS.

But he is just one of a significant number of small-scale farmers who have taken to commercial farming in water catchment areas, according to the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.“The market forces and extreme hunger for a cash economy has been given dominance at the expense of our environmental and natural resource health.” -- Kevin Kinusu, Hivos

In this East African nation, smallholder farmers account for at least 75 percent of the total agricultural output, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.

“Due to the scramble for scarce land and because agriculture here is rain-fed, we now have more and more farmers encroaching on water catchment areas,” Nancy Mumbi, a government agricultural researcher in Central Province, tells IPS.

She says this is especially prevalent in the Rift Valley, which is considered the country’s breadbasket, and Central Kenya.

Mumbi says the government is attempting to put a stop to the practice by imposing “fines of up to 600 dollars or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both.”

However, Ken Muchai from the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources warns “the lack of a national policy on natural resource management is leading to the depletion of our natural wealth.”

“We may not have any lions in the next 20 years, we are losing 100 lions per year to human-animal conflict,” he tells IPS.

He says that the draft Natural Resources Development and Management Policy 2012 will address these issues.

“And many other sectoral policies are already under review to facilitate conservation and management of natural resources.”

But while Kenya may have in place at least 90 pieces of legislation on how to manage its natural resources, experts say the country’s excess of legislation is weak and inadequate to meet the challenge of sustainably managing this.

Kevin Kinusu, the climate and energy advocacy officer at Hivos, the Dutch organisation for development, tells IPS that the weak laws have proved ineffective in the face of the country’s capitalist economy.

“Market forces have overlooked the importance of sustainable management of natural resources. Due to the current craze to develop real estate, wetlands in areas in Nairobi County, parts of Kiambu County and indeed in many other parts of the country have been converted into settlements.”

Kinusu explains that although there are policies like the Wetlands Atlas and the Master Plan for the Conservation and Management of Water Catchment Areas in place “we do not have a comprehensive policy on conservation of wetlands and there are [wetlands] facing severe pressure despite their importance as a water resource for agricultural productivity and in sustaining livelihoods.”

He says the real value of such protected areas has been ignored and “the market forces and extreme hunger for a cash economy has been given dominance at the expense of our environmental and natural resource health.”

Kinusu says that there have been a few success stories in management of natural wealth. This includes the rehabilitation of the Mau Forest ecosystem — the largest of the country’s five water towers. He points out that the country’s forest cover also increased “from a decline of about two percent to nearly six percent.”

Duncan Okowa, programme officer at local NGO Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG), tells IPS that the Environment Management and Coordination Act 1999 “should have served as the overarching policy.”

The act provides a framework for environmental legislation and for establishing appropriate legal and institutional mechanisms for the management of the environment.

However, he points out that the act itself has been overtaken by other legislation and is now outdated.

“For instance, there are demands in the 2010 Constitution that are not covered by the act. Also, most sectoral laws were enacted after the act had been developed, for instance we have the Water Act 2002, Forest Act 2005 and the Land Act 2012.”

For example, while the 2010 constitution demands that communities be at the heart of natural resource management, many are still left out of the country’s multi-billion dollar mining industry.

“The production-sharing contracts signed between the government and oil companies are often in favour of the companies since they are signed under the archaic Petroleum Act of 1986,” Samuel Kimeu, executive director of Transparency International Kenya, tells IPS.

“Unclear means of awarding mining licences have been used to fleece the public, compromising the terms of the licence against the public interest, thus swindling the public of possible revenue,” he says.

Okowa says that going forward laws must be reviewed to reflect new realities.

“An enabling environment for these laws to be effective must be created where implementing institutions are given both technical and financial support,” Okowa says.

The post Weak Laws and Capitalist Economy Deplete Kenya’s Natural Wealth appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/weak-laws-capitalist-economy-deplete-kenyas-natural-wealth/feed/ 0
Imprisoning Themselves to Stay Safe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/imprisoning-stay-safe/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=imprisoning-stay-safe http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/imprisoning-stay-safe/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 07:51:09 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133813 “I don’t dare tell you who the murderers are but their target is just us, Turkmens,” says Ahmed Abdulla Muhtaroglu, sitting by the portrait of his brother who was killed last year. IPS met Muhtaroglu in Tuz Khormato, a predominantly Turkmen district 170 km north of Baghdad. Iraqi Turkmens are descendants of waves of Turkic […]

The post Imprisoning Themselves to Stay Safe appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A policeman on guard at the entrance of the Turkmen district in Tuz Khormato. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

A policeman on guard at the entrance of the Turkmen district in Tuz Khormato. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Karlos Zurutuza
TUZ KHORMATO, Iraq, Apr 22 2014 (IPS)

“I don’t dare tell you who the murderers are but their target is just us, Turkmens,” says Ahmed Abdulla Muhtaroglu, sitting by the portrait of his brother who was killed last year.

IPS met Muhtaroglu in Tuz Khormato, a predominantly Turkmen district 170 km north of Baghdad. Iraqi Turkmens are descendants of waves of Turkic migration to the ancient Mesopotamia region where Iraq now lies."We have been forced to build our own prison for ourselves as a mean to survive." -- Hanna Muhamed, a candidate for the election

The population of Turkmens in Iraq, who include both Shia and Sunni Muslims, is estimated at 500,000 to 600,000 by international sources, and 2.5 to three million by local Turkmens.

“There is no worse place in the world for Turkmens than Tuz,” says Muhtaroglu, local leader of the Turkmen Front, their main political party. “We have turned into victims of a plot to wipe us out. Some 500 Turkmen families left the district only last year.”

Population displacements are common in this country torn by sectarian violence. But displacement has taken on a new dimension in this town of 60,000.

According to the Iraq Body Count database, Tuz witnessed the latest attack Apr. 8, when four residents were killed by a car bomb. There have been more brutal attacks; in January last year, 42 members of the community were killed in a suicide attack during a funeral.

Former Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein took Tuz Khormato away from Kirkuk, 230 km north of Baghdad, in 1976, and attached it to Salahadin province as part of a process to change the demographics of oil-rich Kirkuk in favour of Arabs. Today, both Kirkuk and Tuz are among “disputed territories” whose status is to be defined in a referendum – which is being postponed since 2007.

The “disputed territories” are one of the main lines of fracture in Iraq. Both Arabs and Kurds, the government in Baghdad and the Kurdish government in Erbil, are vying to take control of these territories. Turkmens have been caught in the quagmire.

Hanna Muhamed, 40, a candidate for the election to the 328-seat parliament in Iraq due Apr. 30, tells IPS that an independent region for Turkmens would be the best solution. She says she is contesting from Tuz because “it may be easier for a woman to get elected.” She is counting on the fact that it is still rare for a woman to contest in Iraq.

“We have been forced to build our own prison for ourselves as a mean to survive,” she says while campaigning on the outskirts of the city.

Tuz is easy to get to – just look for the concrete walls erected opposite the central bazaar area.

The makeshift fortress is accessible only through checkpoints. Local policeman Samir – he didn’t want his full name disclosed – posted at one such checkpoint tells IPS that the community started building it two years ago to avoid attacks. But it’s still not protection enough.

A few metres away, Mohamed Hamid points to the spot where he lost his daughter in September last year. Ten-year-old Hanna Hamid was buried under the wall that surrounds the Hamids’ house.

The bomb was meant to destroy the opposite building belonging to a Turkmen family. Two of the members of this family were wounded in the bomb attack.

And, there are more everyday problems. The streets here are not paved, so it’s not difficult for Ahmed, a local resident, to dig a trench. Once he’s done he will lay a tube to channel the putrid waters outside the wall, as drainage problems add to the more severe security ones. He wants to prevent his two nephews from getting sick from the stench when they play outside. They are the sons of his brother killed in an explosion six months ago.

“We offered Ahmed to his widow to take of her and the kids but she didn’t accept,” says Ahmed’s mother Zohaila, still in mourning clothes. “I can hardly support them with the 150,000 dinars a month [about 90 euros] I get for searching women at the entrance to the mosque.”

Deep in the heart of the walled area, Shia icons are ubiquitous around the Imam Ahmed mosque – from the portraits of Imam Ali, a descendant of prophet Muhammad according to the Shias, to those of Moqtada al-Sadr, a political and religious Shia leader and a key player in post-Saddam Iraq. By the side of these portraits stands a billboard with names and pictures of those killed in the several attacks in Tuz.

“Terrorists have no religion or race,” says local policeman Massoud. That’s something local residents seem to make a point of saying.

In its May 2013 report, the Institute for International Law and Human Rights says Iraqi Turkmen have been “intimidated by Kurdish and central government authorities for their presence in the disputed territories.”

The organisation based in Baghdad, Washington and Brussels says Turkmen have been targeted on religious grounds “by both Shia and Sunni extrajudicial militant groups,” and that community women are “particularly vulnerable to violence.”

“We are sandwiched between Arabs and Kurds: reaching an agreement with one implies confronting the other,” Arsad Salihi, one of seven Turkmen MPs, tells IPS from his home in Kirkuk.

The Turkmen senior leader says he would not rule out eventual integration with the Kurdish Autonomous Region. But, he says, Kurds must cease their “continuous and arbitrary harassment” of his community.

Khalid Schwani, Kurdish MP in Baghdad for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, a leading party headed by President Jalal Talabani, strongly refutes such allegations. He says the government in Baghdad has been deliberately delaying a settlement on the areas in dispute, and that his party will come to “direct agreements” with both Arabs and Turkmens. Both Tuz and Kirkuk are among the disputed territories.

“Tuz would come back to Kirkuk (from Salahadin province) and in return Salahadin could keep control over Hawija –a predominantly Arab majority city southwest of Kirkuk.”

Whatever the future may bring, bricklayer Ihmat Altun says he will not be there to see it. “I’m moving to Istanbul with my family. I won’t wait until we get killed in this slaughterhouse,” he says as the guard at the checkpoint lifts the barrier for him.

The post Imprisoning Themselves to Stay Safe appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/imprisoning-stay-safe/feed/ 0
Obama Seeks to Reassure Anxious Asians on “Rebalance” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/obama-seeks-reassure-anxious-asians-rebalance/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-seeks-reassure-anxious-asians-rebalance http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/obama-seeks-reassure-anxious-asians-rebalance/#comments Tue, 22 Apr 2014 00:29:07 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133810 As he embarks Tuesday on a major trip through East Asia, U.S. President Barack Obama will be focused on reassuring anxious – albeit sometimes annoying – allies that Washington remains determined to deepen its commitment to the region. Just how annoying some allies can be was underlined on the eve of his departure as Japan’s […]

The post Obama Seeks to Reassure Anxious Asians on “Rebalance” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
President Barack Obama talks with Vice President Joe Biden before boarding Air Force One at Pittsburgh International Airport for a domestic trip, April 16, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama talks with Vice President Joe Biden before boarding Air Force One at Pittsburgh International Airport for a domestic trip, April 16, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 22 2014 (IPS)

As he embarks Tuesday on a major trip through East Asia, U.S. President Barack Obama will be focused on reassuring anxious – albeit sometimes annoying – allies that Washington remains determined to deepen its commitment to the region.

Just how annoying some allies can be was underlined on the eve of his departure as Japan’s premier, Shinzo Abe, provoked renewed protests from both China and South Korea over his sending a ceremonial offering to the Yasukuni Shrine, the temple which honours Tokyo’s war dead, including senior officers responsible for atrocities committed by Japan in both countries during World War II.There is little question that security concerns, particularly those aroused by China’s recent assertiveness, will loom large.

As for anxiety, Asian commentators have made little secret of their concern that Russia’s annexation of Crimea and continuing tensions with Ukraine could set a precedent for a resurgent China, whose increasingly assertive behaviour in pressing its territorial claims in the East and South China seas has provoked a number of its neighbours to upgrade military ties to the U.S., as well as increase their own military spending.

Moreover, Obama, whose extrication from the deep hole his predecessor dug for him in the Greater Middle East has gone more slowly than had been hoped, has necessarily been distracted by the ongoing Ukraine crisis which, in turn, has prompted the U.S.’s NATO allies – especially the alliance’s newest member along Russia’s western periphery – to seek reassurances of their own.

“Can Mr. Obama afford to invest more time in Asia when he is bogged down with crises in Ukraine and Syria?” asked the New York Times’ “editorial observer”, Carol Giacomo, Monday.

Obama was originally scheduled to make this trip last fall, but he opted instead to stay home to deal with the Republican shutdown of the government – the latest example of the kind of partisan-driven action that has also sown doubts among Asian allies, as well as others, about the ability of Washington to follow through on its foreign commitments.

This week’s tour will begin with a state visit to Japan, during which he will meet with the troublesome Abe, whose personal visit last year to the Yasukeni Shrine drew a harsh public rebuke from Washington.

The main substantive agenda item on that leg of the trip, according to administration officials, will be to try to narrow differences on agricultural and automobile provisions in the pending 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, the main pillar of the administration’s non-military “pivot” or “rebalancing” toward the Asia/Pacific launched in 2010.

From Tokyo, Obama will fly to Seoul where he will take up both trade and security issues, including a visit to the Combined Forces Command to address U.S. troops charged with helping defend South Korea against the nuclear-armed North.

Obama will then become the first U.S. president to visit Malaysia since Lyndon Johnson nearly 50 years ago, in part to launch a “Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative” and meet with Malaysia civil society activists.

His last stop will be the Philippines where, among other events, he will attend a state dinner hosted by President Benigno Aquino III and meet U.S. and Filipino soldiers and veterans to underline Washington’s longstanding military relationship.

While Obama and his entourage will emphasise the growing economic links that tie the U.S. to the region – if, for no other reason than to counter the widespread impression that Washington’s “pivot” is primarily aimed at increasing its military presence to “contain” China – there is little question that security concerns, particularly those aroused by China’s recent assertiveness, will loom large.

Indeed, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea conflict with those of both Malaysia and the Philippines with which the U.S. has a 63-year-old mutual defence treaty and which has not been shy about contesting Beijing claims – both through Law of the Sea Convention and most recently by successfully resupplying a long-stranded Filipino naval vessel blockaded by Chinese naval forces.

Nor has Aquino been shy about tightening military links with Washington, inviting it to enhance its military presence in the archipelago and negotiating an “access agreement” that could eventually return U.S. forces to Subic Bay naval base from which they were essentially evicted in 1991 at the end of the Cold War.

Security concerns are likely to play at least as strong a role in the early part of Obama’s tour.

While North Korea’s nuclear arms programme and missile launches remain a major preoccupation for both South Korea and Japan, China’s claims in the East China Sea – and most recently its declaration last fall of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) – increased tensions with both countries, especially Japan which has scrambled warplanes in response to Chinese aircraft that entered the zone near the disputed Senkaku Islands, which China claims as the Diaoyu Islands.

Although Washington responded to Beijing’s declaration with its show of force – an overflight by B-52 bombers – it disappointed Tokyo, with which it signed a mutual-security treaty in 1952, by instructing U.S. commercial airliners to comply with China’s identification requirements.

Some Japanese officials and analysts have publicly criticised what they regard as an insufficiently assertive U.S. response to Russia’s absorption of Crimea despite a 1994 agreement between Washington, Kiev, London, and Moscow guaranteeing Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

They worry that Beijing may now be tempted to make a similar move on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, just as some in Southeast Asia have expressed similar concerns about China’s intentions in the South China Sea.

But most U.S. analysts, including the administration, reject the analogy.

“We have longstanding alliances in Asia with most of the countries where the maritime territorial disputes with China are most severe, and we have stated time and again that we will meet our alliance commitments,” said Kenneth Lieberthal, a Brookings Institution expert who served as President Bill Clinton’s senior Asia adviser, last week.

“We don’t have any such commitments to Ukraine. We don’t have an alliance. We have never assured Ukraine’s territorial integrity by threatening the use of force…It’s a different situation, and I think the Chinese are very clear about those differences.”

Alan Romberg, a former top State Department expert who now directs the East Asia programme at the Stimson Centre here, agreed. “It’s a totally different situation,” he told IPS.

Besides the lack of any defence agreement, “if you look at the overall importance of East Asia to the U.S. and global peace and security,” he added, “there’s also no comparison.”

Obama, who will travel to China in the fall, has made clear that he nonetheless wants to avoid unnecessarily antagonising Beijing and has tried to tamp down tensions between it and Tokyo, in part by trying to dissuade leaders in both countries from stoking growing nationalist sentiments among their citizens.

Washington has also tried hard in recent months to reconcile Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-Hye – to the extent of personally convening a summit with the two nationalist leaders on the sidelines of a nuclear security conference at The Hague last month.

But Abe’s latest bequest to the notorious shrine, particularly coming on the eve of Obama’s trip, is unlikely to help matters.

“The U.S. can be a leader, a catalyst, and a stabiliser in the region, but it can’t do it all by itself,” noted Romberg. “It’s important that other countries, particularly allies, coordinate and cooperate, and not spend their time nattering at each other all the time.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

The post Obama Seeks to Reassure Anxious Asians on “Rebalance” appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/obama-seeks-reassure-anxious-asians-rebalance/feed/ 0
Azerbaijan Backing Turkey’s Crackdown on Gülen Movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/azerbaijan-backing-turkeys-crackdown-gulen-movement/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=azerbaijan-backing-turkeys-crackdown-gulen-movement http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/azerbaijan-backing-turkeys-crackdown-gulen-movement/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 13:53:03 +0000 Shahla Sultanova http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133803 Azerbaijan appears to be joining in Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s campaign against a religious movement led by U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen. Erdogan claims that adherents of the Gülen movement are intent on bringing down his government, and over the past year, he has carried out a no-holds-barred crackdown on suspected Gülenists. On […]

The post Azerbaijan Backing Turkey’s Crackdown on Gülen Movement appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Shahla Sultanova
BAKU, Apr 21 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Azerbaijan appears to be joining in Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s campaign against a religious movement led by U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen.

Erdogan claims that adherents of the Gülen movement are intent on bringing down his government, and over the past year, he has carried out a no-holds-barred crackdown on suspected Gülenists.Gülen movement representatives deny Erdoğan’s allegations about engaging in anti-state activity -- but jitters about groups critical of governments run strong in Azerbaijan.

On Apr. 8, Erdoğan told members of his Justice and Development Party that he had discussed the movement with Azerbaijani officials during an early April visit to Baku and handed over a list of Azerbaijanis considered to be Gülen supporters. Azerbaijan is Turkey’s closest regional ally.

For the past several years, the Azerbaijani government has tried to restrict the activities of Islamic groups, but, until recently, had made no public move against Gülen sympathisers.

Such individuals — called nurçular in reference to the 20th-century Sunni theologian Said Nursi, who inspired Gülen’s education-based initiatives — do not carry the same weight in Azerbaijani society as they do in Turkey. But over the past couple of weeks, there have been several indicators that Baku is toughening its stance.

Gülen movement representatives deny Erdoğan’s allegations about engaging in anti-state activity — but jitters about groups critical of governments run strong in Azerbaijan.

In recent weeks, rampant speculation on social networks and pro-government media outlets in Baku have focused on which Azerbaijani government members could sympathise with the Gülen movement. One purported Gülen sympathiser, presidential administration spokesperson Elnur Aslanov, was fired on Mar. 17.

The Azerbaijani government has not commented on the reports. But, arguably, events already speak for them.

In early March, Khalik Mammadov, vice-president of the State Oil Company of the Azerbaijani Republic (SOCAR), announced that the government-run energy company had taken over 11 Turkish-language high schools, 13 university-exam preparation centres and the private, Baku-based Caucasus University, all run by a Turkish educational company called Çağ Öğrətim (Era Education).

Since 2011 SOCAR has run a network of schools with the purported aim of improving Azerbaijani educational standards. Çağ Öğrətim, now known as the Baku International Education Centre, has operated in Azerbaijan since 1992, and has enjoyed a reputation for producing disciplined students sensitive to Islamic ethics and capable of entering top-notch universities worldwide.

Çağ Öğrətim has never acknowledged a link with the Gülen movement, but most Azerbaijani education specialists and political experts have viewed its facilities as part of the Gülen movement’s 140-country network of schools.

Çağ Öğrətim is part of the International Association of Turkish and Azerbaijani Manufacturers and Businessmen, a group that contains many Turkish companies that advocate Gülen’s principles.

SOCAR representatives have not elaborated on the conglomerate’s interest in the Çağ Öğrətim schools – all but Caucasus University were acquired last year — but some observers see a link to Turkey’s suspicions of the Gülen movement.

“I think, for Azerbaijani authorities, the idea is certainly that ‘we can control them more efficiently if we manage them,’” commented Paris-based Turkey specialist Bayram Balci, who formerly worked in Baku for the French Institute of Anatolian Studies (IFEA).

In March, in a move seen as intended to target Gülen’s finances, Turkey shut down Gülen-associated private schools that, like Çağ Öğrətim’s Araz courses, prepare students for university-entrance exams. Erdoğan asked other countries to follow suit.

Balci reasons that the Turkish government likely urged “fraternal” Azerbaijan, a country that shares close linguistic and cultural ties with Turkey, to “pay attention” to such schools as well. “For the Azerbaijani government, this is a good opportunity to show to Ankara that Baku is always in solidarity with Ankara.”

SOCAR, Turkey’s long-time pipeline partner, would seem a natural candidate for any such exercise. The company’s spokespeople could not be reached for comment. Similarly, Çağ Öğrətim did not respond to requests for interviews about the switchover to SOCAR.

Caucasus University Rector Ahmet Saniç told EurasiaNet.org that he prefers not to discuss the issue “for awhile.”

Even if there was no pressure coming from Ankara, Azerbaijani leaders would seem to have reason to be wary of Çağ Öğrətim’s high schools and exam-preparation centres.

Aside from Baku, the schools exist in key regional population hubs such as Ganja, Lenkoran and Sumgait as well as more remote locations. That presence in the regions is a potential source of concern for the Azerbaijani government, which has faced large-scale regional protests in recent years, some observers believe.

“As alumni of those schools, like everywhere else in the world, they have their own community. In Azerbaijan, where political parties and other institutions have been weakened, their [school] network … looks even more distinguished,” said Altay Goyushov, a professor of Islamic history at Baku State University.

“That is what the Azerbaijani government does not like: the competition.”

Yet Erestin Orujlu, director of Baku’s East-West Research Centre, believes that certain officials are using the hub-hub about the movement in Azerbaijan simply “to weaken each other’s position.”

Aside from Aslanov, a published list of alleged Azerbaijani Gülenists also included Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov, State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations Director Elshad Iskenderov and, ironically, SOCAR’s Mammadov.

Like Aslanov, who now works in the Ministry of Communications, the Defense Ministry has denied the allegations about Defense Minister Hasanov’s alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement. The other named individuals above have not publicly commented.

For some Azerbaijanis, the silence comes as no surprise. The allegations are “trumped up,” charged Orujlu. “The Azerbaijani government does not face any threat from the nurçu movement.”

Editor’s note:  Shahla Sultanova is a freelance journalist focusing on Azerbaijan. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org

The post Azerbaijan Backing Turkey’s Crackdown on Gülen Movement appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/azerbaijan-backing-turkeys-crackdown-gulen-movement/feed/ 0
India’s Women Lose the Election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indias-women-lose-election/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-women-lose-election http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indias-women-lose-election/#comments Mon, 21 Apr 2014 07:54:54 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133789 “Men just do not want to give up their seats, it’s as simple as that,” says 67-year-old candidate in the Indian election Subhhasini Ali, voicing a gloomy view across women’s groups in India. Ali, a two-time member of Parliament and key functionary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), an arm of the Communist […]

The post India’s Women Lose the Election appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A protest against a proposed nuclear plant in the Indian state Gujarat. Women are asking for stronger representation in Parliament to voice their views. Credit: Krishnakant/IPS.

A protest against a proposed nuclear plant in the Indian state Gujarat. Women are asking for stronger representation in Parliament to voice their views. Credit: Krishnakant/IPS.

By Manipadma Jena
NEW DELHI, Apr 21 2014 (IPS)

“Men just do not want to give up their seats, it’s as simple as that,” says 67-year-old candidate in the Indian election Subhhasini Ali, voicing a gloomy view across women’s groups in India.

Ali, a two-time member of Parliament and key functionary of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), an arm of the Communist Party of India-Marxists (CPI-M), is contesting from Barrackpore, a constituency in the eastern Indian state West Bengal.“This election, we get the feeling that we have lost. Women are getting more and more sidelined." -- Jyotsna Chatterji, the Joint Women’s Programme

She is among a few women contesting. Political parties, even those vociferously supporting reservation for women in Parliament, have failed to put up on average even one woman for every 10 males contesting India’s 543 seats in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of parliament.

Women candidates are only seven percent among 3,355 candidates in the first five phases of the nine-stage election, says the Delhi-based public interest organisation, the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR), that is campaigning for greater transparency and more inclusive representation in Indian elections.

Women activists looking at state-wise trends expect no improvement by way of inclusion of women in the final phases of the election.

Women constitute 388 million, or 47.6 percent of the 814.5 million voters eligible to vote in the election running from Apr. 7 to May 12.

“When our presence is not considered important in the Parliament, when decisions about our future are taken without consulting us, why should we cast our votes to elect another group of politicians who do not believe in the cause of women empowerment in this country,” says Ranjana Kumari from the Delhi-based Centre for Social Research.

“This election, we get the feeling that we have lost. Women are getting more and more sidelined,” Jyotsna Chatterji from the non-profit Joint Women’s Programme (JWP) tells IPS.

In the 15th general election in 2009, 556 women out of 8,070 contestants from 363 political parties  were given tickets to contest, according to data from the Election Commission. That was just 6.9 percent of the candidates, making representation in this election hardly better. Fifty-nine women – 10.9 percent – won. This was the highest number of women contestants and winners since 1957.

A 1996 Women Reservation Bill (WRB) proposing reservation of a third of the seats to women in the lower house of Parliament and in state legislatures has been stymied by various political parties for more than 18 years now. Women groups pushing for greater representation, for whom the failure to pass the WRB has remained a political raw nerve since, blame this on the entrenched patriarchal mindset of male politicians.

If enacted, 180 berths in the Lok Sabha would be reserved for women. Political parties opposing the WRB say a quota within the quota should be given to women from backward communities. Dalits and tribal communities already have 120 seats reserved in the Lok Sabha. In 2009, 17 women got elected under this quota.

“Many political parties had agreed to the WRB’s stipulation about voluntarily giving 33 percent tickets to women members, legal quota aside,” says Chatterji, who spearheaded the reservation movement in the late1990s with a group of other activists. Political parties have fallen far short of this.

Given women’s visibly increased participation in professional spheres, public debates, and also increased voting in elections, women groups say they had hoped political parties would walk the gender talk and give at least 15 to 20 percent tickets to women, recognising the major socio-political changes under way.

“Nothing is going to change in women’s representation unless the [Women’s Reservation] Bill is passed,” says Ali.

The three main political parties – the ruling Congress party, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) widely expected to form the new government, and the few months old Aam Aadmi Party (Common Man’s Party) have all promised in their manifestos to pass the Women’s Reservation Bill if voted to power.

“Unless certain attitudes are overcome it is useless to expect individual parties to put up more women candidates, and moreover where no party is obliged to do it,” Malini Bhattacharya, 70, twice member of Parliament and former member of the National Commission for Women, tells IPS.

Ruth Manorama, 62, Dalit women’s rights activist, who heads the National Alliance of Women, and is contesting from the Bangalore South constituency on a Janata Dal (Secular) party ticket, is more optimistic. “To give a bigger role to women in political decision making, we need to go step by step,” Manorama tells IPS.

Others argue for bolder change. “Political party structures and the election process itself need drastic change if women are to participate in large numbers,” says Tapashi Praharaj of AIDWA. “Women’s winning ability is consistently under question, without however attempting to build them up.”

“The huge funds required to fight an election today is another obstacle for women to contest elections,” says Chatterji. The government raised spending limits for a candidate in this election to seven million rupees (116,000 dollars).

Chatterji says while male leaders argue they cannot find suitable women candidates, there are many eligible women who have not caught the eye of political parties.

More than two million women have served in decision-making bodies in India’s local governments, or panchayat raj, under the 33 percent seat reservation since 1993. In some states that quota has been raised to 50 percent. Urban local bodies too have reserved seats for women. These quotas have created a significant mass of grassroots women leaders.

India, the world’s largest democracy, has a mere 11.4 percent women in both houses of Parliament, compared to the world average of 21.8 percent. Afghanistan has 27.6 percent women in Parliament and Pakistan 18.5 percent, according to 2014 data from the Geneva-based Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

The post India’s Women Lose the Election appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/indias-women-lose-election/feed/ 0
Poland Uses Ukraine to Push Coal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/poland-uses-ukraine-push-coal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=poland-uses-ukraine-push-coal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/poland-uses-ukraine-push-coal/#comments Sun, 20 Apr 2014 08:05:16 +0000 Claudia Ciobanu http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133785 A European ‘energy union’ plan proposed by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as an EU response to the crisis in Ukraine could be a Trojan horse for fossil fuels. On account of Poland’s proximity and deep historical ties to Ukraine, the country’s centre-right government led by Donald Tusk has assumed a prominent position in attempts […]

The post Poland Uses Ukraine to Push Coal appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Environmentalists protesting against coal outside the Polish Ministry of Economy. Credit: Claudia Ciobanu/IPS.

Environmentalists protesting against coal outside the Polish Ministry of Economy. Credit: Claudia Ciobanu/IPS.

By Claudia Ciobanu
WARSAW, Apr 20 2014 (IPS)

A European ‘energy union’ plan proposed by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk as an EU response to the crisis in Ukraine could be a Trojan horse for fossil fuels.

On account of Poland’s proximity and deep historical ties to Ukraine, the country’s centre-right government led by Donald Tusk has assumed a prominent position in attempts to ease the crisis in Ukraine. Notoriously, Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski helped negotiate a February deal between then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych and opposition leaders of Euromaidan, the name given to the pro-EU protests in Kiev.Asking for a prominent role for coal and shale gas is mostly a Polish game.

The Polish government’s assertiveness came with quick electoral gains. According to a poll conducted in early April by polling agency TNS Polska, Tusk’s Civic Platform for the first time in years took a lead in voters’ preferences over the conservative Peace and Justice Party of Jaroslaw Kaczynski.

“Not only is Civic Platform back in the lead, but also more Poles are ready to vote and vote for the government,” Lukasz Lipinski, an analyst at think tank Polityka Insight in Warsaw, told IPS. “All opposition parties now want to move the debate [ahead of the May 25 European elections] to domestic issues because on those it is much easier to criticise the Civic Platform after six years of government.”

Yet Tusk’s executive insists on Ukraine because of the benefits the topic can still bring. In the last weekend of March, the prime minister announced a Polish proposal for a European energy union that would make Europe resilient to crises like the Russian-Ukrainian conflict.

“The experience of the last few weeks [Russia’s invasion of Ukraine] shows that Europe must strive towards solidarity when it comes to energy,” said Tusk speaking in Tychy, a city in the southern coal-producing Silesia region.

He went on to outline the six dimensions of the ‘energy union’: the creation of an effective gas solidarity mechanism in case of supply crises; financing from the European Union’s funds for infrastructure ensuring energy solidarity in particular in the east of the EU; collective energy purchasing; rehabilitation of coal as a source of energy; shale gas extraction; and radical diversification of gas supply to the EU.

“It is very disappointing to note the total absence of energy efficiency measures from this vision, even though it featured centrally in the March European Council on Crimea conclusions,” Julia Michalak, EU climate policy officer at the NGO coalition Climate Action Network (CAN) Europe, told IPS. “If the Crimea crisis did not make the government realise that energy efficiency is the easiest and cheapest way to achieve real energy security for Europe, I’m not sure what would.”

While some of the measures proposed by Tusk would indeed lead (assuming they could be implemented) to increased European solidarity in the energy sector, asking for a prominent role for coal and shale gas is mostly a Polish game.

At the moment, the EU has no common binding EU policies on shale gas – various EU countries such as France and Bulgaria even have moratoriums on exploration. And the EU’s long-term climate objectives, primarily the 2050 decarbonisation goal, make a true coal resurrection unlikely.

According to Michalak, the coal and shale gas elements of the Polish six-point plan must be understood, on the one hand, as aimed at domestic audiences who want to see their government play hard ball and, on the other, as a negotiating tool meant to draw some specific gains out of Brussels.

The Tusk government has made herculean efforts to persuade foreign companies interested in shale gas to stick to the country, including firing environment minister Marcin Korolec during the climate change talks COP19 last year for reportedly not being shale gas friendly enough. Nevertheless, in April this year, France’s TOTAL became the fourth company to announce dropping exploratory works in Poland, as shale gas here is proving more scarce than initially thought.

The Polish national consensus on coal too is starting to show minor cracks.

Nearly 90 percent of electricity used in Poland comes from coal, and the government’s long-term energy strategy envisages a core role for coal up to 2060. Tusk’s executive has been unsuccessfully trying to torpedo the EU’s adoption of decarbonisation targets, so at the moment it is unclear how authorities will reconcile EU commitments with a coal-dependent economy.

Last year, the chief executive of state energy company PGE resigned, arguing that an expansion by 1,800 MW of Opole coal plant in south-western Poland is unprofitable. The government chose to go ahead with expansion plans anyway.

Despite the generalised perception in Poland that coal is a cheap form of energy, this month saw leading newspapers (including the conservative Rzeczpospolita) discussing externalities of coal following a study by think tank Warsaw Institute for Economic Studies showing that, between 1990-2012, Polish subsidies for coal amounted to 170 bn PLN (40 billion euros).

In 2013, a series of international financial institutions, including the World Bank and the European Investment Bank, announced significant restrictions to their financing of coal – lending to Polish coal, for instance, would be impossible for these institutions under the new guidelines.

Poland also has to implement the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive which calls for stricter pollution standards at energy producing units as of 2016 or closure of plants which do not comply. And it is potentially in this space that some of the benefits of Poland’s tough game on coal in Brussels could be seen.

In February, the European Commission allowed Poland to exempt 73 of its energy producing units from the requirements of the Directive, including two outdated units at Belchatow coal plant in central Poland, Europe’s largest thermal coal plant (5,298 MW) and biggest CO2 emitter.

Additionally, it has emerged this month that Poland intends to use regional funds meant for tackling urban air pollution from the next EU budget (2014-2020) to finance modernisation measures at the country’s biggest coal and gas producers, both private and state-owned.

The post Poland Uses Ukraine to Push Coal appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/poland-uses-ukraine-push-coal/feed/ 0
When Not To Go To School http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/go-school/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=go-school http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/go-school/#comments Sat, 19 Apr 2014 06:24:01 +0000 Ranjita Biswas http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133774 In large parts of rural India, the absence of separate toilets for growing girls is taking a toll on their education. Many are unable to attend school during their menstrual cycle. According to the country’s Annual Status of Education Report in 2011, lack of access to toilets causes girls between 12 and 18 years of […]

The post When Not To Go To School appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
A new toilet for girl students at a school in Murshidabad district in the eastern Indian state West Bengal. Credit: Sulabh International/IPS.

A new toilet for girl students at a school in Murshidabad district in the eastern Indian state West Bengal. Credit: Sulabh International/IPS.

By Ranjita Biswas
KOLKATA, Apr 19 2014 (IPS)

In large parts of rural India, the absence of separate toilets for growing girls is taking a toll on their education. Many are unable to attend school during their menstrual cycle.

According to the country’s Annual Status of Education Report in 2011, lack of access to toilets causes girls between 12 and 18 years of age to miss around five days of school every month, or around 50 school days every year.“There is a sharp increase in the dropout rate, mainly among girls, as they move from primary to upper primary, because we cannot till date provide them proper toilets."

The country’s Supreme Court had ruled in 2011 that every public school has to have toilets. But a pan-India study, ‘The Learning Blocks’, conducted by the NGO CRY in 2013, shows that 11 percent of schools do not have toilets and only 18 percent have separate ones for girls. In 34 percent of schools, toilets are in bad condition or simply unusable.

Atindra Nath Das, regional director of CRY East, told IPS, “Children do not have safe drinking water, schools still do not have their own building and toilets are missing. No wonder 8.1 million children in India are still out of school.

“There is a sharp increase in the dropout rate, mainly among girls, as they move from primary to upper primary, because we cannot till date provide them proper toilets,” he said.

A 2010 report by the U.N. University Institute for Water, Environment and Health noted, “Once girls reach puberty, lack of access to sanitation becomes a central cultural and human health issue, contributing to female illiteracy and low levels of education, in turn contributing to a cycle of poor health for pregnant women and their children.”

According to India’s 2011 census data, national sanitation coverage is 49 percent but the rural figure is worse, at 31 percent.  It is even lower for Dalits or socially marginalised communities (23 percent) and tribal people (16 percent).

Lack of sanitation facilities is still a stumbling block for the effective spread of health and education programmes in many parts of rural India.

Mahila Jagriti Samiti (MJS), an NGO working in Jharkhand, an economically backward state in eastern India with a large tribal population, has been conducting awareness programmes on the use of sanitation, but is not very happy with the results.

Mahi Ram Mahto, director of MJS, told IPS: “We have done 300 sanitation programmes, even helping to build toilets in homes with funding from government agencies, but only 15 to 20 percent of the beneficiaries use them.”

Without a cistern for flushing, the toilets pose a problem, he says. “People have to carry water in buckets from a common water source like a hand pump or a pond; most households do not have taps. They say they might as well go to the open field.”

In 1999, India launched the Nirmal Bharat Abhiyan or Total Sanitation Campaign, a community-based programme, under which it gives an equivalent of about 80 dollars to a household to set up a toilet. But many poor people say that is not enough and still defecate in the fields or by railway lines.

The campaign has “provisions for toilet facility and hygiene education in all types of government rural schools (up to higher secondary or class 12) with emphasis on toilets for girls.”

But provisions alone do not help, activists say.

Access to water for toilets is a major problem in many rural schools in the eastern state of West Bengal, says Vijay K. Jha, honorary controller at the state branch of Sulabh International. The NGO leads one of the world’s biggest and most successful sanitation programmes.

“We have worked in 50 schools in Murshidabad district of India’s eastern state West Bengal, providing infrastructure and running awareness programmes on hygiene. Plans are afoot to extend the work to 100 more in the near future,” Jha told IPS.

Despite separate toilets for girls, the results are not satisfactory. As in the case of Jharkhand, non-availability of water hinders toilet use. Most schools do not have water pipes running up to the compounds.

Diara Hazi Nasrat Mallick High School in Murshidabad district, where Sulabh has constructed a separate toilet, is a typical example.

Alaul Haque, the school headmaster, told IPS, “We are happy that this facility has been built. But girls still have to bring water from the tubewell because there’s no water pipe connection in the school yet.” Half of about 300 students at the school are girls.

Another institution in the same district, Gayeshpur High School, has the same complaint. “With around 300 girl students in our co-ed school, we need at least two toilets. We were happy that the toilet has been built, but it still lacks flowing water,” headmaster Prasanta Chatterjee told IPS.

The government scheme under which NGOs take up the work of building toilets does not include providing water pipes – a task that depends on local agencies.

Girl students during the menstrual cycle are advised not to carry heavy objects like buckets filled with water; so they avoid school altogether during those days if there is no easy access to water in the toilets.

Under India’s Right to Education Act of 2009, which recognises the right of children to free and compulsory education till the completion of elementary school, provision of proper toilets as part of school infrastructure is mandatory, says S.N. Dave, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) specialist at Unicef Kolkata.

Dave told IPS: “West Bengal being in a riverine area, water is not much of a problem. But there is scope for improvement in terms of better coordination between agencies.”

Some states like Kerala in the south and Sikkim in the northeast fare better.

According to a Planning Commission study in 2013, Sikkim had the best performing gram panchayats (village councils) and maintenance of sanitation facilities, having achieved 100 percent sanitation.

The post When Not To Go To School appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/go-school/feed/ 0
U.S. Foreign Aid Approach Is Outdated, Experts Say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-foreign-aid-approach-outdated-experts-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-foreign-aid-approach-outdated-experts-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-foreign-aid-approach-outdated-experts-say/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 18:29:28 +0000 Farangis Abdurazokzoda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133766 U.S. foreign aid is becoming increasingly outdated, analysts here are suggesting. Rather, reforms to U.S. assistance need to focus on issues of accountability and country ownership, according to a policy paper released this week by Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a prominent coalition of international development advocates and foreign policy experts. “Aid is a strong expression of […]

The post U.S. Foreign Aid Approach Is Outdated, Experts Say appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
By Farangis Abdurazokzoda
WASHINGTON, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

U.S. foreign aid is becoming increasingly outdated, analysts here are suggesting.

Rather, reforms to U.S. assistance need to focus on issues of accountability and country ownership, according to a policy paper released this week by Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a prominent coalition of international development advocates and foreign policy experts.“Aid should be structured in a way that citizens and NGOs can monitor how the government implements development projects." -- Casey Dunning

“Aid is a strong expression of U.S. moral, economic, and national security imperatives, and in many contexts the U.S. is still the most significant donor,” the paper states. But according to many metrics, U.S. aid is both non-transparent and inefficient.

“The United States needs to frame and deliver aid in a structured way that would support the effectiveness of aid in partnership countries and generate sustainable results,” Sylvain Browa, director of aid effectiveness at Save the Children, an independent charity, told IPS.

“In such dynamic environments, where all aid remains critical to savings lives, curing diseases and putting children in school, new players come to stage, and these include local leaders and citizens who know first-hand what their priorities are.”

In terms of aid quality, the United States ranked just 17th out of 22 major donors according to the Commitment to Development Index in 2013. Each year, the index ranks wealthy countries on how efficiently they help poor ones in areas of aid, trade, finance, migration, environment, security, and technology.

According to that ranking, just one U.S. agency was rated “very good” in terms of transparency. The agency responsible for the bulk of U.S. foreign assistance, USAID, was rated just “fair”, while the State Department and PEPFAR, the landmark anti-AIDS programme, were rated “poor” and “very poor” respectively.

MFAN suggests that a newly streamlined policy agenda, structured around two “mutually reinforcing pillars of reform” – accountability and country ownership – could significantly improve the effectiveness of U.S foreign aid.

“The donor-recipient paradigm of foreign aid is outdated,” the report states, and without priority on these two pillars, “we revert to old, tired, and stagnant paradigms of aid – paradigms that unnecessarily perpetuate aid dependency.”

The new program is designed to empower communities, which in turn should carry out country ownership, says George Ingram, MFAN’s co-chair and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, a think tank here.

“The two pillars are prerequisites to build the kind of capacity that will help enable leaders and citizens in the aid-recipient countries to take responsibility for their own development,” Ingram told IPS, “such as spending priorities, as well as making evidence-based conclusions about what works and what doesn’t.”

The report emphasises that such changes are also somewhat time-sensitive. Given looming domestic and international deadlines, MFAN’s analysts say the next two years constitute “an important window of opportunity for U.S. aid reform”.

“The midterm elections in 2014 are certain to shake up the membership of Congress,” they write. “In 2015, the Millennium Development Goals will expire and a new global development agenda will take its place. And 2016 will bring a new administration and further changes on Capitol Hill.”

Local destiny

The recommendations have received quick support from other development groups.

“The paper is of universal importance to all aid agencies, implementers and thinkers,” Casey Dunning, a senior policy analyst for the Centre for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

But she warned that there were inherent difficulties in the recommendations, as well.

“There is a lot of rhetoric on what country ownership means or what accountability encompasses,” she says. “Ambiguities in definitions and measurements of accountability and country ownership make it difficult to make aid more effective. However, the MFAN report helps to find metrics for capacity-building and to see what it actually means.”

Save the Children’s Browa, too, notes that the concepts outlined in the report are not necessarily new.

“But when put together, these pillars are vital to building local capacity and creating local ownership of resources and tools for development,” he says, “so that country leaders and citizens can take leadership in their destiny.”

To achieve better transparency, the report’s authors are calling on the U.S. government to fully implement new global standards called the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) by the end of 2015. In addition, the ratings of the Aid Transparency Index should be extended to all U.S. government agencies, which currently doesn’t happen.

Further, all U.S. agencies should begin contributing comprehensive financial information to a landmark new online government information clearinghouse, known as the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

Finally, aid and development decisions need to be guided by rigorous evaluation, MFAN says. Together, transparency and evaluation will help these agencies to achieve stronger results for both U.S. taxpayers and communities receiving U.S. assistance.

In all of this, Ingram notes, learning is one of the most important aspects in the policy proposal. “Data and evaluations are useless unless we learn from them and use them to make better decisions and achieve better results,” he says.

Defining partners

The aid paradigm has already shifted, MFAN’s report suggests. “Today, countries that give support through bilateral assistance and countries that receive such support are partners,” it states.

Yet how exactly to define those partnerships remains a work in progress.

“Aid should be structured in a way that citizens and NGOs can monitor how the government implements development projects,” CGD’s Dunning says, “and how the resources are utilised.”

Would such an approach run the risk of strengthening corruption at lower levels? Dunning says this isn’t necessarily the right question.

“We can’t shy away from the corruption issue, since it’s such an integral issue for debate,” she says. “And transparency is the key. It is vital to every programme, every sector. Together with other tools, such as evaluation and learning, transparency contributes to sustainable country ownership, which militates against corruption.”

MFAN’s Ingram, meanwhile, sees the empowerment of local communities as an anti-corruption tool in itself.

“Engaging smart and trusting people who know the culture and know how to manoeuvre through the dynamics of that country is very important,” he says.

“Informed and empowered citizens who demand good governance and sound priorities act as a check against corruption.”

The post U.S. Foreign Aid Approach Is Outdated, Experts Say appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-foreign-aid-approach-outdated-experts-say/feed/ 0
Ostracised and Isolated: Muslim Prisoners in the U.S. http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ostracised-isolated-muslim-prisoners-u-s/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ostracised-isolated-muslim-prisoners-u-s http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ostracised-isolated-muslim-prisoners-u-s/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 15:30:20 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133763 This is the second installment of a two-part series examining the use of ‘lawfare’ on Muslim citizens accused of terror-related activity.

The post Ostracised and Isolated: Muslim Prisoners in the U.S. appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Tarek Mehanna (right) poses for a photograph with his mother and brother at his PhD ceremony. Photo courtesy the Mehanne family.

Tarek Mehanna (right) poses for a photograph with his mother and brother at his PhD ceremony. Photo courtesy the Mehanne family.

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

Such stigma now surrounds the word ‘terrorist’ that most recoil from it, or anyone associated with it, as though from a thing contagious; as though, by simple association, one could land in that black hole where civil liberties are suspended in the name of national security.

For many Muslim citizens of the United States, such ostracism has become a matter of routine, forcing family members of terror suspects to double up as legal advocates and political supporters for their brothers, husbands and sons.“We are a very tight-knit family, and this has been hell for us." -- Tamer Mehanna

A budding nationwide movement to shed light on rights abuses in domestic terror cases is straining to turn that tide. One of its primary sites of congregation is the patch of concrete outside the New York Metropolitan Correction Center (MCC), where suspects deemed violent are held incommunicado.

But the families that gather at the monthly vigils held there, sponsored by a growing coalition known as the No Separate Justice Campaign, speak of a different side to the story: one that involves the government abusing post-9/11 laws to round up non-violent, law-abiding Muslims for exercising their rights to free speech and religion.

At a Mar. 10 vigil outside the MCC, IPS spoke with Tamer Mehanna, brother of Tarek Mehanna, a Pittsburgh-born pharmacist who is serving out a 17-year sentence in Terra Haute, Indiana.

Prior to his conviction on several counts including material support for terrorism, Tarek spent two years in 23-hour isolation, the MCC in New York being just one of the locations where he was all but prevented from communicating with the outside world.

Advocates say Mehanna’s case represents the ‘separate justice system’ for Muslims, in microcosm.

Tamer recounted how, between 2004 and 2008, the FBI courted his brother, using everything from polite requests to psychological intimidation to convince him to become an informant. When all failed, Tarek was arrested at an airport in New York City on his way to Saudi Arabia.

"Thought Crimes": The Case of Tarek Mehanna

Experts say the case against Tarek Mehanna represents one of the most salient examples of prosecution for thought crimes in U.S. legal history.

Initially arrested for having allegedly given false testimony to an FBI official, Tarek was released on bail, then arrested a second time on charges of conspiring to shoot up a shopping mall, though no evidence for this allegation was ever offered in court.

Over the course of 35 days, the prosecution proceeded to build a case against Tarek based on records of online chats, his translation of an ancient Arabic text entitled ’39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad’ and his plans to take up a pharmaceutical position at a prestigious hospital in Saudi Arabia.

Tarek’s brother Tamer Mehnna told IPS that the prosecution never once referred to a specific action that could be construed as providing material support to terrorism. It appeared he was on the stand for nothing more than reading and knowledge sharing among the Muslim community of Worcester, Massachusetts.

Andrew March, a Yale professor who was summoned as an expert witness for the defense, summed up the trial succinctly when he said: “As a political scientist specializing in Islamic law and war, I frequently read, store, share and translate texts and videos by jihadi groups. As a political philosopher, I debate the ethics of killing. As a citizen, I express views, thoughts and emotions about killing to other citizens...At Mr. Mehanna’s trial, I saw how those same actions can constitute federal crimes.”

In addition to shelling out 1.3 million dollars in bail, Tarek’s family was shunned by their community in Massachusetts, spent endless hours in court and even gave up their jobs in order to advocate on his behalf.

“We are a very tight-knit family, and this has been hell for us,” Tamer told IPS. “When my brother was arrested, my mother had to watch her son, a respectable guy, being thrown on the ground and handcuffed like an animal in front of crowds of spectators – it was deeply traumatic.

“The second time he was arrested she was stronger, but it was my father’s turn to break down. Before this happened, I never even saw my father shed a tear,” he added. “But this just crushed him. He fell into a depression, into hopelessness, even lashed out at us for advocating on Tarek’s behalf.”

In their firm belief in Tarek’s innocence, the Mehanna family is not alone. An upcoming study co-authored by members of the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms (NCPCF) and Project SALAM (Support And Legal Advocacy for Muslims) documents hundreds of cases of Muslims imprisoned on terror-related charges despite a lack of evidence linking them with any tangible crime.

Former NCPCF Executive Director Stephen Downs told IPS that family members of what he calls ‘political prisoners’ – Muslim citizens tried and sentenced for nothing more than political views or religious beliefs – are deeply traumatised and often isolated.

“They share commonalities,” he said, “of being made to feel unwelcome at their mosques, losing their jobs, having people slip into depression. These outcomes are entirely predictable, but to have them deliberately inflicted on you by your own government is kind of shocking.”

Bi-annual conferences hosted by NCPCF attract 30 or 40 family members, who Downs says cherish the opportunity to come together and be heard, as respectable citizens with genuine grievances.

“They get to talk to the few people in the world who understand what they’re going through,” he said, “because if you haven’t experienced it, you just don’t get it.”

Extreme isolation

Family members speaking to IPS on condition of anonymity said their isolation from the community is nothing compared to the extreme forms of solitary confinement imposed on their loved ones, most of whom are housed in what the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BoP) calls Communication Management Units (CMUs).

According to Alexis Agathocleous, a senior staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), CMUs came quietly into existence during the George W. Bush administration, the first in Terre Haute, Indiana in 2006 and the second in Marion, Illinois in 2008.

“These units are quite unparalleled within the federal prison system,” Agathocleous told IPS. “They segregate prisoners from the rest of the population and impose very strict restrictions on prisoners’ ability to communicate with the outside world – this translates to drastically reduced access to social telephone calls and visits, and when visits do occur they are strictly non-contact.”

Of the roughly 80 prisoners held in CMUs, Agathocleous estimates that between 66 and 72 percent are Muslims, despite the fact that Muslims make up just six percent of the federal prison population.

He referred to this significant over-representation as “troubling”, adding, “There seems to be the use of religious profiling to select prisoners for CMU designation.”

Speaking at a rain-soaked vigil outside the MCC in early April, Andy Stepanian – an animal rights activist who spent six months in the CMU at Marion – said the Muslim men he met there were “exceptionally generous and caring.”

“There has not been a single night in the four and a half years since I’ve gotten out that I’ve not either had a nightmare or stayed up for hours wondering, ‘Why was I the lucky one who got out? Is it just because of the pigment of my skin?’” Stepanian said.

In 2010 CCR filed litigation representing several inmates housed in CMUs, challenging both the arbitrary and seemingly retaliatory nature of the designation, which is made worse by the fact that the BoP offers “no meaningful process through which [prisoners] can earn their way out – no hearing, no discernible limit on the amount of time someone can spend in a CMU and no meaningful criteria that a prisoner can work at in order to [gain] their release,” Agathocleous said.

Those fortunate enough to afford the monthly trips out to Indiana and Illinois have recorded their testimony of these tightly controlled visits, painful on both sides of the Plexiglas screens that separate loved ones.

At a recent NCPCF conference, Majida Salem, wife of Ghassan Elashi, recounted how her 12-year-old Down’s syndrome child refused to enter the visitation room at Marion.

“He cried and said, ‘It’s an ugly visit. Baba no touch… it’s bad,’” Salem said. “To me this is so merciless, keeping a man who did nothing but feed widows and orphans locked up in a CMU… for 65 years.”

The post Ostracised and Isolated: Muslim Prisoners in the U.S. appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ostracised-isolated-muslim-prisoners-u-s/feed/ 3
South Sudan Dictates Media Coverage of Conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/south-sudan-dictates-media-coverage-conflict/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=south-sudan-dictates-media-coverage-conflict http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/south-sudan-dictates-media-coverage-conflict/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 07:14:28 +0000 Sadik Wani http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133723 As rebel forces loyal to South Sudan’s former vice president Riek Machar declared on Tuesday Apr. 15 that they had captured the key oil town of Bentiu, the government has been accused of clamping down on local media in an attempt to influence the reporting on the conflict. Though journalists here say that the government […]

The post South Sudan Dictates Media Coverage of Conflict appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
Traditional dancers during celebrations to mark South Sudan's first anniversary of independence on Jul. 9, 2012 in Juba. However, journalists say the government has stifled freedom of the media. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

Traditional dancers during celebrations to mark South Sudan's first anniversary of independence on Jul. 9, 2012 in Juba. However, journalists say the government has stifled freedom of the media. Credit: Charlton Doki/IPS

By Sadik Wani
JUBA, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

As rebel forces loyal to South Sudan’s former vice president Riek Machar declared on Tuesday Apr. 15 that they had captured the key oil town of Bentiu, the government has been accused of clamping down on local media in an attempt to influence the reporting on the conflict.

Though journalists here say that the government clampdown first began after independence in 2011, the situation has worsened since December when fighting broke out between soldiers loyal to President Salva Kiir and Machar at military barracks in Juba, the country’s capital. 

Other cases of South Sudan’s media clampdown

  • Dec. 7, 2013: South Sudan’s National Security Service (NSS) officials confiscated copies of the Arabic daily Al Masir and the English daily Juba Monitor because they both carried a stories were senior members of the ruling party, including Riek Machar, criticised President Salva Kiir’s leadership and accused him of having dictatorial tendencies.

  • Dec. 11, 2013: NSS forces raided the printing press of the privately-owned English newspaper, The Citizen, and confiscated all copies. The paper had published a story detailing how security operatives arrested and detained the paper’s Editor–in-Chief, Nhial Bol, a few days earlier.

  • Jan. 16, 2014: NSS confiscated the entire print run of the English language daily, the Juba Monitor, because two articles were considered unfit for the public to read. One was an opinion piece by veteran journalist and the paper’s editor-in-chief, Alfred Taban, in which he proposed an interim government be formed to lead the country until elections in 2015. The second was an opinion piece giving a historical retrospective about past tribal tensions within South Sudan’s army.

  • Mar. 13, 2014: Voice of America South Sudan stated that an employee was picked up from the Juba office for questioning by national security officers of the South Sudan government.

  • Mar. 31, 2014: NSS operatives arrested Moses Legge, a reporter with Eye Radio. They interrogated him for several hours, confiscated his audio recorder and camera and only returned the equipment the following day.

The conflict spread to other parts of South Sudan and resulted in the death of thousands and the displacement of some 863,000 people.

“We have recorded more than five cases of journalists being summoned for interrogation or being arrested and detained in Juba alone and more than 10 other cases in other parts of the country since the start of the conflict in December,” said Oliver Modi Philip, chairperson of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS).

“These people [in government] are telling our journalists to report in a certain way that favours the government. They don’t want voices of people in the opposition to be heard. But as a union we are telling journalists that they should stick to their ethics and ensure they have balanced stories,” Philip told IPS.

On Apr. 10, National Security Service (NSS) operatives confiscated copies of the Juba Monitor because the newspaper published an opinion piece profiling the life of former Minister of Environment Alfred Ladu Gore, who is allied to Machar.

And last month, on Mar. 18 NSS operatives confiscated copies of the same newspaper because the Juba Monitor published a story saying that rebels were planning to advance on the Jonglei state capital, Bor.

On that same day, the NSS confiscated the registration certificate of Eye Media, the proprietors of Eye Radio, a Juba-based radio station. The station is still on air but the clampdown began when one of their reporters, Nichola Mandil, who was reporting on the peace process in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, was summoned by the NSS upon his return to Juba. Mandil and two of his colleagues were interrogated for two days because they station ran an interview with Gore who criticised Kiir, calling for him to step down.

The station’s chief executive Stephen Omiri was also summoned for questioning.

Beatrice Murail, Eye Radio’s editor who approved the interview for broadcast, was forced to resign and leave South Sudan. She has since returned to her home country of France.

“The media environment has become really difficult. It is difficult to report anything fairly and in a balanced manner in this kind of environment,” Omiri told IPS.

“We are being forced to report only what pleases the government. I don’t know how we are going to work,” he added.

South Sudanese officials have insisted that journalists refer to last year’s outbreak of violence in Juba as a coup attempt.

Up to now a majority of reporters working for private media houses have referred to the incident as an “alleged coup” attempt as Machar denied allegations that he was trying to overthrow Kiir. Machar went into hiding in December and in February announced that he had formed a resistance group against the government.

“You should clearly say that it was a coup attempt led by Riek Machar,” South Sudan’s Information Minister Micheal Makuei Lueth told reporters last month during a press conference in Juba where local and a few international journalists were present.

Lueth, who is also the government’s spokesperson, warned local journalists not to interview rebels fighting his government or they would risk imprisonment.

“If you interview rebels and play such interviews here in South Sudan you are agitating [the population]. You are making hostile propaganda and for that matter we will take you where we take people who are in conflict with the law,” he had said.

“Go and do whatever you want to do outside South Sudan but we will not allow any journalist who is hostile to the government to continue to disseminate this poison to the people,” Lueth said.

Last November Lueth directed all journalists to register with the government. However, most media outlets refused to do so and the deadline expired in December.

In Wau, the capital of Western Bahr al Ghazal state, security officials have demanded that reporters ask for permission to cover stories.

Michael Atit a journalist with Voice of Hope radio, which is funded by the Catholic Diocese of Wau, was harassed by security officials last month.

“They told me that every time I want to work on a story I should first get permission from the national security. They also said after gathering audio I should bring it to them so they can decide if I can use it on the radio or not,” Atit told IPS.

Atit refused to abide by the police demands.

The intimidation of journalists is in contrast to South Sudan’s February 2013 agreement to become the first country to adopt a new United Nations-backed initiative aimed at creating a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers.

Edmond Yakani of local civil society organisation, Community Empowerment for Progress Organisation, criticised the government’s clampdown saying it would stifle the free growth of democracy in the country.

“People rely on the media for balanced information so they can make informed decisions. But this move by the government to stifle freedom of expression and speech, and freedom of the media is an attempt to feed us with rumours and one-sided information,” Yakani told IPS.

“At this critical time in our country it would be good for the government to allow the media to operate freely so that people can debate the issues affecting our country. It is only when you allow free speech that democracy can grow,” he added.

Meanwhile, Atit said that he and other journalists in Wau felt insecure because their movements were being monitored.

“I feel it’s not worth working as  journalist in Wau anymore,” Atit said, explaining that he was considering quitting.

The post South Sudan Dictates Media Coverage of Conflict appeared first on Inter Press Service.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/south-sudan-dictates-media-coverage-conflict/feed/ 0