Inter Press Service » Extra TVUN Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 01 Sep 2015 03:54:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 ISIL Accused Of War Crimes, Genocide In Iraq Mon, 23 Feb 2015 08:56:10 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

At least 11,600 Iraqi civilians were killed in war and ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq in the Levant) terrorist attacks in 2014, and ISIL forces may be guilty of war crimes and genocide, according to an alarming United Nations report released Monday.

The ‘Report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict in Iraq’ details the sheer devastation wrought in recent months, as Iraqi Security Forces and ISIL groups clash nationwide.

At least 33,368 civilian casualties were recorded in 2014, including 11,602 dead and 21,766 wounded, while two million people were displaced within Iraq.

The report, published by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), says the true figures would actually be much higher than listed.

“Owing to increasing limitations… to verify reports of civilian casualties, the figures cited should be regarded as absolute minimums,” the report states.

“The number of civilians who have died from the secondary effects of violence, such as lack of access to basic food, water or medicine, after fleeing their homes or who remained trapped in areas under ISIL control or in areas of conflict, remains unknown.”

The report continues to state that “Iraq’s diverse ethnic and religious communities, including Turkmen, Shabaks, Christians, Yezidi, Shi’ite Arab and others” have been the particular targets of ISIL attacks.

These groups have reportedly been “subjected to gross human rights abuses,” as part of a “deliberate policy aimed at destroying, suppressing or expelling” such communities.

“UNAMI/OHCHR notes that many of the violations and abuses perpetrated by ISIL may amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide,” the report claims.

At least 165 executions by ISIL courts were recorded in recent months, while other court-enforced punishments included lashings for drinking alcohol, and amputation of hands for stealing.

“ISIL has systematically carried out executions, targeted killings and enforced disappearances of community, political, and religious leaders, as well as journalists, doctors and other professionals… Female community and political leaders have been particularly targeted.”

ISIL has also been accused of targeting civilians or carrying out attacks “heedless of their effects on civilians,” as well as housing fighters among civilian populations “so as to shield its fighters from attack or to ensure civilian casualties in the event of attack.”

The report also accuses Iraqi Security Forces of similar crimes and violations, including abduction of civilians, targeted killings of ISIL fighters, and mistreatment of Sunnis in areas liberated from ISIL control.

“These include failures to abide by the principles of distinction and proportionality required by international humanitarian law in the conduct of military operations, in which case may amount to war crimes,” the report states.
UNAMI and OHCHR recommend the U.N. Security Council and Human Rights Council “closely follow the situation with a view to ensuring the perpetrators… are held accountable.”

The two bodies also urge the Iraqi government to investigate and prosecute anyone involved in breaches of human rights or international law, and implement reforms aimed to encourage reconciliation.

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Ethiopian Schools Programme Receives $1 Million Funding Boost Mon, 23 Feb 2015 08:53:20 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

Ethiopian development programme Seeds Of Africa (SoA) has received its largest ever donation: a $1million grant to fund a major education initiative.

Based in New York City, SoA provides a number of free school, food and community programmes in Ethiopia.

The NGO last week received $1million from the Alexander Soros Foundation (ASF), to support Seeds of Africa’s “Dream School” initiative.

“Africa’s untapped resource is its human capital and quality world class education is the greatest equalizer in this uneven world of ours” says Atti Worku, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of Seeds of Africa.

““With this generous contribution from ASF, our Dream School campaign is off to an incredible start… The Dream School Project is our first step to expanding our model of education to other communities in Ethiopia and Africa.”
The project, launched in October 2014, includes a multi-million dollar school in the central Ethiopian city of Adama.

The school will “[meet] the highest international standards” and “prepare our students to succeed in high school, college, and beyond,” according to the organisation.

The Dream School programme will cater for 600 students, from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade.

Seeds of Africa hope to use the Adama school as a pilot initiative, with a view to replicating the project across Africa. Other educational components include sport and arts programs, and student counselling services.

The organisation also provides medical advice, adult literacy courses, business and entrepreneurial workshops.

“Seeds of Africa has grown from an after-school programme in a backyard classroom to a pioneering Ethiopian school in only a few years,” said Alexander Soros. “We are proud to help fund the Dream School, which will… serve as a model for other African communities.”

ASF has donated funds to Seeds of Africa for several years, including a $100,000 donation in 2013.
For more information, see

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China, India, to Train Asia-Pacific Officials On Disaster Risk Management Fri, 20 Feb 2015 07:12:47 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

China and India will train government officials in the Asia-Pacific region on how to incorporate disaster management into national planning and finance measures.

The Regional Conference on Integrating Disaster Risk Reduction into Development Planning and Financing, held in Thailand last week, heard natural disaster response is still a pressing issue for development in Asia.

Disaster risk reduction is one of the key development challenges faced by the Asia-Pacific region, the world’s most disaster prone region, according to the U.N. Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Despite economic and social advances, many nations are still extremely vulnerable to floods, tsunamis and more.

“The Asia-Pacific region continues to be battered by natural disasters with ever rising economic losses,” said Shamika Sirimanne, Director of ESCAP’s Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division.

“ESCAP research shows that disasters are already rolling back sustainable development gains. It is high time natural disasters are considered as a serious threat to development and poverty reduction in Asia and the Pacific.”

The Bangkok conference saw nations sharing experiences and strategies of responding to disasters.

Conference delegates spoke of concerns over a focus on disaster relief and response, rather than on risk management and other preventative measures.

ESCAP said many countries in the region do not have funds for necessary disaster risk measures or projects.

“The experience of the Government of Indonesia as one highly vulnerable country can be used as lessons learned and good practices for other governments and pave the way for promoting the mainstreaming of disaster risk reduction in the planning and financing of development in their respective countries,” said Suprayoga Hadi, Deputy Minister for the Development of Resources of Indonesia.

Risk management bodies from China and India pledged to serve as ESCAP’s Regional Network of Knowledge and Innovation Centres in Disaster Risk Reduction, providing training for Asia-Pacific on how to incorporate risk management into national planning and finance measures.

Agreements were also reached over national development plans and frameworks for disaster risk management.
The U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction will be held in Sendai, Japan from March 14 to 18.

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Superstar Kidjo Wins Grammy for Collaborative Album Showcasing Songs of African Women Thu, 19 Feb 2015 11:31:17 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

(GIN) – African singer, showstopper and activist Angélique Kidjo, won her second Grammy Award for the Best World Music Album which she dedicated to African women.

Speaking at the red carpet ceremony held at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, she credited the women whose passion and strength in their music inspired the final product.

“Eve is an album of remembrance of African women I grew up with and a testament to the pride and strength that hide behind the smile that masks everyday troubles,” says Kidjo, whose accolades include a 20 year discography, thousands of concerts around the world and being named “Africa’s premier diva” (Time Magazine) and “the undisputed Queen of African Music” (Daily Telegraph). “They exuded a positivity and grace in a time of hardship.

“On this recording I am letting the voices of the women show their beauty to the world,” she adds. “Eve is all about showcasing the positivity they bring to their villages, cities, culture and the world.”

She also carried away the Crystal Award, given for her concern with humanitarian issues and commitment to making a difference.

Kidjo, who is based primarily in New York, had been travelling in the Samburu region in the north of Kenya when she was swept into a group of singing women. A cell phone recording of that moment was worked into a song . She then decided that women and women’s voices would define the entire recording including her own mother’s voice. The album “Eve,” is named for her mother.

In total she recorded more than 100 women, and sings in multiple languages.

The album features a diverse array of musical collaborators including the Kronos string quartet, the Luxembourg Philharmonic Orchestra and keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij of the indie rock band Vampire Weekend.

A UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, Kidjo has been outspoken on climate change and improving the public health sector on the continent.

During a recent visit to her West African birthplace of Benin, Kidjo urged the government to support “Second Chance” – a program for young people who were unable to finish school. Students at “Second Chance” learn basic reading, writing and math over a three-year period in order to pass the national exam and receive their primary study certificate. The coursework would normally take six years.

Among the many tributes she has received, Kidjo is the first woman to be listed on Forbes’ magazines 40 Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa.

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As Wars Heat Up, Rickety Flotillas Carry Asylum-Seekers to Their Graves Thu, 19 Feb 2015 11:25:05 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Feb 19 2015 (IPS)

(GIN) – In the Bible it was known as the “Great Sea”. The Romans called it “Mare Nostrum (Our Sea). Of late, the Mediterranean has been called nothing more than a migrants’ graveyard.

Some 3,000 asylum seekers are believed to have gone down to their deaths last year, swallowed up in the rough seas between Africa and Europe’s southern shores. On small rubber dinghies or on rickety wooden boats, refugees fleeing Syria, Libya and Yemen have joined many from Africa casting out upon treacherous waters hoping to reach the southernmost Italian island of Lampedusa and a possible route out of harm’s way.

Among the travelers are women, young children, the elderly. Traffickers are supplying the boats and then threatening rescuers who attempt to bring them ashore.

According to the Missing Migrants project of the International Organization for Migration, fatalities numbered 5,017 in 2014, up from 600 in 2013.

Law enforcement is only half the battle, warned IOM director William Lacy Swing. “We also need to create safe channels for desperate migrants seeking sanctuary,” he said, “for the asylum seekers fleeing Islamic fundamentalist terror, political oppression or vulnerable migrants being trafficked or otherwise abused.”

Last week, twenty-nine migrants died of hypothermia on the exposed decks of a small Italian naval vessel which had rescued them in rough seas from a boat adrift near Libya.

A full-scale search and rescue mission, known as Mare Nostrom, was shut down by the EU last year citing funding issues, to the dismay of humanitarian groups. Another initiative with a third of the funding called Triton was called “woefully inadequate” by the U.N.’s refugee agency which urged Europe to take a new approach.

The new director of the EU border cooperation agency, Frontex, comes from a law and order background. He fought against “illegal immigration,” implementing forced return decisions, combatting the employment of undocumented migrants, planning and running detention centers for returnees.

The crisis, which is rarely ‘trending’ on social media, made an impact on the new Pope who visited recently arrived migrants on Lampedusa during his first visit outside Rome.

He lambasted the rich world for its lack of concern for their suffering and inveighed against a “globalisation of indifference”. “We have become used to the suffering of others. It doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t interest us. It’s not our business,” he said.

The Pope celebrated mass within sight of the so-called graveyard of wrecks, where fishing boats carrying migrants and asylum seekers end up after they drift ashore, their engines often having broken down at sea.

He asked for pardon “for those who are complacent and closed amid comforts which have deadened their hearts and forgiveness for those who by their decisions at the global level have created situations that lead to these tragedies”.

If his message went unheard by European leaders, it prompted a response from Amnesty International which collected testimonies from the survivors of a convoy that left from Libya. Most of them were young men from West Africa.

“[At around 7pm on Feb. 8] the boat started to lose air and fill with water,” recalled a 24 year old man from Mali. “People began to fall into the sea. At each wave, two or three were taken away. The front part of the boat rose, so people on the back fell in the sea. At that point, only about 30 people remained on the boat. One side of the boat … stayed afloat …and [we clung to a rope as we had] water up to our belly.

“[Eventually] only four of us remained. We kept holding on, together, all night. It was raining. At sunrise, two slipped away. During the morning we saw a helicopter. There was a red shirt in the water; I shook it so they would see me. They threw a small inflatable boat, but I didn’t have the energy to reach it. So we stayed, holding on. Half an hour later, a cargo boat arrived. It threw a rope to get us onboard. It was about 3 in the afternoon [on Feb. 9].”

Lamin, also from Mali, was on board the other dinghy approached by a merchant vessel:

“We were 107. In the high seas, the waves were taking the boat up and down. Everyone was afraid. I saw three people falling in the water. No one could help. They tried to catch the boat but couldn’t. Then many others died, maybe for lack of food or water. I can’t count how many died. When a big, commercial boat came to rescue us, only seven of us were [left]. The rescuers threw a rope and got us onboard. During the rescue, [our] boat folded in two and went down, taking down all the bodies.”

According to survivor accounts, more than 300 people perished in that journey, Amnesty said. The migrants, many of whom were lightly clothed, were exposed to near-freezing temperatures, rain and even hail for up to two days as their boats were tossed about on waves of up to 10 feet in height.

Mayor Giusi Nicolini told Amnesty International: “When the dead arrive, one feels defeated. One wonders why nothing ever changes. Europe is completely absent – one does not need to be an expert in politics to understand that.”

Many of those rescued after last week’s tragedy are from Côte d’Ivoire (41 – including two children) followed by Mali (23, including a child), Senegal (nine), Guinea (seven), Gambia (two) and Niger (two). Ivorians also reportedly account for more than half of the confirmed fatalities among those rescued – 15 out of the 29, along with seven men from Mali, five Senegalese and one each from Guinea and Mauritania.

The Budapest meeting is one of eight regional gatherings to prepare for 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, which will take place in Istanbul. It will bring together European and other delegates, including those from Mediterranean states such as Malta, Italy, Greece, Turkey and Spain, where a rise in people-smuggling from the Middle East and North Africa has resulted in the deaths of close to 5,000 migrants since 2013, according IOM’s Missing Migrants Project.

“There is before us an urgent need. We know what to do,” Director General Swing said. “We simply must have the political courage to do it.”

“The migrants fleeing for safer lives are not criminals and deserve the same protections as everyone else,” said Swing. He called on partners and IOM member states to change the lens through which irregular migration – and the deaths that result from it – are seen.

“We need a global coalition of the willing to put an end to these deaths,” said Swing. “This will involve supporting migrants by offering alternatives, bringing closure to the numerous families who have lost loved ones and do not know where or how they died, and helping to stamp out the smugglers’ exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people you will find.”

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Médecins Sans Frontières Calls For Evacuation Of Syrian Casualties Wed, 18 Feb 2015 11:37:19 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

With conflict in Syria showing no sign of abatement, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) Thursday demanded the evacuation of those injured in the city of Aleppo.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, has been the scene for months of fighting and aerial bombings. MSF director of operations Raquel Ayora said “tens of thousands of people” in the city had been trapped and cut off from medical assistance due to the conflict.

“This already grave humanitarian crisis will deteriorate further if medical teams have no access to the area and there is no way to get in supplies,” Ayora said.

“We call on parties to the conflict to allow the population to seek refuge in safe areas and provide humanitarian assistance.”

MSF claims a wave of families are attempting to flee Aleppo for the Turkish border, in hope of finding relatives or safety in refugee camps.

Fighting earlier this week saw 21 people admitted to an MSF hospital near the Turkish border. A further 11 were admitted to an MSF hospital in Aleppo, but medical staff were forced to flee the centre due to security threats.

“Our paramount concern is that the clashes block the only road open between Aleppo and the northern border with Turkey, making it almost impossible to run ambulance services and provide medical and humanitarian assistance to the people trapped by war in eastern Aleppo,” Ayora said.

The MSF hospital in Aleppo saw 16,000 patients, 6,000 emergency room consultations, and admitted over 400 patients in 2014.

MSF staff also provide support to 120 clinics and field hospitals through Syria, as well as caring for Syrians who have fled the country into Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

The organisation has urged all fighting parties to allow the evacuation of the injured and wounded for medical care.

A United Nations special envoy said this week that the Syrian government had pledged to trial a ceasefire and suspend aerial bombings on Aleppo for six weeks, but said it was unclear when the agreement would take effect. Rebel forces in Aleppo reportedly expressed little optimism for any such agreement to be reached.

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21st Century Ideological Threats Require Global Resolve Wed, 18 Feb 2015 11:33:51 +0000 Leila Lemghalef By Leila Lemghalef

The High Representative for the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC) has declared the need for global reconciliation in the face of new and emerging ideological threats in the 21st century.

The International Community is facing an unprecedented alarming rise of cultural extremism, terrorist attacks and continued incitement to hatred,” said Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser.

“Manifestations of religious based intolerance and violence are increasing across the globe,” he said, referring to the terrorist attacks and violent acts in Paris, Copenhagen, Libya, North Carolina, Nigeria, Myanmar, the Middle East and elsewhere.

“Such unjustifiable acts have culminated into targeted killings against innocent people from different faiths, perpetuating stereotyping, xenophobia and racism.”

Rather than hampering the international resolve, these “vicious forces” should be combatted by the international community, he said, as a matter of priority.

He made the statement the same day a U.N. General Assembly draft resolution on the UNAOC was presented at the U.N. headquarters in an open meeting at the ambassadorial level.

The resolution was discussed in the context of ethnic and cultural dimensions in disasters and emergencies, by permanent representatives from Turkey, Spain, Italy, Brazil, Benin, Qatar, Azerbaijan and elsewhere.

Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General Emergency Relief Coordinator, said many conflicts arise or gain strength from the exploitation of ethnic, religious and cultural differences, and that today, 80 per cent of humanitarian work is in countries and regions affected by conflict.

“Eighty-two per cent of people killed or injured by explosive weapons in 2013 were civilians,” said Amos, adding that violence and other forms of persecution force, on average, 23,000 people daily to flee their homes.

Displacement – which is at record-high levels today – is a defining feature of conflict, she pointed out.

“Much of this displacement fueled by conflict is rooted in a lack of understanding, dialogue and respect between communities,” said Amos.

“The principles and initiatives of the Alliance of Civilizations have an important role here.

“Your work, with grassroots organisations can help to build openness and tolerance in communities from the ground up. When children and young people are involved in these initiatives, their influence can last a lifetime, and help to build peace and intercommunal respect for generations to come.”

Adding to the grassroots approach, Al-Nasser stressed: “It is clear that the protection of civilian populations requires global action”.

In his statement, he made the case for universally agreed-on parameters to combat speech and incitement in all their forms.

“Preventive action should entail the empowerment and reform of the relevant existing instruments needed by the international community to respond to and cope with the new and emerging ideological threats, for the sake of our collective security and Human Rights for all,” he said.

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China Most Dangerous Country For Artists In 2014 Wed, 18 Feb 2015 07:23:26 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

China is the most dangerous place on Earth for artists, according to a report from an international arts advocacy group.

At least 237 attacks on artistic freedom were recorded worldwide in 2014, including three murders and 80 imprisonments. Other cases included censorship, abductions and attacks.

The list, compiled by advocacy group Freemuse, found 38 such attacks against artists in China. Russia, Turkey and Iran were the next biggest offenders, with 22, 16 and 15 attacks on artists respectively.

Artists were killed in Iran, Thailand and Pakistan, while almost all of China’s cases included the imprisonment of artists.

“Some artists give voice to peoples’ frustrations and aspirations and are therefore targeted or even silenced,” said Ole Reitov, Executive Director of Freemuse, in a statement announcing the results.

“Governments around the world must guarantee that artists can express themselves without fear of reprisal.”

Freemuse figures state the USA and United Kingdom each recorded eight attacks on artists, while there were also 11 in Egypt, 10 in Pakistan, and seven each in India and Cuba.

The figures are collated from only verified cases and attacks on venues, stores, artworks and events, relating to authors, musicians, film makers and visual artists.

Censorship figures do not include pre-censorship imposed government or other authority, or self-censorship by artists fearing persecution, which could make the true figures for censorship much higher than the 90 officially recorded in 2014.

Freemuse said the statistics “do not reflect attacks and killings of cartoonists and journalists as these are considered media workers and cases are monitored by other organisations.”

The 2014 figures were an increase on those recorded by the organization in 2013. In that year, 199 attacks on artists were found by Freemuse, including 19 killings, eight abductions, 28 prosecutions, and 73 cases of censorship.

Freemuse voiced concern over the censorship of art and artists for political and religious reasons, singling out the banning of women artists from solo performances in Saudi Arabia and Iran, and the worldwide censorship of art with LGBT-related themes.

The report claims “millions are affected” by censorship, with galleries and museums reacting to such censorship in choosing exhibitions that would not spark the criticism of minority, religious or other interest groups.

For more information, see

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Parts of New York City To Disappear Underwater By 2100 Wed, 18 Feb 2015 07:18:07 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

Parts of Queens, Brooklyn and The Bronx may be swallowed by the sea in coming years, with an alarming new climate change report predicting a water-logged future for New York City.

Sea levels may rise by as much as 75 inches by 2100 in New York, drowning entire sections of New York, and leading to far more frequent coastal flooding for the rest of the city.

The New York City Panel on Climate Change (NPCC) published its 2015 report on Tuesday, warning of rising seas as well as soaring temperatures, more frequent heatwaves and rainstorms, and more intense hurricanes.

“Climate change research isn’t just something for the future,” said NPCC co-chair Cynthia Rosenzweig. “It’s affecting how key policy decisions are being made now.

The NPCC report predicted mean annual temperatures to increase by 4-5 degrees Fahrehneit by the 2050s, and by 5-13 per cent by the 2080s. The frequency of heatwaves is set to triple by the 2080s, but in a rare piece of good news, extreme cold events are predicted to decrease.

Days of extreme rain are also to increase.

The report stated sea levels had risen an average of 1.2 inches per decade since the 1900s, or a total of 1.1 feet, “nearly twice the observed global rate of 0.5 to 0.7 inches per decade over a similar time period.”

New York City is tipped to exceed the global average for sea level rise in the next century. “Projections for sea level rise in New York City are 11 to 21 inches by the 2050s, 18 to 39 inches by the 2080s, and could reach as high as 6 feet by 2100,” the report claims.

This would make serious coastal flooding up to 15 times more frequent, and double the size of the city’s current flood zone to 99 square miles.

If these figures are accurate, most of south-east Queens would lie underwater by the 2050s. A large part of south-east Brooklyn would also be drowned by the 2080s.

Aside from having to deal with a hot, wet life in the city, New Yorkers will also have to contend with subsequent health effects.

The NPCC warns of “increases in respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, compromised mental health” and a rising number of heat-related deaths in Manhattan.

The report, while outlining a worrying future for The Big Apple, does give some optimism for New York in adapting to a climate-affected future. The city is “well placed to develop an expanded Climate Resiliency Indicators and Monitoring System,” according to the NPCC, while the ‘NYC Cool Roofs Program’ is nominated as a “valuable testbed” for evaluating measures to adapt to changing climates.

The panel called for high-resolution climate modelling through the city, more research on ice shelfs will respond to climate change, and further study on how to manage heat inside apartment buildings.

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New African Poetry Finds Its Voice On The Web Wed, 18 Feb 2015 07:14:27 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Feb 18 2015 (IPS)

(GIN) – From the pages of private notebooks to the dog-eared copies of rare published editions, the works of modern African poets are emerging with great fanfare thanks to a dedicated handful of writers and teachers building a network of libraries and websites on the internet.

The South African Badilisha Poetry X-change is one such group which recently posted its archive of poems and writings on a “mobile-first” site. It’s considered the largest online archive of African poetry, accessible via mobile phone, in the world.

“We have a rich oral tradition and it’s important that we document what is happening in history poetry-wise,” said Linda Leoma, Badilisha’s project manager. “Africa has a history of a lack of documentation and we really didn’t want this to happen to our poets.”

Based in Cape Town, South Africa, Badilisha aims to reach the seven out of 10 mobile users in sub-Saharan Africa who use their phones to browse the web. Mobile broadband connections in Africa, now numbering 96 million are set to rise to 950 million by the end of 2019″, noted a study by the analyst firm Ovum.

To date, almost 400 African poets from 31 countries in Africa and across the diaspora have been posted in 14 different languages. Users can navigate the site by searching theme, poet, country, language, emotion or by their “Top 10″ list, a popular feature curated by a guest poet each month.

Users can actually hear the poet’s voice recite their work,” said Leoma. Some 3,000 visitors log into the site each month.

Among the “Top Ten” writers recently picked by Badilisha is Kwame Dawes, a Ghanaian-born Jamaican poet and the award-winning author of 16 books of poetry.

Last year, Dawes launched the African Poetry Book Fund with a collective of like-minded writers. This year he helped choose Mahtem Shiferraw as the 2015 winner of the Sillerman Book Prize for African Poets. The Ethiopian-American poet will receive a $1000 cash prize and publication next spring of her manuscript “Fuchsia.”

“Every year, we wonder where the new and dynamic voices will emerge from to grab our attention, and this year has been no different,” said Dawes in an interview. Shiferraw’s verse explores with sophistication the complexities of exile and return, of memory and hope through sharply-honed images, and through a vulnerability that is haunting and disarming.”

The book fund has also helped launch poetry libraries in the Gambia, Kenya, Botswana and Uganda. ”So far a lot of places have been asking to be part of it. The response has been fantastic,” he said.

“People who say the physical book is dead have not been to other parts of the world. Many of these places, because of colonialism and exploitation, have not yet even had the chance to engage in print culture.” He currently teaches in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

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Reversing Course, U.S. To Aid Nigeria In Boko Haram Fight Tue, 17 Feb 2015 06:34:22 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Feb 17 2015 (IPS)

(GIN) – After a published plea from Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan for U.S. combat troops in the fight against Boko Haram, the U.S. African Command appears ready to sweep aside its hesitation and jump in with both feet.

The previous position held that advanced weapons could not be provided as there were troubling allegations of human rights violations by Nigeria’s security forces. There also appeared to be a lack of political will to defeat Boko Haram, a senior U.S. official told the BBC.

Now, however, the Africa Command is “ready to assist in whatever way (Nigeria) sees as being practical,” Lt-Gen Steven A. Hummer, Deputy to the Commander of Military Operations, was quoted to say.

Counterterrorism exercises, under the name “Operation Flintlock” are currently underway in Chad with drills in Niger, Cameroon and Tunisia. The war games are intended to help African militaries bolster their counterterrorism skills.

However the coordinated actions by Niger and Chad have elicited warnings from Boko Haram leaders. They threatened to send suicide bombers if troops were deployed.

“If you insist on continuing the aggression and the coalition with the government of Chad, then we give you glad tidings that the land of Niger is easier than the land of Nigeria and moving the war to the depth of your cities will be the first reaction toward any aggression that occurs after this statement,” according to a transcript provided by the SITE Intelligence Group.

A multinational force to fight Boko Haram is expected to be formally launched in coming weeks. Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin initially pledged to help Nigeria. This week, Burundi and Central African Republic also agreed to contribute troops to fight the militant group.

Also this week, leaders in Central Africa said that 10 member states had agreed to contribute most of the $100 million needed to combat Boko Haram. They did not state how much had been raised nor how much is remaining despite calling for the creation of an emergency fund to bridge the difference, according to reporters with the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, the death toll from a suicide bomber’s attack on a bus station in the northeast city of Damaturu now stands at 13 with 26 injured. The attacker was reported to be a female.

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Sierra Leone Promises Probe into Auditors’ Claim of Massive Fraud with Ebola Funds Tue, 17 Feb 2015 06:30:50 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Feb 17 2015 (IPS)

(GIN) – A full investigation will be conducted into multiple failures of accountability regarding the use of five million dollars in funds sent for the fight against Ebola, the government of Sierra Leone has pledged.

An internal audit found that nearly one-third of the money received to fight Ebola was spent without providing receipts and invoices to justify the spending.

In their report released late last week, the auditors cited “inadequate controls” over the disbursement of funds, hazard payments made to hospitals with no proof the money was actually going to the health workers on the frontline and in some cases a “complete disregard for the law” in procurement.

The 5.75 million dollars in questionable spending represents about a third of the total 19.32 million dollars now under review. The money came primarily from institutions and individuals mostly within Sierra Leone, and from tax revenue.

These possibly diverted monies to private pockets may have slowed the country’s emergency response to the Ebola outbreak and may have led to unnecessary loss of life, speculated the authors of the damaging report.

In an extensive examination by The Guardian newspaper, a spot review found that army and police personnel were included on a list of workers to receive hazard money “even though funds had been transferred to both forces to meet the deployment of their officers”.

In the town of Makeni, where workers in one hospital went on strike because they had not received hazard payments, there were concerns that some money was paid to non-existent ghost workers.

One member of parliament was singled out in the report when it appeared that payments were made to him to carry out sensitization programs even though he had been paid earlier along with all seating MPs.

Other irregularities cited by the Audit Service Sierra Leone included questionable awards of contracts and management of the funds totaling over 30 million dollars meant for purchases of ambulances, building of treatment centers and payment of Ebola front line workers.

The head of the Health For All Coalition has also been asked to explain himself after checks were made out to him personally instead of his organization. Two years ago the group received high marks from the UNFPA for monitoring the free healthcare scheme and reporting on thefts of free drugs.

The ministry of health has since disputed the amount of money allocated to the Coalition and promised to hand over “all documentary evidence” to the auditors, who said this case was of the “utmost concern”.

In an official press release, the president promised to “ensure full accountability” and warned that anyone found guilty of misusing Ebola funds would face the full force of the law.

The report by Sierra Leone’s Auditor General covered the months of May through October 2014, after which the Ebola response was handed over to the Defense Ministry. The Auditors looked at donations received directly by the government to fight Ebola.

“It is clear from our audit conducted that there continue to be lapses in the financial management system in Sierra Leone and these have ultimately resulted in the loss of funds and a reduction in the quality of service delivery in the health sector,” the report stated.

Taking to the airwaves, the political opposition vented its indignation at the unfolding scandal, saying it was “stunned by the level of unruliness and sleaze that has pervaded the management of the nation’s fight against the Ebola scourge.”

“It is an open secret that the ruling party used the fight against the deadly Ebola disease as a means to enrich their supporters and to corrupt some civil society activists whose services were engaged in the Ebola sensitization effort,” the Sierra Leone People’s Party was quoted to say.

Meanwhile, a British health care volunteer is being transported inside an isolation unit to the UK amid fears she may have contracted the virus.

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Yemen Crisis & Its Dangerous Impact on Youth Mon, 16 Feb 2015 12:44:39 +0000 Leila Lemghalef By Leila Lemghalef

The political crisis engulfing Yemen is depriving the country’s youth of food and schooling, warns the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

According to UNICEF, increasing numbers of children are suffering from malnourishment and fewer are attending school, as a result of domestic hostilities in Yemen.

In a recent briefing, UNICEF representative to Yemen, Julien Harneis, reported that around 900,000 children are currently malnourished, and 210,000 of them are suffering sever acute malnutrition.

Access to education is also a foremost concern facing Yemeni children today. The dropout rate is reported to be above 20 per cent, mainly made up of girls.

Harneis spoke of the “multiplicity of localised conflicts” impacting the ability of some 200,000 children to attend school.

Part of UNICEF’s work has been in building and refurbishing schools across the country where infrastructures and properties have been damaged and basic social services have not returned to their pre-2011 levels.

Adding to the weight of worry, the U.N. agency faces a pecuniary challenge due to a $60 million funding gap.

According to the U.N., approximately 61 per cent of Yemen’s population – almost 16 million people – is in need of humanitarian assistance, for food, clean water, and sanitation. More than 10 million people face food insecurity, 5 million of which are in a severe food crisis.

Children are among the worst affected. On top of increased hunger and decreased schooling, children are also at times forced to serve as combatants, and they suffer from poor health.

Disease is another factor threatening the child populace.

The U.N. has estimated that 7,500 children are expected to contract vaccine-preventable diseases. High numbers are already having chronic diarrhoea and respiratory infections.

The “biggest worry” related to vaccinations is whether the supply chain for the vaccine against tuberculosis could and will be interrupted, Harneis said in the briefing, adding that Yemen is a transit grounds for migrants coming from Africa, exposing Yemen to the possible reappearance of polio.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council last week that “Yemen is collapsing before our eyes – we cannot stand by and watch.”

He stated that the country’s president, prime minister, government ministers and other state officials must be granted freedom of movement.

The country attempting to transition into democracy has been further destabilised by clashes between secessionist Houthi militants and government troops, amid a takeover of the capital city Sana’a. Al-Qaida is also adding to the havoc on the Arabian Peninsula.

“Given these troubling circumstances, we all have a solemn obligation to live up to our commitments under the U.N. Charter,” said the U.N. Chief.

“We must do everything possible to help Yemen step back from the brink and get the political process back on track.”

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Supporting Smallholders for a World Without Hunger Mon, 16 Feb 2015 12:41:02 +0000 Leila Lemghalef By Leila Lemghalef

Supporting small-scale farmers is no small-time feat, according to consultants at a conference on “Setting the Course for a World without Hunger – North-South Dialogue on the Role of the G7”.

Smallholders play a vital role in world food and nutrition security because they produce the majority of food in developing countries, and because unlike industrial scale monocultures, they rely on much less fossil energy inputs, and encourage biodiversity, reducing hunger, according to a report released last week.

“Smallholders have demonstrated over many generations their ability to provide healthy nutrition and maintain intact ecosystems.”

Yet, says the report, smallholders – especially women – are the least powerful competitors for land and other natural resources, and commercial interests easily beat them for good.

“To disregard those who – based on their cultures, traditional knowledge, social cohesion, perseverance and ingenuity – still provide more than 70% of food in developing countries is clearly both, unacceptable and unwise.”

The recently published document, the “Berlin Memorandum on Sustainable Livelihoods for Smallholders”, presents policy recommendations to the German G7 Presidency and other G7 nations on how to reorient their development policy on food security and agriculture.

The first element is ensuring smallholder rights
, including the formal recognition and implementation of land tenure, water, and seed rights of smallholders, particularly women, as well as transparency and accountability at local levels.

The second element is promoting and integrating viable smallholder livelihoods and rural job opportunities, with an accent on the Millennium Development Goals.

According to the U.N., up to 80 per cent of the extremely poor and hungry live in rural areas.

The report reads: “Rural people do not have adequate infrastructure, administrative services, agricultural extension services and inclusion in research agendas. They face difficulties in benefitting from the formal market, let alone global trade. They rarely get decent rural jobs. The culture, vitality and social cohesion of rural communities and their socio-economic potential are weakened.”

The report states that failure to activate jobs and income opportunities to overcome poverty in rural areas “will increase the migration into the slums of rapidly growing urban areas with already existing job shortage and social problems. It is naive or irresponsible to assume that the creation of a sufficient number of decent jobs in urban areas for all rural migrants will be feasible in the short time frame available.”

The third element is strengthening the environmental pillar of sustainable development for smallholders.

A new approach is talked about here, one that is rooted in natural resource management and puts an end to the current trend on the global market, which operates on economies of scale.

The awaited successes of a new such approach are multifold: “It protects the rights and aspirations of all people… It establishes participatory and decentralised planning… It diversifies production systems based on agro-ecological principles… It better distributes the workload for farming families… It invites knowledge, practices and innovations of smallholder communities to contribute to improved natural resource management…”

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U.N. Urgently Exhorts Indonesia to Halt Executions Sun, 15 Feb 2015 10:26:50 +0000 Leila Lemghalef By Leila Lemghalef

In a time-sensitive appeal, a U.N. Human Rights Expert has urged the Indonesian Government to halt further executions of people convicted of drug-related offenses.

It is reported that 14 persons have been slated for execution in Indonesia without a fair trial, to which U.N. Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, Christof Heyns, is seeking immediate reverse measures including clemency.

“Despite several appeals by U.N. human rights experts and civil society organisations urging the Indonesian Government to reconsider imposing the death penalty for drug-related offences, the authorities decided to execute six people by firing squad on 18 January 2015,” said Heyns, in Geneva.

More recently, Indonesian officials have announced that eight convicted drug traffickers would be executed by firing squad any day now.

It is reported that 12 out of the 14 cases are foreign nationals who generally have not received access to adequate interpreting services, the right to a translator or a lawyer at every stage of trial and appeal.

“Any death sentence must comply with international obligations related to the stringent respect of fair trial and due process guarantees, as stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Indonesia is a State party.

“I previously expressed concerns over the imposition of death penalty for drug-related offenses, and that such death sentences undertaken in contravention of Indonesia’s international human rights obligations is tantamount to an arbitrary execution,” said Heyns.

International law regards punishment by death to be an extreme form of punishment, which should never be imposed in the absence of the strictest safeguards including a fair trial.

“I have urged Indonesia to restrict the use of the death penalty in compliance with its international obligations. I regret that the authorities continue to execute people in violation of international human rights standards.”

In his statement, Heyns also drew attention to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, by which anyone sentenced to punishment by death has the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence, reminding of the option to grant amnesty, pardon or commutation of the death sentence.

On a broader note, he concluded by saying: “I urge the Government of Indonesia to establish a moratorium on execution with a view of its complete abolition, in order to comply with the international move towards the abolition of the death penalty”.

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Australia Slammed Over Refugee Children In Mandatory Detention Thu, 12 Feb 2015 06:29:37 +0000 Josh Butler By Josh Butler

The Australian Human Rights Commission has savaged its government’s treatment of refugee children held in detention, calling holding centres “dangerous” and “distressing.”

Australia’s controversial policy of mandatory detention for refugees arriving by boat has again come under the spotlight with the release of the ‘Forgotten Children’ report.

More than 1100 children were interviewed in 11 detention centres, both on the mainland and in Australian-operated offshore facilities on Nauru and Christmas Island.

The commission found children in immigration detention had “significantly higher rates of mental health disorders compared with children in the Australian community,” and that children on Nauru “are suffering from extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress.”

“It is troubling that members of the Government and Parliament and Departmental officials are either uninformed about, or ignore, the human rights treaties to which Australia is a party,” commission president Professor Gillian Triggs wrote in the report’s foreword.

The report states 800 children were held in immigration detention at the time of publication, with 167 babies born in detention in the last two years.

The report was handed to the Australian government in November 2014, but only tabled in parliament by the government on February 11.

“34 per cent of children detained in Australia and Christmas Island have a mental health disorder of such severity they require psychiatric support,” Triggs said

“Children are self-harming in detention at very high rates – over a 15 month period from 2013-2014, there were 128 incidents of self-harm amongst children.”

The commission found 33 sexual assaults between January 2013 and March 2014, with “the majority involving children.”

A 16-year-old boy on Nauru was allegedly sexually assaulted by a cleaner, in view of security staff, while an 8-year-old boy was allegedly sexually assaulted by adult detainees in view of a staff member. There were also 27 incidents of children engaging in hunger strikes.

A paediatrician told the AHRC that “almost all the children on Christmas Island are sick.” Aside from tacit abuse, the report slammed detention facilities as inappropriate and dangerous.

“Families on Christmas Island live in converted shipping containers and the majority of these rooms are 2.5 x 3 metres,” the report states.

The AHRC said children on Christmas Island were denied education for over a year, one of numerous breaches of the Convention On The Rights Of The Child. Centres were not equipped with enough basic materials, such as paper and books, to teach classes.

One child told investigators of the unhygienic conditions on Nauru. “Disease got worse in the camp and still expanding. Sometimes because of the smell, our camp it’s like a sewer… Around the toilets are mountain of toilet paper and pee and poo and water up to your ankle,” the child said.

Children were also reportedly denied appropriate clothes, underwear, footwear and bed sheets. Even children eventually released from detention still felt lingering effects. Parents reported recently-released children suffering from constant crying, anxiety, mental illness, poor sleep, nightmares, and self harm.

The AHRC has called for all children and families in detention in Australia and Nauru to be released, and for amendments to Australia’s Migration Act to ensure families are only detained for necessary health and security checks.

Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, said the AHRC “ought to be ashamed of itself,” and when asked if he felt any guilt over the findings, replied “none whatsoever.”

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Weak Laws Leave Children Vulnerable to Abuse Worldwide, Reports Find Wed, 11 Feb 2015 05:39:26 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Feb 11 2015 (IPS)

(GIN) – Some of the most unimaginable acts of cruelty against young children were routine in the U.S. state of Virginia until a bill before state legislators this month shocked them into action.

In a report prepared by media groups ProPublica and NPR (National Public Radio), damning information about neglect in schools was supplied to Virginia lawmakers. In one case, a 10 year old boy with autism had his hand crushed in a door while school staff members tried to shut him into a “scream room” at a public school for children with disabilities in Chesapeake, Virginia.

Other practices—such as pinning uncooperative children face down on the floor, locking them in dark closets and tying them up with straps, handcuffs, bungee cords or even duct tape—were used more than 267,000 times nationwide in the 2012 school year, a ProPublica analysis of new federal data showed. Three-quarters of the students restrained had physical, emotional or intellectual disabilities.

Head injuries, bloody noses, broken bones and worse were among the injuries suffered by children while being restrained or tied down, as in one Iowa case, to a lunch table. A 13-year-old Georgia boy hanged himself after school officials gave him a rope to keep up his pants before shutting him alone in a room.

At least 20 children nationwide have reportedly died while being restrained or isolated over the course of two decades, the Government Accountability Office found in 2009.

Federal rules restrict acts of abject cruelty in nearly all institutions that receive money from Washington to help the young, but such limits don’t apply to public schools.

The brutality in Virginia should cease, however, with the action of state lawmakers who signed a bill which now goes to the governor for signature.

But halfway around the world, violence against children still plagues some of the struggling countries in Africa with limited hopes for a remedy.

In a launch at the United Nations in New York this week, The African Report on Violence against Children echoes some of the tragic stories that occurred in Virginia.

Assembled by the African Child Policy Forum, the authors conclude that “despite significant legal and policy measures undertaken in the region to protect children, African girls and boys are subjected to high levels of physical, sexual and emotional abuse across all levels of society.”

Corporal punishment, for example, has been prohibited in Kenya, Tunisia, South Sudan and Togo, the report says, and “all African countries have legal provisions criminalizing sexual violence, abuse and exploitation.” However forced marriages of children to adults continues without penalty.

The report adds that “weak implementation of laws and policies, under-resourced and under-staffed social services, and harmful practices” have further added to impunity for abusers.

“Violence against children is so prevalent and deeply ingrained in societies it is often unseen and accepted as the norm,” UNICEF wrote in a report released last fall.

“Despite two decades of awareness-building activity on child rights, there is still ignorance, and even misgiving among many people about the idea that a child can have rights of his or her own,” the Africa policy report reads.

“There remains a common misconception that parents and adults generally should have complete control over children, and that codes of discipline in which violence is used with the home are a purely private matter. While children themselves welcome the concept of rights and the special protections they imply, they are less welcomed by adults.”

Most African countries have laws in place to combat trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children, the authors note.

“However, nine African states have not yet ratified the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, supplementing the U.N. Convention against Transnational organized Crime.”

By 2012, Rwanda was among the top countries with protocols protecting children “not yet in place or planned.” Also high on the list was Cape Verde and Mozambique.

This weekend, young people around the world will take part in wide-ranging events as part of a global movement against violence called “One Billion Rising.” Initiated by the U.S. activist Eve Ensler, the movement has connected women and youth around the world every year in February.

A listing of events can be found at

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Major Online Database of Treaty Body Case Law Wed, 11 Feb 2015 05:31:02 +0000 Ranjit Perera By Ranjit Perera

The UN Human Rights Office in Geneva Wednesday launched a major public online database,, that contains all case laws issued by UN human rights expert committees and Treaty Bodies, according to a statement released here.

“The database is designed to be a key reference tool for scholars, lawyers, civil society organisations, governments and civil servants, our UN partners and the general public,” said Ibrahim Salama, Director of the UN Human Rights Treaties Division.

“Just as importantly, we hope it may help individuals who are preparing to submit complaints to the committees by giving them access to the views and decisions taken by the expert members on specific human rights issues.”

The database was developed using data from the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights (SIM) of Utrecht University School of Law.

Since the mid-1990s, the SIM had developed a comprehensive record on the jurisprudence stemming from the decisions by four Treaty Bodies on complaints brought by individuals.

Over 20 years, academics compiled and indexed Treaty Bodies’ case law, making the SIM database the most authoritative online resource on this.

Due to budget restrictions, the SIM stopped updating the database from 1 January 2014 and took it offline on 1 January 2015. However, the SIM offered its data free of charge to the UN Human Rights Office, according to the press release.

“This allowed us to build our own database, with an expanded remit and search capability, and we aim to continue developing it. It is an important part of our efforts to make the work of the Treaty Bodies more visible and accessible, and we hope it will benefit a range of users all over the world,” said Salama.

There are 10 Treaty Bodies that review and monitor how States that have ratified a particular treaty are implementing the rights contained in it.

The eight committees listed below can also consider complaints by individuals who believe their rights have been violated and who have exhausted all legal steps in their own country.

The site contains case law indexed by various categories, including State, date, subject and keywords, which can all be used as search criteria. Users can submit their comments on the functioning of the database as part of ongoing efforts to improve it.

*The Committees that can receive and consider individual complaints are:
• Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
• Committee against Torture (CAT)
• Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
• Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD)
• Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
• Committee on Enforced Disappearances (CED)
• Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR)
• Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

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Exposé Haunts Banking Giant That Helped Hide African Billions Tue, 10 Feb 2015 06:41:13 +0000 Lisa Vives By Lisa Vives
NEW YORK, Feb 10 2015 (IPS)

(GIN) – In an unusual collaborative effort, a team of journalists from 45 countries has produced a blistering exposé of a billionaires’ bank in Switzerland which was helping to place huge sums of its clients’ money beyond the reach of tax obligations and court settlements.

The banking giant HSBC was said to be a haven for tax dodgers, money launderers, arms dealers, politicians and celebrities worldwide.

HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm was revealed to be holding more than 100 billion dollars, according to the investigative report which provides a rare glimpse inside the super-secret Swiss banking system.

The documents were obtained from a whistleblower by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) via the French newspaper Le Monde. They name famed soccer and tennis players, cyclists, rock stars, Hollywood actors, royalty, politicians, corporate executives and old-wealth families.

“This exposes once again the rotten core of banking—it would be shocking if it weren’t for the frequency with which we hear of such scandals,” said David Hillman, spokesperson for the U.K.-based Robin Hood Tax campaign. “It shows a sector not content with dodging its own obligations, but also conniving to help the richest people shirk their responsibilities to society as well.”

“It’s clear our…approach to the banking sector is wholly inadequate,” Hillman continued. “It’s time we ensured banks were working in the public’s interest instead of conspiring against us.”

Also named were some of the new rich in Africa, Asia and on other continents.

Among the HSBC African depositors was Aziza Kulsum and her family, named by the United Nations as financing the bloody Burundian civil war in the 1990s.

“Kulsum was a key player in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the illicit trade in coltan, a strategically important mineral used in electronic devices, a U.N. report in 2001 found.” Her account, now frozen, holds 3.2 million dollars, according to the report.

Another questionable account appears under the name of Katex Mines Guinee, a front company used by Guinea’s Ministry of Defense to traffic arms to rebel soldiers in Liberia during fighting in 2003, a U.N. report revealed. Some 7.14 million dollars were held for the company by the bank.

The top 5 countries by numbers of HSBC accounts, the report said, are Switzerland, France, the UK, Brazil and Italy while the largest accounts are from depositors in Switzerland, the UK, Venezuela, the U.S. and France.

Africa is on the list but much further down. Kenya, for example, is ranked 58 with 742 accounts worth 35.8 million dollars, the Democratic Republic of Congo has accounts worth 60.3 million dollars, Ivory Coast with 190.5 million dollars, Nigeria with 266.6 million dollars and Zimbabwe with 272.2 million dollars.

A piece in the Wall Street Journal last month noted: “HSBC Holdings PLC has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to overhaul its anti-money-laundering system, including hiring a former British spy and a tobacco-spitting former drug-enforcement official from the U.S.

But “despite fines of 1.9 billion dollars in 2012 and a five year deferred prosecution agreement, the bank is said to have overlooked some 881 million dollars in drug-trafficking proceeds laundered through its U.S. bank and that its staff stripped data from transactions with Iran, Libya and Sudan to evade U.S. sanctions,” the writers said.

Jack Blum, a former tax investigator at the U.S. Senate on a recent 60 Minutes television show, called the revelations “beyond shocking” but not that surprising.

“Swiss banks have been caught protecting tax dodgers before, but never has this much detail been revealed,” he said.

“Under U.S. law, any bank that does that, that assists a U.S. person in evading U.S. tax is guilty of a felony. And it doesn’t matter where the bank is located or where the bankers are located.”

An independent U.S. monitor is expected to submit a report to the Justice Department later this month assessing the British bank’s attempts to clean up its act.

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A Seven-Year, One-Term for U.N. Chief? Sun, 08 Feb 2015 09:25:17 +0000 Patrick Fernando By Patrick Fernando

A group of former world political leaders – who call themselves The Elders – has proposed the next U.N. Secretary-General be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years, in order to strengthen his or her independence and avoid the perception of being guided by electoral concerns.

“She or he must not be under pressure, either before or after being appointed, to give posts in the Secretariat to people of any particular nationality in return for political support, since this is clearly contrary to the spirit of the Charter”.

This new process, The Elders say, should be adopted without delay, so that the United Nations can make full use of it to choose the best person to assume the post in January 2017.

The Elders, founded by Nelson Mandela in 2007, include: Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan (Chair), Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi, Gro Harlem Brundtland (Deputy Chair), Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Jimmy Carter, Hina Jilani, Graça Machel, Mary Robinson and Ernesto Zedillo. Desmond Tutu is an honorary member.

In a statement made at the International Security Conference in Munich, Germany last week, The Elders have made four key recommendations for the reform of the world body, which is commemorating its 70th anniversary this year.

The statement says: The UN was founded seventy years ago in 1945 “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war”, and over the decades it has served the people well. But is it fit for purpose in the 21st century?

In Nigeria, in Pakistan, in the Middle East, to name but a few places – far too many people are beginning the year 2015 in grief and suffering, caused by conflict and deliberate violence. The use of the veto by some P5 members has allowed militant groups to further their causes with impunity.

The world’s peoples yearn for a fairer, more peaceful world, where new generations can grow up in confidence. They want a stronger, more agile UN. They do not want to see the UN wither into irrelevance, as the League of Nations did in the 1930s.

We believe timely changes are needed in the composition and working of the UN Security Council, to make it more democratic, more representative of the world of today, and more effective in its mission of preventing and addressing armed conflict.

To that end, The Elders announced four new proposals at the Munich Security Conference.


• A new category of members
In principle, the existing permanent members claim to be ready to welcome new members. But their sincerity has not been tested, because the rest of the membership cannot agree on essential points: which countries, and how many, should be new permanent members, and should they, like the existing ones, be given a veto over the Council’s substantive divisions?

In the view of many, the use or abuse of the veto is responsible for some of the Council’s most conspicuous failures, when it does not intervene in time, or with sufficient force, to protect the victims of genocide and other comparable crimes. Those states are understandably reluctant to give yet more powers the right of veto.

We therefore propose a compromise. Let the states which aspire to permanent membership accept instead, at least for the time being, election to a new category of membership, which would give them a much longer term than the two years served by the non-permanent members, and to which they could be immediately re-elected when that term expires.

This would enable them to become de facto permanent members, but in a more democratic way, since it would depend on them continuing to enjoy the confidence of other member states. By making the Council more democratic, this change would increase its legitimacy in the eyes of the world, thereby enhancing its authority and so also making it more effective.

• A pledge from permanent members
As already noted, on too many issues the Security Council is deadlocked by the failure of its permanent members to agree on a course of action, with the result that millions of people are left to suffer while great powers score debating points off each other. As the UN’s founders understood, without the united support of the permanent members, both material and moral, the Council cannot act.

None of us has forgotten the Holocaust, Rwanda, Srebrenica, Saddam Hussein’s campaign against Iraq’s Kurds, or the killing fields of Cambodia. No part of the world has been spared these horrors. So the political will must be summoned to prevent, or at least limit, their repetition.

We therefore call on the five existing permanent members to pledge themselves to greater and more persistent efforts to find common ground, especially in crises where populations are being subjected to, or threatened with, genocide or other atrocity crimes.

States making this pledge will undertake not to use, or threaten to use, their veto in such crises without explaining, clearly and in public, what alternative course of action they propose, as a credible and efficient way to protect the populations in question.

This explanation must refer to international peace and security, and not to the national interest of the state casting the veto, since any state casting a veto simply to protect its national interests is abusing the privilege of permanent membership.

And when one or more permanent members do feel obliged to cast a veto, and do provide such an explanation, the others must undertake not to abandon the search for common ground but to make even greater efforts to agree on an effective course of action.

• A voice for civil society
When they can agree, the permanent members too often deliberate behind closed doors, without listening to the voices of those most directly affected by their decisions, and present their elected colleagues with ready-made resolutions leaving little room for debate.

To remedy this, we call on all members of the Security Council to make more regular and systematic use of the “Arria formula” (under which, in the last two decades, Security Council members have had meetings with a wide variety of civil society organisations), to give groups representing people in zones of conflict the greatest possible opportunity to inform and influence Council decisions.

At present, meetings under the Arria formula are too often attended only by junior officials, whose reports can easily be ignored. In future, we call on the heads of the delegations of all countries serving on the Security Council, including the permanent members, to attend all meetings held under this formula in person.

Members of the Council must use such meetings to ensure that their decisions are informed by full and clear knowledge of the conditions in the country or region concerned, and of the views of those most directly affected.

• A more independent Secretary-General
At the United Nations, it is the Secretary-General who has to uphold the interests and aspirations of all the world’s peoples. This role requires leadership of the highest calibre. Yet for 70 years the holder of this post has effectively been chosen by the five permanent members of the Security Council, who negotiate among themselves in almost total secrecy. The rest of the world is told little about the process by which candidates are identified, let alone the criteria by which they are judged.

This barely follows the letter, and certainly not the spirit, of the UN Charter, which says the Secretary-General should be appointed by the General Assembly, and only on the recommendation of the Security Council.

To remedy this, we call on the General Assembly to insist that the Security Council recommend more than one candidate for appointment as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, after a timely, equitable and transparent search for the best qualified candidates, irrespective of gender or regional origin.

We suggest that the next Secretary-General be appointed for a single, non-renewable term of seven years, in order to strengthen his or her independence and avoid the perception that he or she is guided by electoral concerns.

She or he must not be under pressure, either before or after being appointed, to give posts in the Secretariat to people of any particular nationality in return for political support, since this is clearly contrary to the spirit of the Charter. This new process should be adopted without delay, so that the United Nations can make full use of it to choose the best person to assume the post in January 2017.”

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